Tag Archives: film

Review: Official Secrets – and contemporary parallels

Go to see ‘Official Secrets’.  It will remind you of the hard choices Liberals have to make in swimming against the tide of the received wisdom of the public debate.  And it will remind you that we stuck out our necks, against the received wisdom of almost the entire media, both the main parties, and much expert opinion, in challenging the case for the Iraq war.

The film is about Katharine Gun, a GCHQ employee with doubts about the drift towards the invasion of Iraq, who leaks (to the Observer) a memo from the US National Security Agency requesting material on representatives of states on the UN Security Council that could be covertly used to pressure them into supporting the US motion to authorise the use of force against Saddam Hussein.  It follows the subsequent investigation, her arrest, the involvement of Liberty in her defence, and after a lengthy delay the government abandonment of her prosecution on the first day of the trial.  There is much detail on the pursuit of reliable counter-evidence to contest the government’s case, the interaction between journalists and lawyers in London and Washington, and the uncovering of information on how advice to our government on the legal case for intervention had been altered under pressure from the US Administration and No.10.  

It’s well constructed; it links the personal tensions and agonies with the wider political context.  Several well-known living people are portrayed – some more sympathetically than others.  Good triumphs in the end, after much skulduggery.

It’s easy to forget how risky we felt it to be at that time for us to contest the dominant narrative of weapons of mass destruction and a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qu’aida.  The film shows even the Observer editor and many of its senior staff resisting the plausibility of covert efforts to fix UN authorization and evidence being twisted.  I remember going with Ming Campbell  to a briefing, on ‘Privy Council terms’, from two very senior intelligence officials, and having afterwards to assess how far we had been persuaded by their presentation.  Charles Kennedy had to resist strong pressure from Blair’s government, and weigh up the costs of being attacked by most of the press against the case for refusing to accept the government’s rationale for war.   We stuck our necks out, without complete confidence that we knew what was happening; but our instincts proved right.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 4 Comments

Peterloo: The Manchester Massacre

On 2nd November Mike Leigh’s “Peterloo” goes on general release following its premiere today in Manchester – a first outside London. Maxine Peake, a Corbyn fan, describes it as an ensemble piece. There are no leads amongst more than 100 actors.

Liberals, especially those in the north familiar with Labour’s authoritarian underbelly, should claim the Manchester Massacre of 1819 as part of our heritage, part of the slow march to universal suffrage. I spoke about it as I wound up a Lib Dem debate on Yorkshire Devolution in Bradford Council Chamber this week I said:

This year 2018 we have marked the centenary of votes for women.

Events from 200 and 100 years ago remind us that the extension of democracy , was achieved through persistent campaigning and a long, long struggle. It did not come through spontaneous generosity on the part of governments. People demanded it and kept on demanding, and some even died for the cause.

On the Lib Dem benches we do not see devolution as simply about moving money around, whether it be through combined authority, city region or, God help us, an elected regional mayor. Power to the people, power to Yorkshire, is about the extension and enhancement of our democracy. We should demand it, we should campaign for it and we see little virtue in a celebrity based substitute for the full monty of regional devolution.

On 16th August 1819 people converged on Manchester’s St Peter’s Field from various parts of Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The military commander for “the Northern District,” who should have been in charge of crowd control, decided that he had a pressing engagement at York Races.

People practised marching in step as a way of maintaining discipline but this was reported by Government spies to the Home Secretary as a threat to public order. On the road to Manchester many Methodist favourite hymns were sung as well as campaign songs set to hymn tunes. Many were unfamiliar with public demonstrations and as ever the avoidance of violence was crucial to getting the message across.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 6 Comments
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