By Chris Ames
Today’s attempt to get MPs to invite a parliamentary committee to include allegations that Tony Blair misled parliament and public got a right kicking, but the truth was the greater casualty.
Going back a couple of days, my colleague Paul Waugh reported that some Labour MPs bizarrely wanted to be whipped hoarded to vote against the motion, including Blairite Ben Bradshaw:
He said it was an “unacceptable” not to whip fully against a motion that “deliberately distorted” the findings of the Chilcot report and “perpetuates the lie” that Tony Blair misled Parliament and Cabinet “when Chilcot made clear he acted in good faith”.
I emailed Bradshaw to ask him where the Inquiry report made clear that Blair acted in good faith. He kindly replied, albeit somewhat patronisingly, asking me if I had read the report. I won’t publish the whole email but it includes an assertion that
volume 4 paragraph 876 makes clear there was no falsification or improper use of intelligence…
Here it is:
876. The JIC accepted ownership of the dossier and agreed its content. There is no evidence that intelligence was improperly included in the dossier or that No.10 improperly influenced the text.
Oh look, it refers specifically to the dossier, implicitly the part attributed to the Joint Intelligence Committee rather than Blair’s foreword, and a lack of evidence that Blair abused it. Not asserting anyone’s good faith.
The selectiveness of this quotation becomes more stark when you look at what the report says a few paragraphs later:
879. In the Foreword, Mr Blair stated that he believed the “assessed intelligence” had “established beyond doubt” that Saddam Hussein had “continued to produce chemical and biological weapons […]
880. The Inquiry is not questioning Mr Blair’s belief […]
881. But the deliberate selection of a formulation which grounded the statement in what Mr Blair believed, rather than in the judgements which the JIC had actually reached in its assessment of the intelligence, indicates a distinction between his beliefs and the JIC’s actual judgements.
There is actually a strange lack of logic to this, because if, as it says, Blair deliberately used a formulation based on what he believed the intelligence said, consciously distinguishing between that and what the intelligence actually said, he could not have genuinely believed the evidence said what he claimed. In any case, it says Blair deliberately chose to do something that allowed him to mislead.
All of which also puts into context the quote from Chilcot, appearing recently before MPs and cited by Bradshaw and a lot of other Blair supporters.
I absolve him from a personal and demonstrable decision to deceive Parliament or the public – to state falsehoods knowing them to be false.
I wouldn’t agree with this myself but it is heavily qualified. Not only is Chilcot referring to what can be demonstrated to be a personal “decision” but he appears to be absolving Blair of quite a high degree of wrongdoing, not for example of misleading people by deliberately choosing to express a belief about what something says rather than what it actually says.
Bradshaw also wrote on Twitter:
Mendacious SNP & Green Party motion deliberately distorting #Chilcot overwhelmingly defeated 439 votes to 70. Excellent result.
This brings us to another mendacious misrepresentation. The motion:
That this House recognises that the Chilcot Inquiry provided substantial evidence of misleading information being presented by the then Prime Minister and others on the development of the then Government’s policy towards the invasion of Iraq as shown most clearly in the contrast between private correspondence to the United States government and public statements to Parliament and to the people and also in the presentation of intelligence information; and calls on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, further to its current investigation into the lessons to be learned from the Chilcot Inquiry for the machinery of government, to conduct a further specific examination of this contrast in public and private policy and of the presentation of intelligence, and then to report to the House on what further action it considers necessary and appropriate to help prevent any repetition of this disastrous series of events.
refers to the evidence provided by Chilcot, not the conclusions the Inquiry reached. As I have pointed out repeatedly here, the Inquiry published plenty of evidence that Blair misled people even if it didn’t join the dots. To claim that a parliamentary motion that refers to evidence of wrongdoing provided by an inquiry is mendacious because the inquiry didn’t find wrongdoing is itself highly mendacious.
Taking the biscuit though has to be the Telegraph, which said:
More than 150 Labour defy Jeremy Corbyn and vote against new Iraq inquiry into Tony Blair ‘misleading’ parliament
According to the Telegraph the Labour MPs who did what the Labour leadership instructed them to were defying its leader.