A PM fails this country and destroys another, yet faces no action. Where’s the accountability in that?

I’m watching an at times close to tears Tony Blair giving his response to the Chilcot Report.

He asks us to accept that he took the decision to go to war in good faith. I’m not sure that was ever actually in doubt. Charles Kennedy, in disagreeing with him in the House of Commons during the March 2003 Commons debate, did not doubt the sincerity of his position.

However, Blair’s comments, and all the regret he may feel, cannot make up for what the report makes clear was a very flawed decision making process, with insufficient planning for the aftermath, putting British forces in added danger as they were fighting on two fronts (Iraq and Afghanistan) and weren’t given the resources to do their jobs and that the process establishing whether the decision was even legal was flawed.

The “with you, whatever” memo is not quite damning as it seems. If you read the whole thing, Blair is actually trying to steer the US President down a path of forming an international coalition and pointing out the consequences of not doing so. The problem with the memo as Chilcot says is that he sent a fairly detailed exposition of the UK Government’s position without even asking the Foreign and Defence Secretaries to comment. However, I am less convinced that Straw or Hoon would have changed anything, but that’s just a personal opinion. Also, using loose language like “with you, whatever” is at best not advisable. At worst it shows a contempt for Parliament and the decision making process in Government.

I have never been one of those people who has thought that Tony Blair should be tried as a war criminal. To suggest such a thing, that there is some equivalence between him and the likes of Radovan Karadzic, sentenced earlier this year for his part in the Bosnian genocide is to my mind inappropriate. The errors of Blair and his Government were not of brutality but of folly, negligence and incompetence.

Those were pretty major errors but nobody involved is actually going to face any consequences for that. How can that be? If Blair were still in office, he would have to resign in disgrace. A decade on, he enjoys a privileged and comfortable life with an international career.

Tony Blair has gone on from his time in office to make an absolute fortune on the back of the time he spent as our PM. He will be entitled to a fairly generous government pension. Perhaps if he is as sorry as he says, he should give up his entitlement to that pension. I doubt he can be compelled to do so and I’m certainly not in favour of inventing some process that applies retrospectively, but it might be good to see that money go to some humanitarian cause.

I also think we have heard enough from Tony Blair on the public stage now. It’s perhaps time from him to withdraw from public life. He can’t just go on as if nothing has happened and continue to enjoy the public profile and esteem that he has cultivated up until now.

Most professionals have standards of behaviour to which they are accountable. Perhaps those who govern us should also have to account for their actions and face serious consequences if they do not uphold those standards. The Ministerial Code doesn’t seem to be sufficient. A doctor or nurse would not be able to create this sort of catastrophe and then simply walk away.

Our current Prime Minister has just completely unnecessarily put our country in a very precarious position merely to settle a civil war in his own party. Generations to come will face the consequences of his folly, yet he, too, will not have to face any consequences for his conduct.

We need to think about how we avoid these sorts of things in the future. Perhaps we need to reform our political system so that it is more difficult to win a parliamentary majority for a single party, to put more checks and balances in the system. Ken Clarke, who is always worth listening to, talked about a return to the sort of collective cabinet responsibility that he had known during his first years in Government.

What do you think?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Graham Davis 6th Jul '16 - 4:05pm

    “Those were pretty major errors but nobody involved is actually going to face any consequences for that.” That may not be the case. Once interested parties have read the full Chilcott report, they may find enough evidence in it to warrant bringing legal proceedings against those responsible for the errors.

  • “We need to think about how we avoid these sorts of things in the future. Perhaps we need to reform our political system so that it is more difficult to win a parliamentary majority for a single party”

    Sorry, but, Libya. Libya was an even bigger error of judgement and disaster than Iraq. Cameron misled the country by arguing for the enforcement of a no-fly-zone and then, whilst the ink was still wet on the UN resolution, started bombing targets that had nothing to do with creating a no-fly-zone, e.g. tanks. At least with Blair there was half a plan for the occupation of Iraq after the conflict with ground troops – Cameron and Clegg’s war was morally more repugnant and less likely to succeed because of the failure to have ANY plan and the failure to commit to providing ground troops.

    Cameron and Clegg learnt nothing from Iraq. Their culpability in creating the firestorm of violent anarchy is at least as great as Blairs. They need to be held to account as well.

  • Tony Dawson 6th Jul '16 - 4:20pm

    “He asks us to accept that he took the decision to go to war in good faith. I’m not sure that was ever actually in doubt”

    I never thought there was any doubt at all. I have never considered that Tony Blair could ever be trusted about anything.

  • Can he be trusted, well I wouldn’t trust him but then sadly that goes for most senior politicians. Did he commit a War Crime, from my limited knowledge their was no crime of waging an aggressive war at that time as it’s definition hadn’t been agreed by the ICC. He would also have the defense that the vast majority of opinion was that there were WMD, even those that opposed the war did not rely on their absence at the time. From there it will always be a matter of judgement.

    If it’s competence in planning he should be “punished” for then the same would be true of the coalition government and their lack of post-conflict planning for Libya. Whilst not even remotely on the same scale it is currently a pretty lawless hell hole descending into further chaos since the toppling of that Dictator…

    I’m not sure the whole exercise provides anything particularly meaty for either the pros or the anti’s. I sincerely hope it gives some comfort to the families of those lost, but I doubt it will.

  • Stevan Rose 6th Jul '16 - 5:45pm

    I withdrew my support and vote from Labour due to the errors that Blair now accepts and apologises for, plus the fact that there were no WMDs. But I don’t believe that the war was illegal or that any crime was committed by any Government Minister. Saddam was dangerous to his own people, to the region having invaded Kuwait, and to the world through his refusal to cooperate fully with weapons inspectors. How many of his own citizens did he kill in cold blood? He played a game of brag and lost. But had Saddam really got WMDs to back up the impression he was giving in order to scare Iran, Blair would now be a national hero with statues and schools and roads bearing his name. I really don’t understand those who would have left Saddam in power to murder hundreds of thousands more Shi’a an Kurdish Iraqis. But to not have a plan for post-invasion was incredible oversight.

    Nevertheless, and a potentially dangerous thing to say in an Orange room, but in my personal view I would rate Blair as the best PM in my lifetime, which in my defence is more an indictment of the alternative candidates for that accolade. I’d rather him back than any of the possible next PMs. I can say Paddy or Charles would have been better (despite potential disagreements I might have over Iraq) given the chance.

  • Never forget that Blair was obsessed with neutralising Labour Party history. He thought that he was serving the party by erasing any hint of anti-Americanism. The common thread linking the Iraq disaster with the current Corbyn psycho-drama is the Labour Party and/or its Leaders repeatedly being shafted by its own history.

  • The Tony Blair I watched today looked and sounded a broken man. However sorry one may be to see a man in that condition, I’m afraid the judgement of history has been made.

    It was Harold Macmillan who said, ‘All political careers end in tears.. No matter how much money Blair may have accumulated by pursuing American interests, it will all turn to dust and he will surely find it hard to live with himself..

    Meanwhile the families of countless people here and in Iraq will somehow have to cope with the burden of grief and loss.

  • Stevan Rose

    “but in my personal view I would rate Blair as the best PM in my lifetime”

    I would have to agree with that. He was very wrong the way he misled people on Iraq, but he was a proper leader and there are very few – if any – of those around at the moment. Never in a million years would he have got the country into the mess with the EU we have now.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th Jul '16 - 1:03am

    I agree Tony Blair shouldn’t be tried as a war criminal, but maybe he could be for a lesser offence. We need to protect head-of-state rights, but I think some punishment would send a strong message to the Middle East that actually we do care when we appear to have made your region worse.

    It’s similar to sending bankers to prison. We can’t send people to prison for making mistakes, but at the same time, as you say, a nurse, doctor (or even a banker) wouldn’t be able to get away nowadays with such a big mess with absolutely no punishment.

  • AngrySteve
    Let Gaddafi’s opponents be massacred?

  • It is, I suppose, easy to avoid insincerity when you have no concept of what sincerity is. Blair never even conceived of the notion that there should be a proper congruence between one’s knowledge, one’s words, and one’s actions. To him, it is right and proper that belief should follow desire, that what is wished to be true should be stated as fact, and that one should act on those statements despite them being founded on nothing more than wishful thinking. (That explains much more about the man than the Iraq War.)

    However, such fallacious modes of thought are not limited to the former PM, nor do they have their sole home in the Labour Party. There are quite a few members of the Liberal Democrats who are only too prone to be guided by fantasies, regardless of what the evidence shows. Could it be that being right in 2003 was not so much a matter of principle, or even common sense, as simple luck?

    There is, of course, much to be credited in having been right. But one would like to be right, not just once in a while, but regularly; and that in turn means not being deceived by one’s own propaganda, indeed, staying clear of propaganda altogether.

  • Blair was not the only one who supported the invasion of Iraq. Should we try them all?

    There are many countries were people are being killed on an industrial scale. Large parts of Africa for example. Why do we feel that some need protecting and others don’t.

    The questions we need to ask are things like – who makes money out of manufacturing and selling the arms being used? Who makes money out of natural resources in those areas? Is there any links between the answers and the actions of our government.

    Once we accept that killing human beings is an acceptable process in our relations with other countries, then there are foreseeable consequences.

  • Manfarang 7th Jul ’16 – 3:12am…..Let Gaddafi’s opponents be massacred?

    That was Blair’s argument over Iraq…After all, Saddam HAD massacred opponents using WMDs….

  • Tony Dawson 7th Jul '16 - 12:01pm

    @malc

    ” He was very wrong the way he misled people on Iraq, but he was a proper leader and there are very few – if any – of those around at the moment. Never in a million years would he have got the country into the mess with the EU we have now.”

    On those grounds we should all chant ‘Bring back Moseley’. 🙁

  • expats
    Lets not forget Saddam was a brutal dictator although liked in Kuwait before he invaded the place. And lets not forget he was supported by the west before he invaded Kuwait.

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