Comment at end
9th January, 2010
‘Labour fears Blair will be a liability’
It’s an interesting article by Tom Baldwin, their Chief Reporter and Sam Coates.
I’d like to go through it, bit by bit. After Brown’s nearly/almost/maybe/who knows/failed woeful Wednesday, it’s well worth another glance.
“Senior Labour figures have voiced concerns that Tony Blair’s appearance at the Iraq inquiry in the coming weeks will wreck any prospect of him helping the party at the general election.
The Labour leadership, which fires its opening shot in the election campaign today, has so far not agreed any formal role for the man who led it to three successive election victories.”
Hysterical, isn’t it? Really. I mean – you couldn’t make it up.
Firstly they are concerned that his appearance at the Iraq Inquiry might spoil his usefulness to them! Even though HE had no influence over the date of the Inquiry, or the election, come to that! And even though, if it’s bad for them, it’s got to be worse for him!
In the worst case scenario, if it’s really bad, he might even be clapped in irons and dragged off to court afterwards! (Dream on, kids.)
And secondly, and associated, they bleat, HIS help in the campaign might lose the election for THEM if he comes out of the Iraq Inquiry more soiled than the press say he already is!
Come ON. This crowd of jellyfish don’t need any help in that cause.
Still, how generous and selfless of his former colleagues! Those who owe their past success at the polls to him still hold him responsible for their future jobs. What a shower.
GO AWOL, TONY
As the Labour party realises, reluctantly for some, that it is stuck with Blair’s successor, some of them fear that Blair, their erstwhile WINNER, could LOSE them their jobs. Bleedin’ hearts … ‘ell!
I’d suggest The Former makes himself too busy to campaign for the next several months. Otherwise, if or when they lose the election, they’ll blame him as per usual.
There is “no formal role” for the man who led Labour to three unprecedented successive election victories through the strength of his unique communicative skills, across-the-board electoral appeal, leadership qualities and political nous. Yet here they are today, to a man and woman (more or less) still backing the guy who stabbed the real leader in the back and thought he could do the job better.
Even though they now know he couldn’t… and didn’t.
To be blunt I don’t know if Mr Blair WANTS to help them out now, or if he does WHY he does. He warned them as politely as he could that it was not sensible to try to remove him and implant another leader uncontested. The “other leader” was Brown.
Having said that, the political animal in Blair may even empathise with Brown’s predicament. I think you’d be hard pressed to find any politician today who looks more at ease inside his own skin, even in moments of stress, and there have certainly been plenty of those in recent times. I may be wrong, but I do not have the impression that Tony Blair bears grudges. His wife, maybe – well wives CAN get protective at times, thank goodness. But not him. Not so much that he carries that burden heavily, daily.
In December 2007, when Brown first felt the wrath of unpopularity I wrote this – A message from Tony to Gordon. (It’ll open in a separate window.)
Different people’s pictures featured after yesterday’s revolt. Some different. But the message is, presumably, the same.
It’s bound to fill a few column inches and fuel a few more “noises off” as the political hacks go about their business analysing the whys & wherefores of the failed Hoon & Hewitt attempt.
But I have to wonder if the recent coup effort had anything to do with this –
THE IRAQ INQUIRY
The Iraq inquiry, which was set up by Gordon Brown […] is reopening old divisions between Brownites and Blairites months before Labour seeks a fourth term.
Growing criticism is being voiced within the former Prime Minister’s inner circle about Mr Brown’s decision to hold the inquiry with public hearings in the run-up to the election.
A source close to Mr Blair complained yesterday that voters would have only partial interpretations of the evidence from a hostile media because Sir John Chilcot’s report was not due to be published until next year. Another said: “The whole f***ing thing is Downing Street’s fault.”
A “hostile media” NEVER!
We ALL KNOW, as they like to say, that no matter how well Blair accounts for himself, and he undoubtedly will, ALL that will be reported are the juicy bits, HEADLINED everywhere, serving the causes of Blair’s & Labour’s enemies.
Whether blame for the timing of the Inquiry is all Brown’s I’m not so sure. I seem to recall that Blair too, said there should be an Inquiry AFTER the troops had left Iraq. (The difference? Blair did not expect them to leave so soon.)
No leadership change or prospect of change would prevent Blair’s appearance at the Iraq Inquiry within the month. But, if there were to be another leader in the pipeline there is a chance that Blair would feel freer to say more than he might otherwise. For instance, something about Brown’s involvement in some of the Iraq decisions, which he wouldn’t say in the run-up to the election with Brown still in charge.
Was any of this at the back of the minds of such as Geoff Hoon, Blair’s Defence Secretary (Oct 1999 – May 2005)? He too is due to give evidence to the Inquiry within the next few weeks, as are Tony Blair, John Reid (former Defence Secretary, May 2005- May 2006), Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell.
A ‘MORE NUANCED’ POSITION AT THE IRAQ INQUIRY?
Some advisers, however, are known to be urging Mr Blair to adopt a more nuanced position when he gives evidence to the inquiry.
A ‘more nuanced position’ than what? The whole truth and nothing but the truth? Or just slightly nuanced away from suggesting that Brown too bears some responsibility for some particular areas, such as funding the war? Hoon, if he had felt under financial constraints from Chancellor Brown, might have suspected Brown’s (ulterior) motives in under-funding. Did Brown hope that Blair and the MOD under Hoon would take the flak for military “failures” due to insufficient equipment? Perish the thought.
A senior campaign source added: “I think everyone is anxious about the electoral impact of Tony Blair and no one knows [if] it is going to be positive or not. We don’t know what his appearance [at the inquiry] will mean or whether it will help.”
The “senior campaign source” evidently fears for Brown and thus Labour if Mr Blair does NOT take a nuanced approach. Positive or not? For whom or what?
BLAIR KEEN TO “GET STUFF OFF HIS CHEST”
Mr Blair is said to regard the inquiry as an opportunity to “get stuff off his chest” after being forced to remain largely silent on the subject, in the face of criticism at home and abroad, since leaving Downing Street.
Why “forced to remain largely silent”?
Never – and I mean NEVER EVER – has any senior politician out of office been as silent on ANY subject to do with government and policy as has this one. The man who was so deeply and personally involved in shaping government and policy for ten years. The man whose name has been dragged through the mud as though he alone had had any power in government for ten whole years. He has said very, very little to defend himself. It cannot be because he has no answers.
If he has ‘stuff to get off his chest’, it’s highly likely to be earth-shattering for Brown and allies. The press too could be in his sights, and rightly so.
A spokesman said last night that the former Prime Minister would have no problem giving evidence in public. “He has always said he is happy to go through these issues again, and it’s right that the inquiry should happen now major combat operations are over. Rather than speculating on the hearings, people should let the committee get on with their job.”
That’s formula stuff, and doesn’t indicate anything new. But this does:
Allies of Mr Blair blame the Government for failing to defend him properly over the past two years, but some believe that his approach to the inquiry is in danger of being too brittle. One aide yesterday went so far as to suggest that Mr Blair “screwed up” in his BBC interview with Fern Britton — even though as Prime Minister he had often stated there was “a moral case for removing Saddam” that did not depend on the existence of weapons of mass destruction.
I have no fears on Blair’s approach being “too brittle”. He doesn’t generally DO brittle, as anyone who has seen him at work at PMQs knows. He overcomes with charm. It is being too charming that he must avoid. The panel and public will not appreciate that. As for the second point here – in my humble opinion the last thing he did was to “screw up” in his Britton interview. Better to have laid his cards on the table then, cards which are entirely consistence with his earlier position on international, humanitarian intervention, than allow the Daily MAUL to lead with this at the Inquiry.
[See April, 2009 – ‘Doctrine of The International Community revisited’ and the original Chicago speech, 1999]
If Blair lays his cards on the table on others’ involvement, the press and bloggers would then have other cud to chew. Especially as others, not Blair, are up for election within a few months. This might taste a touch more unpalatable to others than to Blair.
As for this – Seldon is self-righteouslyWRONG:
Efforts have been made in recent days to persuade Mr Blair to concede that mistakes were made before or — more likely — after the invasion. This might involve admitting that the focus on securing United Nations backing led to a disproportionate emphasis on WMD or a failure to prepare properly for Iraqi reconstruction.
Anthony Seldon, a generally sympathetic biographer of Mr Blair, used an article in The Observer last month to say: “It would be a tragedy for him personally, as well as for the nation, if he maintains his self-righteousness.”
It’d be a tragedy for Mr Blair as well as the nation if he concedes to this kind of re-writing of history just so that his traducers get their self-satisfying apology and pound of flesh. NOTHING will ease their dislike of him. Nothing he says, one way or the other at the Inquiry, will change these biased minds. Even if he got down on his knees and begged for their forgiveness, these people would concede no more than – “what took him so long?”
So, don’t do it, Mr Blair. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
As for this –
Preparations for Mr Blair’s appearance before the inquiry are being hampered by strict rules that prevent him talking to key former Downing Street advisers such as Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, who are due to give evidence in the coming weeks.
I’m not sure where these “strict rules” are in the public domain. If they exist at all, presumably witnesses have been sent them privately. They do not seem to be available at the official Inquiry website.
So, what is the implication behind this statement? That Mr Blair cannot “prepare” properly without comparing notes with the aforementioned? That he’d like to ensure they are all on the same page? That they are all necessarily and obviously concocting a story? My last question – why am I so suspicious of the press?
Mr Blair believes the decisions he took on Iraq were a matter of leadership. He is privately dismissive of concerns that this might damage Labour and wants to offer a robust response to those who backed the war at the time but now question his motives or judgment.
I don’t blame him for any of this. So, in his position, would I, especially after refusing for so long to criticise others’ positions, changing as they have, with populism and the wind.
A senior adviser to Mr Blair said: “He won’t say ‘sorry’ for the sake of it — his head is not in the right place for that at present. Much will depend on the inquiry’s attitude. If they seek to find lessons for the future, they may get something interesting. But if they try to unearth some great revelation, I think that will put his back up and this will not be very productive for anyone.”
His head should never be in the “right” place to say “sorry” about the decision. It was the right decision. He has said “sorry” about the deaths on many occasions. But NOT about the decision. The decision was, I repeat, right.
Another said: “Gordon [Brown] offered this inquiry to buy some time last summer when the plots were around to remove him. And now, here we are with the danger that this will be the second successive general election fought over the reasons we went to war. We’re worried this could dominate the pre-election agenda. Those who think Tony is some sort of war criminal will never be satisfied.”
If Brown did indeed offer this Inquiry to silence his own critics he displayed the bad judgement he has so repeatedly shown. Brown knew the Iraq decision involved him, Brown, above all others in government apart from Blair.
To this individual – pray, go away. Humbly.
Mr Blair’s critics do not expect him to waver. Peter Kilfoyle, a thorn in the former Prime Minister’s side since quitting the Government ten years ago, said: “A degree of humility on Tony’s part is long overdue. With his conversion to Roman Catholicism, he should know that confession is good for the soul and it is obligatory to recognise where you have erred. I think, however, he will prove incapable of it.”
TIMING OF INQUIRY A “LARGE HOLE”. WHO OR WHAT WILL FALL IN?
Mr Brown and most other serving ministers will not have to give evidence until after the election. But a former member of Mr Blair’s Cabinet, who is due to appear in front of the inquiry this month, said: “We have dug ourselves a very large hole — and for no good reason. The timing of this, politically, could not be worse.” The former minister suggested that the inquiry team appeared sensitive to accusations of “another whitewash” and could consequently become more critical of decisions taken about the war.
The above is quite possible. Hoon or Reid will have uttered these words, Hoon, imho. Geoff Hoon is not a happy bunny.
I mentioned this bullying of Chilcot before. He and his committee must not allow themselves to be harsher on Blair or anyone involved in the decisions than the evidence and common sense tells them they should be. Their aim is NOT to have their own inquiry rated higher than Butler’s or Hutton’s, by the Daily Maul.
They must NOT allow the feral press to win this battle for truth and fairness.
No appeasement, please, Sir John.
Denis MacShane, a backbench ally of Mr Blair, fears the worst. “We’ve seen with the expenses inquiries … that the ex-mandarinate class can come back and bite you,” he said.
Maybe. But as with the expenses and the Telegraph’s exaggeration of the whole business, it depends how you tell ’em!
On the other hand the Blair-baiters (the press, not the mandarins) have not scored a bullseye thus far in the Iraq Inquiry.
Thus, they keep flinging the darts.
- Alastair Campbell at Iraq Inquiry on Tuesday
- See Geoff Hoon’s case for a new leader here AND ‘Who would die in a ditch with Patricia Hewitt?’
- Blair’s reason(s) for the Iraq war decision. We ALL KNOW, don’t we?
- Former parliamentary private secretary to Geoff Hoon announces she will stand down