Notes From the Margins…

The Political Class Colludes in Blair’s War Lies

  • August 02, 2012
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Few people are likely to be surprised by the news that the attorney-general Dominic Grieve has vetoed two freedom of information requests from the dogged campaigner Chris Lamb, made via the independent Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), for the release of the crucial March 13/17 2003 cabinet meetings that preceded the Iraq war.

The government has already blocked requests for key documents from the Chilcot Inquiry, forcing it to put back the publication of its findings by another year.   In its initial Decision Notice on Lamb’s requests published on 4 July, the ICO considered various arguments against disclosure presented by the Cabinet Office.

These included the need to preserve the confidentiality of the policy making process and the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility, the fact that Iraq was still a ‘live political issue’ and the possibility that ‘   If discussions were routinely made public there is a risk that Ministers may feel inhibited from being frank and candid with one another.’

The Commissioner nevertheless upheld the request, after taking into account

‘ …the immense public policy controversies generated by the Iraq invasion and occupation and the cost in lives resulting from the conflict…information that can provide a better understanding of how the decision to go to war was made is subject to an exceptionally strong public interest in disclosure.’

Now Grieve has vetoed the request on the grounds that it might cause ‘serious potential prejudice to the maintenance of effective cabinet government’ and that ‘the issue discussed was exceptionally serious, being a decision to commit British service personnel to an armed conflict situation.’

The attorney-general also noted that ‘Iraq remains very much a live political issue in its own right’ with links to the ‘overall security situation in the Middle East and the perceived link between the terror threat to the UK and military action in Iraq’ and that most members of the March 2003 cabinet meetings were still MPs or ‘otherwise active in public life.’

Grieve’s depiction of the Iraq invasion as ‘exceptionally serious’ is certainly correct, but his arguments in favor of non-disclosure are not serious at all.       It is precisely the gravity of the Iraq invasion and its disastrous outcome that led Lamb to make his freedom of information requests in the first place.

War is pretty much the most serious business any government can engage in.   The stream of leaked memos and contradictory statements from many of those involved in the Iraq invasion point to a deliberate policy of misinformation by Tony Blair and his inner circle that has done far more damage to the ‘maintenance of effective cabinet government’ than would be caused by opening up those minutes to public scrutiny.

Grieve is also right to observe that Iraq is a ‘live political issue in its own right’ both internationally and domestically.   It is certainly a live issue in Iraq itself, where 325 people were killed and almost 700 injured last month,   according to the Iraq Health Ministry.

In domestic UK politics, many of the individuals involved in taking the decision to go to war are pursuing lucrative post-ministerial careers, seeking to become police commissioners, seeking to rescue reputations that were tarnished by the toxic legacy of Iraq, or looking forward to new jobs in a new Labour government.

The Conservatives supported the Iraq war, and are clearly no more inclined towards transparency regarding its decision-making processes than Jack Straw, who vetoed a similar freedom of information request back in 2009.   To their eternal discredit,   neither the government’s coalition partners nor the opposition have issued a word of criticism about these refusals.

According to the Guardian, Grieve decided to issue his new veto, ‘ after consulting former Labour ministers, his cabinet colleagues, and the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband.’

Quietly and without fuss, the entire British political class is now collectively colluding to protect the   plotters and conspirators who misled parliament and the country into a catastrophic war, using fraudulent arguments about the public interest, reasons of state and cabinet responsibility as the pretext for a cover-up.

We should not let them get away with it.     Because the cross-party consensus in favour of secrecy has nothing to do with the preservation of good government.     On the contrary, the Iraq invasion was a product and a symptom of bad governance,   and a narrow decision-making process that enabled a handful of individuals to subvert the democratic process and impose their will on parliament and the electorate.

The unwillingness of all three parties to shed light on these processes is shameful and disgraceful, and will only fuel the suspicion that the documents contained material that was too politically sensitive to reveal.

And the next time Miliband or some other politician delivers a worthy speech about the need for accountability and transparency,   or talks about ‘listening’ and re-engaging the public in the democratic process, we should remember that in July 2012,   Britain’s three main political parties set out to conceal one of   the most sordid   episodes in British political history from public scrutiny.

And we should also consider that as long as the decision-making processes that made Iraq possible remain shrouded in secrecy,   then there is nothing to stop something similar happening   again.







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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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