Cabinet minutes on Iraq 1: Straw vetoes, Lib Dems oppose

The big Parliamentary news yesterday was the announcement by Jack Straw that he was over-ruling an Information Tribunal ruling and taking the unprecedented step of withholding information they had ordered should be released – the minutes of the Cabinet meetings which decided to go to war with Iraq.

The move was opposed by the Liberal Democrats, with David Howarth leading the charge:

The decision to go to war in Iraq was momentous, controversial and disastrous, especially for this country’s reputation as an upholder of international law.

There never has been a full and comprehensive public inquiry into the decision to go to war in Iraq. Jack Straw must now give his support for such an inquiry. We need to learn the lessons, and we need to learn them as quickly as possible. That is why these Cabinet minutes should be released much earlier than would normally be the case.

We already know the names of the dissenters from their memoirs. All we need to know is whether there was any discussion and any challenge of any sort. That is a matter of great public importance and goes to the heart of accountability.

Jack Straw must explain why he has chosen to block the release, rather than appealing to the High Court in the ordinary way. Why is Jack Straw silencing opposition to his position by decree instead of trying to persuade an objective court of its strength? This shows that, in reality, even he suspects his position to be weak.

The comment that really caught my eye came from Ming Campbell, who pithily pointed out:

This is a Government which when introducing measures to limit personal freedom says that those that have nothing to hide should have nothing to fear.

Quite. If Labour has nothing to hide about how and why Britain went to war, why are they so fearful of publication?

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4 Comments

  • This strikes me as a Nixonite decision. Nixon used privilege to cover up things not because of the national interest but because they were damaging to his party.

    This case highlights a feature of the current system, namely that it is vulnerable to conflict-of-interest decisions.

    I suspect the government decided it will be embarrassed by a revelation (in this case or by a similar one in future) and therefore used the veto.

    I am not an expert but I would propose a change in the system so it is not the government who will have the final word but the independent body.

    I hope the Lib Dems can take this on board.

    Of course, to be a complete solution, the minutes of cabinet meetings should be taken by an independent monitor who would also look out for the issue of decisions being taken in separate meetings and only rubbed-stamped in cabinet, thereby bypassing the system.

    It would be interesting to know how the Lib Dem leadership views the Voice. Does Nick Clegg have a system to evaluate proposals (via the party) from the Voice?

    Or is the party pretty much a top-down body making it hard for people to provide input?

    It is understandable that people in parties do not like the hassle of gathering and evaluating ideas but avoiding cult-of-personality approaches to politics could be a long-term good approach as it would tend towards rational decisions.

    Perhaps one of the LDV main people could write an article on how the party functions these days with emphasis on how open and rational the process is

  • @voter, The Lib Dems are the least top down of the main political parties with the Conference of party members having the final say on policy unlike the other two parties conferences which are now nothing more than PR events really with the Leadership pretty much able to decide on policy without consulting their own party.

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