This is a clever book. It describes 30 days close access to Blair’s inner group during the Iraq conflict. Its commissioning is a demonstration of how Blair and his entourage thought they would come well out of the war. They even briefed the press that strengthened by war Gordon Brown would be forced out of the Treasury so that Blair could deliver his other historic goal of membership of the euro. The book is easy to read. I recommend it strongly to those interested in Iraq, the British Constitution and New Labour. It contains more gems of information than first appears. Alistair Campbell will probably like it. It shows his powerful central position. But it also shows – within its limits – how badly our constitutional system is working and the cynicism at the heart of No 10.
It confirms my view that Tony Blair committed the UK long ago – perhaps before June 2002 – to go to war in Iraq in support of the US. He favoured a route through the UN, but committed us anyway and therefore lost any serious leverage.
We get glimpses of Tony Blair’s muddle. “It is all very well being a pacifist .. but to be a pacifist after September 11th, that’s something different. It’s all new now: terrible threat, terrorist weapons, terrorist states. That is what people have to understand.” We must conclude that Tony Blair thinks that September 11th made Saddam Hussein more dangerous.
The only bit of serious policy we get is Tony Blair’s “strategic fear of the isolation of the United States if it ‘goes it alone’”. We are told that in September 2002, Tony Blair’s analysis of relations between Washington, London and Baghdad rested on six essential principles to which Blair and his aides would regularly return. They are, in my summary:
Saddam Hussein’s past aggression and present support for terrorism made him a clear threat. – The US and Britain were among his enemies.
The people of US post September 11th would support a war on Iraq.
The war would happen whatever any other country did.
The people of Britain and the rest of the world would want action through the UN.
It would be more damaging to international peace and security if the US acted alone.
The logic of these simple points is clear. They are hardly profound, but they explain why we went to war. It boils down to the view that the US will inevitably go to war in Iraq and for some unexplained reasons it is dangerous if they go alone, therefore we should try the UN but in any case go with them.
The rest of the book focuses on Blair’s presentation; Tony’s constant need for makeup and the power and dominance of Alistair Campbell.
The book clearly displays the cynicism and contempt the inner team has for most other groupings in the political system. There is the Cabinet during whose meetings “A messenger sits guard to ensure that none of the people outside, the people who really run this heart of government (my emphasis) makes too much noise”. There is the Parliamentary Labour Party who are pressed and charmed and persuaded to vote with the government on March 18th who are sneeringly dismissed as “ ..the people who seem themselves as leaders of the country”. And there is the Jack Jones at whose 90th birthday party Tony Blair says “You owned this place once … Yes, you owned this place once. It’s not quite like that now. But it’s very good to see you here” and the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee .. “barons who have been cleverly deprived of their power, but to whom ritual respect must be paid”.
We have Alistair Campbell constantly in control. A piece by Bill Clinton has been arranged for The Guardian who printed it, but apparently left out his direct appeal to Labour MPs. Campbell insists that someone should “Get onto The Guardian and protest”. We get a glimpse of his mastery of the news that is fed to us. “Then he calls the top television political editors …Adam, you might like to know that … Andrew, yes there are some resignations but … Nick, yes, yes, he’s definitely gone but, well, he’s not exactly the .. Then he hears his own words played back to him … This is true interactive television”.
We are again served up with the completely dishonest melodrama of a likely Blair resignation over the vote in the House of Commons. Given that the Conservative Party was voting with the Government, the reality was that the vote was unlosable. The issue was the size of the Labour revolt and therefore the humiliation of Blair. But in order to try to cast themselves in heroic mode, Blair, Straw and Tessa Jowell have earnestly told us that they were planning to resign. Peter Stothard swallows this canard. He is smarter on other pretences.
But perhaps the most cynical attitude of all involves the UN role in post conflict Iraq. On 25 March, Sally Morgan says “Yes, we want more Kofi. We seriously have to Kofi now”. We are told Labour MPs like ‘ a Kofi plan’. ‘We’d better Kofi this’. means we had better obscure this bit of military planning with a good count of humanitarian waffle. ‘Let’s speak Kofi is what the mood in London demands.’
And thus Tony Blair was fixated on the UN role in post conflict Iraq in his meetings with Bush in the Azores when we got “UN leg” at camp David 27 March and at Hillsborough on 6 April when we got “the vital role for the UN”. And then he was satisfied. He needed the soundbite but was not concerned with the content. And thus he ignored the Attorney General’s advice on the legalities of coalition action in post conflict Iraq. The Attorney recommended a Memorandum of Understanding so that British staff would be protected, but the US refused and Blair then simply accepted a Pentagon lead, through the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance with the results we see in Iraq today.
I stayed in the Government because the war was unstoppable and the Prime Minister promised international co-operation and a central UN role to support the people of Iraq in rebuilding their country,. Blair probably does not even know that he gave me his firm assurances that he later completely breached. He uses his charm to get what he wants. He is a media star. He thinks in soundbites. This is the book of the film. It is also the government of our country.