When Tony Blair’s embarrassingly titled memoir A Journey was published some years ago I was one of those who was delighted to find it in the Crime section of my favourite bookshops. The most ardent Stop the War campaigners would remove it from Biography or Politics and put it where it truly belonged.
I was against the Iraq War. I’d read a number of books by weapons inspectors and was convinced, as were most of us, that the weapons of mass destruction claims, and the Al Quaida links claims, were nonsense. It also seemed very likely that whatever might follow would be at least as bad as Saddam Hussein’s regime. I therefore looked forward to the Chilcot Inquiry and was an avid spectator as the great and the good were hauled over the coals (sometimes rather gently) by John Chilcot and his team, which included the great historian Martin Gilbert, who, sadly, died before the Inquiry completed its work.
What was astonishing, though unsurprising, was how eloquently, articulately and unashamedly Tony Blair, and his colleagues, defended the Government and its decisions. I saw Blair perform at the Leveson Inquiry into Press Freedom too, and was equally impressed. The man was utterly convinced of his rightness. What is it that enables Great Leaders to fend off criticism so smoothly?
The answer is Zeal – than which there is nothing more dangerous in the world (putting aside the forces of nature).
The zealot rises above and beyond the evidence to promote his or her brand of faith, whether religious or political, or both. Righteousness and moral certainty, often impervious to evidence and doubt, are as dangerous as any weapons of mass destruction. Zealots live in another world. Indeed, so elevated is Blair’s state of mind that he is unaware that ‘It’s a journey’ is a cliché or that LOL means Laugh Out Loud, not Lots of Love. He has no sense of the ordinary.
There are three great political events this year which I look forward to with huge excitement – the EU Referendum, the US Presidential Election, and the publication, on July 6th of the Chilcot Inquiry Report. I sympathise with those who castigate John Chilcot for his tardiness, but it is much more important that the report be exhaustive, comprehensive, and invulnerable to accusations of sloppiness, than that it should be rushed into print. The report will run to two and a half million words. That’s a modest tome after seven years of work.. It would only take me around four additional years to blog the same number of words (650 words daily every day of the year).
Like many others, I have feared that the mandarins would preside over a whitewash, but if yesterday’s leaks are anything to go by, the Inquiry will deliver stinging rebukes to Tony Blair, Jack Straw (former Foreign Secretary) and Richard Dearlove (former head of MI6) in particular. The first for subverting Cabinet Government and going to war with buddy George without good cause, the second for Straw’s incompetent management of the aftermath, and the last for Dearlove’s failure to stop Blair’s Government from publishing the highly misleading dodgy dossier, which made the case for war on the basis of unsubstantiated claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and could use them against Britain in 45 minutes. It’s probably Blair’s subversion that has rankled most with the mandarins. The Butler report also took him to task for his presidential style of government.
Let’s hope the leaks are not themselves misleading. If they are not Mr Blair, the worst part of your journey has yet to come.