Tag Archives: government

What did we expect?

Blair at the Chilcot inquiry
Blair at the Chilcot inquiry

Depending on what papers you read, or what radio stations you listen to and tv stations you watch, today was due to be one of the most important in the last decade of our political history. Forget Obama’s one year on, or even his election, but Friday 29th January 2010 was the day that the Chilcot inquiry would get to hear from Tony Blair, perhaps the figurehead of our Iraq ideology and the focus of bile and criticism from the anti-war lobby. Having an ex- (and previous) PM give evidence in an inquiry such as this is unprecedented, and even despite its lack of legal standing or recourse from what evidence was heard, the frenzied build up raised almost feverish hope that we would have our Frost/Nixon moment, especially in light of a recent interview with Fern Britton where he appeared to state he’d have invaded with or without proof of WMD.

In reality, of course, this was never going to be the case. Blair, whatever you say about him (and personally his political conduct before, during and since the invasion turned my opinion of him from respected – if not supported – leader to self-important and pious disappointment) was a good leader up to this juncture. One of his main strengths was being able to put his point across, and to debate and discuss, much of which went into his conduct in the run up to the Iraq invasion. He had his convictions, his beliefs, and he stuck to them rigidly. In previous circumstances this was a strength, but this time it clouded his judgement, in the face of advice from the Foreign Office, Attorney General, and criticism from his own Cabinet, not to mention a tidal wave of public opinion, he ploughed ahead, striving to retain the ‘special relationship’ with America, possibly at all costs.Typically, he slipped in a side door and away from the protesters and families of Iran casualties, an action that seemed to preface his performance during the day.

Chilcot protesters await Blair

What we know now is that we had a ‘dodgy’ dossier, a misleading document that overstated intelligence that was patchy from the JIC at best. What we had was a legal opinion from the Attorney General that right up unto the decision to go to war wasn’t convinced of a legal case for war with the existing UN Resolution 1441. And what we had was a plan for war, but no clear plan for post-invasion. There were clear questions that were needed to be asked today, for us to try and finally get some clarity and give at least the public some modicum of truth and respect on how we came to go to war, and with retrospect, what we did wrong.

What we got was another Blair masterclass in bluff and subterfuge, stating his own case, swerving questions and restating his firm belief that he was right. Ignoring whether the intelligence he was given that led him to his ‘beyond doubt’ statement wasn’t strong and if he wasn’t correct in saying what he had, he simply stated that he believed it was beyond doubt. Similarly, he stated that he believed that the case for war was sound, and that the planning for the post-war period was ok (despite multiple criticisms from many parties in the inquiry), blaming it on conditions being different to what had been planned. If regimes with WMD needed to stop using them, why did we not invade Pakistan? China? Korea? It simply isn’t consistent. So many times, his answer started with ‘let me say that….’ where he would revert to pre-prepared answers and statements about, Kosovo, 9/11, Iran, when all we wanted were answers on Iraq.

Don’t let’s get too excited here. We knew this was never going to be a career-wrecking day. Blair wouldn’t have got where he was today by being careless or carefree (he is, let’s remember) a barrister. But he’s deflected every contentious question, at times almost suggesting in the light of others’ criticisms, that there was no issue (and effectively suggesting by that, that everyone else was incorrect). Batting everything back with a stern defence, clinging to the ‘special relationship’, stating his firm beliefs in everything he stood for, and justifying his actions on this. The only chink of light coming where he admitted his interview with Fern Britton wasn’t worded sensibly, but at the same time, denying that he was wrong. He did also concede that the 45-minute claim wasn’t, with hindsight, a sensible move.

For the families sitting in the gallery, that have lost their loved ones in the conflict, this won’t be much closure. If anything, Tony Blair’s performance, while nervous and shaky in the first hour, became more sure-footed, and less revealing as the day went on. The panel made a decent effort of not letting him settle, and after early criticism during the inquiry, they’ve become more steely, but ultimately, with no real legal grounding in their group, they were never going to get one over on the former PM.

Yes, with hindsight we can look at many decisions in a different light, but much of this was being criticised at the time, and there was huge opposition evident, but today started full of hope, and ended with weary resignation. I suppose the only consolation is that, however steadfast his outward rhetoric, Blair will have to live with what happened (and is still happening) in Iraq, and there are hundreds of thousands that have lost their lives as a result of decisions he took. This, sadly, is a situation we will most likely face again in this decade. One can only hope we look back at this inquiry and at least use it to colour our actions in the future, or this will have been a pointless exercise.

A shame on our city…..

Ian Tomlinson lies dying on the pavement at teh G20 protests

The G20 summit brought with it the usual concerns – would the day be hijacked by anarchists? Would those groups wanting to ‘hang the bankers’ really do it? How would the disparate groups be kept in one place safely? Would the protests really have much resonance across the world? But many of the press before the event nervously questioned the police’s insistence that they would turn violent. Yes, there were elements in any anti-globalisation demonstration that would be bound to hijack it for their own skewed means, but the talk up to the event seemed like it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: violence would need strong-handed police, which would result in trouble, justifying their actions.

No one would’ve guessed the events of that day would turn out as they had. While violence did erupt sporadically, and the symbolic destruction of a branch of RBS (bailout money to fix the windows, how poetic, and pointless) fed the news frenzy, one tragedy appeared almost a footnote to the day’s events. Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller, had died of a heart attack in the early evening in the backstreets around the Bank Of England. Seemingly unconnected to events, statements from the police called it a ‘tragic accident’.

But over the last 24 hours, as eyewitness reports of the events started to tell a different story. And a video shows most of the attack as it happened, pouring cold water on the police’s version of events. The man – not even a protester, and on his way home, and came across the remnants of a police line ‘kettling’ protesters away from the Bank of England. Walking away from a line of police, hands in his pockets and quietly, he appeared to be struck, first by a baton, then pushed from behind by the same man, falling and apparently hitting his head on the pavement. Dazed, he appears to talk to the police, who do nothing to aid him, before being helped up by bystanders. Three minutes after walking away groggily, he dies on a pavement of a heart attack.

The storm that’s been played out today, with the IPCC’s enquiry mercifully having the City of London police removed from it (would we face more ‘inquiries’ the like of which have seen no policeman from the capital convicted of any violent offence against a protester in the last 50 years?) we may yet see justice for a man whose only crime was to head home, through an area he used daily, and walk away from a line of over-zealous police. It’s hardly the scandal from Genoa, but it’s the final straw in a city and country where we should pride ourselves in our democracy and our civil protectors, but we face an ever eroding set of liberties, sacrificed to the ‘war on terror’ and the police with ever-increasing reign to ‘protect’ us. We have a right to protest, and yet even that seems to be diminished now. From Stockwell to Forest Gate, I have little faith in their ability to deal with truth any more, and the skewed statements, denying any contact with Ian Tomlinson before his death, sounded like the echo of Sir Ian Blair all over again. We haven’t learnt, it seems, a single thing.

Indeed new footage uncovered by Channel 4 news tonight gives further evidence that the officer struck Tomlinson forcefully before he was pushed to the ground. And the officer who was involved has gone to the IPCC – no doubt to tell them of his provocation. There are glimpses of hope, that process can be followed, and that the police can be held accountable, but we’ve heard it many times before, only for it to ebb away in a sea of misadventure, of ‘cannot recall who was at the scene’ or ‘details have been lost’. I hope for once they can do the right thing. If the protester had struck the policeman, we all know he would be in court before his feet had touched the ground, and it’s high time the police were treated with the same ‘respect’ we are by them.

In case you think ID cards aren’t enough….

The government now plans to introduce a database to track every email, text message and phone call made by anyone in the UK in order to ‘combat terrorism’. This is because terrorists used it to plan attacks. They also use speech, to one another. Will this soon be monitored too?

On Question Time, renowned hawk Geoff Hoon went further to justify his colleagues’ plans. Not monitoring it would be “giving a licence to terrorists to kill people”. I’m pretty sure an email didn’t fly the planes into the WTC, but I may be wrong. Police and security services already have powers to monitor phone traffic, but this is on a case-by-case basis, and not a wholesale right to watch every single communication we all send and receive. It makes the ID card scheme, when the government has already proven itself to be far less than competent in managing our personal data, look like a molehill.

Responding to Lib Dem MP Julia Goldsworthy who likened it to “something I would expect to read in [George Orwell’s book] 1984”, and asked “How much more control can they have? How far is he prepared to go to undermine civil liberties?”, he continued: “To stop terrorists killing people in our society, quite a long way actually.” Seemingly, by any means neccessary. “If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don’t have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people.” Hardly. Why don’t we just lock everyone up and then no one will be able to kill anyone.

Thankfully, the bill has now been put back to 2009, when hopefully, given the reaction of pilots and students to the first wave of ‘voluntary’ ID cards, it will be defeated in both the house and the Lords. It really isn’t hard to understand that this sort of invasion of our human rights to free discussion and being innocent until proven guilt are being undermined.

Leaving the last line to Hoon: “The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist.”

Clearly bigger than every other one, in Labour’s eyes.

4 billion pounds…. money well spent?

Is it really necessary to stump up almost 4 billion (yes, BILLION) pounds for two new huge aircraft carriers for the British Navy when we don’t have the armour to keep our soldiers alive? Ok, so there’s more jobs, for an industry that’s almost dead, but think of what that could’ve done on healthcare, social welfare, inner cities, or even charity. The mind boggles, but hey, we prop up the defence industry and have for the last century, so why stop now?