Is Tony Blair a Liar or Merely a Mass Murderer?
Increasingly, commentators of the "I'm-so-logical-it-hurts" variety have tended to reduce the Hutton Report and its attending controversies to a simple fallacy of the Left. Namely, we overshot ourselves in trying to peg Blair as a liar, and allowed the debate to be dominated by that single, narrow issue. This was inevitably a poor move, as deft manoeuvres between shades of meaning is Blair's specialty. He wouldn't outright lie - he is, after all, a lawyer. He can dissimulate without actually falsifying, misrepresent without leaving his ass uncovered. Mick Hume, from Spiked Online, notes:
"That obsession with sleaze was the framework within which the inquiry was set up by the government and run by Lord Hutton. The central question to which all sides demanded the answer was not 'Was the Iraq war right?', but 'Are Blair, Alastair Campbell and Geoff Hoon liars who deliberately misled the nation about the infamous 45 minute claim?', as suggested by Andrew Gilligan's BBC report. Unless he had been handed signed confessions by the accused, it is hard to see how the law lord could have been expected to find the prime minister guilty of such a serious charge of dishonesty."
Mick, whom we all remember for enlightening us about fake concentration camps in Bosnia during his fading stint as an RCPer , may be onto something here. Obviously, such a crucial question as the justice of war cannot be reduced to such low-key wrangling between a BBC reporter and Her Majesty's government. Similarly, when Nick Cohen (still clutching his left credentials like a moth-eaten security blanket) notes that the Hutton Inquiry cannot have been a whitewash in all seriousness because its remit was so narrow, he again has a point in directing us to the big picture.
But such exhortations risk throwing the bitch out with the bath-water. For one thing, I'm not at all sure the question of Blair's dishonesty is irrelevant, nor is it so bad from a strategic point of view to feign innocence and pretend we think Hutton will deliver something more than a whitewash. The immediate effect of Hutton's report has been to elicit a mass, hearty jeer of contempt from most of the public, matched instantly by heated applause and relief from Labour MPs so reflexive in their adulation of Tony's matchless capacity to slither out of any old shit he gets himself into. The Hutton Inquiry unearthed a mountain of evidence, which only needs looking at to realise the extensive probing and tailoring that went into the September dossier.
Honest Tony, the Used Arms Dealer, has no credibility left. Once a savvy political operator with charmed fortunes, he still knows how to rig an Inquiry and engineer victory over pitched parliamentary battles. Yet, one would expect no less from someone with the power and privileges of the British Prime Minister. What he lacks is any remaining affinity with the British voter. American voters, it is true, love him and take him to be as earnest as when he gave his marriage vows, which is exactly how they treated Clinton. But then they've got less to compare him with, and have had no time to get sick of him. His petulant outbursts of sanctimony over everything from public sector workers ("scars on my back") to antiwar demonstrators ("blood on their hands") have only depleted his moral standing in the UK. The completeness of his victory in Hutton is also a complete failure. Consider this: The Prime Minister and his staff have been completely exhonerated, their enemies utterly tossed and gored. Not a spot of blood has touched their Gucci suits, and the naked ladies on Tony's Versace shirt-cuffs remain intact. Yet, noone believes him or Lord Hutton, nor has any love for the Labour Party. The despised BBC, however, has attracted legions of sympathisers (who may yet be put off by its groaning self-abasement before power).
Those who note the narrowness of Hutton's remit only to conclude that he could not have reached different conclusions are peddling apathy as scepticism. (One doubts, somehow, that Nick Cohen would have been happy to see the government found guilty of fantastic fabrications over this.) Lord Hutton was happy to allow his remit to extend as far as excoriating the BBC for a minute slip in editorial standards, yet would not allow a similar and perfectly reasonable extension to consider the likelihood of government manipulation of intelligence information. They also miss that what has been most damaging for Blair and the government, from this report, has been the incongruence of evidence and conclusion. There is rarely a strict adherence between the two in any public inquiry, but one usually expects a sense of correlation, a sense that the judge is tending the same way as the evidence has, and that he will get there in his doddery old brain when the pension cheques start to clear. In this case, everyone who has attended the inquiry and reported from it will say more or less the same thing - it is a tragicomic farce.
Luckily, we needn't accept it. Granting the narrowness of the Hutton Report, we nevertheless have access to its evidentiary base and also the chance to tap a groundswell of public anger. Public contempt is unlikely to dissipate , and there is an excellent chance of generating a serious political challenge to the status quo. It behooves those "left cynics" who continually mewl about the larger picture and bemoan political degeneration to contribute to its regeneration. In specific, if you see a handle, turn it. Opportunities arrive even on establishment band-wagons. And Hutton, the famed nag of the Protestant Ascendancy, has dragged before us a rickety old wagon filled with thinly veiled swag.