The final word: Sofa government still too easy

by Chris Ames

The Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has published its report Lessons still to be learned from the Chilcot Inquiry, which concludes pretty much what it says on the tin:

there remains an absence of safeguards in place to prevent a Prime Minister from disregarding Cabinet procedures in the conduct of foreign and military policy. This was evident in the lead up to a possible military action in Iraq, and was exposed by the Chilcot inquiry.

The committee also notes that:

For many, the Chilcot Inquiry fails to provide closure on the Iraq issue

However, it also says:

The question of whether Parliament was misled is constantly raised. We do not pass over this matter at all lightly, but after taking advice, we do not feel that Chilcot or any other inquiries provide a sufficient basis for PACAC to conduct such an inquiry. However, we think Parliament should be prepared to establish such an inquiry into the matter if any new and relevant material or facts emerge.

This was of course something that a Commons motion in November unsuccessfully sought to persuade the committee to do after the revelation, via Digest contributor Chris Lamb’s freedom of information triumph, that Chilcot was set up with an intention to avoid blame.

A good few years ago, I attended a seminar of the predecessor committee, looking at a possible inquiry into Iraq. That inquiry eventually concluded last year and the committee has now had its say on the outcome, albeit that there remain loose ends.

The process has come full circle and the Digest has done its work. It will close shortly.

Thanks to all those who contributed to the debate, not least my good friend the late Dr Brian Jones, who was in at the start and is due the last mention on the Digest, even if, sadly, he can’t have the last word.


13 comments to this article

  1. andrewsimon

    on March 17, 2017 at 1:16 am -

    Many of the last words, at least of those that have already been written, now belong to Dr Glen Rangwala, whose earlier report ‘The deliberate deception of Parliament’ is discussed in the PACAC report.

    Link

    Alas, as ever before where Iraq is concerned, one official report almost invariably begets a further one some way down the line.

    From the PACAC’s conclusions:

    13.Dr Glen Rangwala’s report makes a case, drawing from evidence presented in the Chilcot report, that the former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Tony Blair deliberately misled the House of Commons in advance of the decision to go to war in Iraq. We acknowledge the seriousness of Dr Rangwala’s conclusions and recognise that his report supports the view held by many members of the House. We note, however, that Sir John Chilcot believes that there was no personal and demonstrable decision by the then Prime Minister to deceive Parliament or the public. This Committee is not in a position to take up and investigate further Dr Rangwala’s conclusions. Should further evidence, beyond the Chilcot report, come to light that supports Dr Rangwala’s arguments, the House may wish to refer this matter to the Privileges Committee to take further. (Paragraph 81)

    The evidence, or at least most of it I think, is already before us.

    The Parliamentary will to carry this series of investigations through to a full and proper conclusion is though still very sadly missing.

    The Iraq Inquiry circus circle may now have been completed to end up more-or-less exactly where we started – 8 long years ago – but the bigger sphere of Iraq still remains to be fully and properly squared away – this being something that is now far, far more difficult than it ever was before.

  2. Lee

    on March 17, 2017 at 5:48 am -

    A hopeless waste of time and effort, an exercise in blatant hypocrisy and cowardice, and a moral outrage. Blair’s crimes, and governmental complicity has resulted in a shockingly worse world…an 8 year Presidency that exceeded even Bush’s crimes and lies, a cooption of what remained of progressive strands in the Democratic Party by the neocon forces unleashed by Bush and Blair, a MSP incapable of any challenge to authority and dissembling, and now Trump. Chilcot is an astounding failure, and sets into relief the grotesque collapse of moral conscience in political life. Trump, joins May. Who imagined it could ever get worse than Bush and Blair. Nothing to celebrate. A foolish old man playing his reedy flute in the harsh desert air, while the storm clouds of our species extinction gather on the horizon.

  3. Peter Beswick

    on March 17, 2017 at 9:58 am -

    “The Iraq Inquiry circus [sorry don’t know how to format] circle may now have been completed to end up more-or-less exactly where we started – 8 long years ago”

    I for one thought Parliament had become corrupt (8 years ago), now I know it.

    “Chilcot is an astounding failure,”

    That depends on which side of the fence you are on.

    But let us not forget the human cost, mercifully most of us have never witnessed the stench given off from a child’s charred corpse.

    A broken Middle East, Saudi Arabia the world’s 3rd greatest military machine, Europe suffering the strains of refugees which the US refuse to assist and ban them from even going there.

    And had Blair taken the advice of the consequences of his actions would he really do it all again? Yes he would! And he would be assisted by Campbell, Straw, Hoon , Heywood etc etc

    They knew what would happen and are pleased with the results.

    Best wishes all and a huge thank you to Chris Ames who with his accomplices managed to succeed where Chilcot failed; he got the truth out.

  4. Chris Lamb

    on March 17, 2017 at 8:30 pm -

    There is indeed a sense of going full circle on this one as the PACAC report clearly attributes the failings of the Chilcot Inquiry and Report to the common denominator of the Brown government’s wilful refusal to follow the recommendations of the Public Administration Select Committee to hold the inquiry into the Iraq war as a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. This would have given parliament a significant input into setting and scrutinizing the terms of reference, the time line and choice of panel for the Inquiry.

    As it was, Brown (and his senior civil servant advisers) chose the worst of all options, which was an inquiry set up, commissioned and placed under the surveillance of the executive to investigate the executive. The executive scrutinizing itself and, to make matters worse, the very same executive (minus its original figurehead) responsible for initiating the Iraq war.

    All the failings of the Chicot Inquiry were not random or accidental, they were designed into the very foundations and fabric of the Inquiry. They were deliberate and intentional.

    Take, for example, the severe delay in completing the report. PACAC states;

    (20) It is apparent that neither the Government, nor the Iraq Committee, anticipated that the Inquiry would take so long to conclude’.

    I beg to differ. The civil servants who devised the huge, unwieldy and rambling remit of the Inquiry must have known full well that it could not be completed within twelve months. The intent was to kick the Inquiry into the long grass where public interest would be lost and expectations diminished- a strategy worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby. The twelve month claim was mendacious.

    If I am correct, many of us in the Digest recognized this when the Inquiry first started and Chilcot spoke to the officially approved ‘terms of reference’ in July 2009.

    In his oral evidence to PACAC. Sir Jeremy Heywood admits it; (22)’presenting the time taken to complete the Inquiry as an “almost inevitable” consequence of the scope of its terms of reference’.

    As an executive commissioned Inquiry, there was no transparency to the process by which its terms of reference were officially set. This resulted, in my view, in a split set of terms of reference: an officially approved version for public consumption which Chilcot took ownership of and shadier terms operating ‘under the radar’, ensuring that no blame was attributed, meaningful accountability was not demanded and grounds for legal liability were not permitted.

    It will be a matter for the courts now to test just how water-tight these ‘under the radar’ terms of reference have been.

  5. Lee

    on March 18, 2017 at 9:58 pm -

    I applaud Chris Lamb’s final summary. It has the dignity which my outrage couldnt possibly emulate. His are the words that should be inscribed on the epitaph of the Chilcot Inquiry, as an ultimate judgment and a warning to future generations. Chris Lamb is the only hero to emerge from the many years of this digest. There have been grumblers (like Peter [sorry Peter], me, and others). But no one else has risen to the level of Chris Lamb’s eloquence, determination, and sophistication.

  6. Chris Lamb

    on March 19, 2017 at 7:29 pm -

    One of the ironies I have noted in the PACAC report is that, while the Chilcot Report and PACAC highlight the absence of a culture of challenge at the centre of government as a key driver in the disasterous decision making leading up to the Iraq invasion- and recommend the urgent development of a culture of challenge to prevent any re-occurrence- the Chilcot Report’s exercise of drafting ‘lessons’ to be learnt is one (by design no doubt)solely confined to the elite of the civil service; bypassing Parliament let alone the informed general public.

    PACAC in its report expresses the hope that the civil service will share the ‘lessons’ it has drafted on behalf of the Executive when this process is completed- for which it has no date-line or assurance that such sharing will take place.

  7. BobM

    on March 19, 2017 at 9:58 pm -

    I beg to disagree with Lee in his identification of Chris Lamb as the only hero of this enterprise.

    Chris Ames, as author and facilitator, has been central and vital.

    I have no idea what he will do with his archive, but have no doubt that the existence of the Digest has helped keep the Inquiry (and others) alert to the interest of intelligent, interested observers.

    Thank you, Chris.

  8. Lee

    on March 20, 2017 at 8:28 am -

    Chris L: Its one thing to identify “the absence of a culture of challenge at the centre of government as a key driver in the disastrous decision making leading up to the Iraq invasion” (although I will comment on that)

    Its utter twaddle to follow it up with “the urgent development of a culture of challenge to prevent any re-occurrence”. Does anyone take that seriously ? A culture of challenge ? That will challenge the authorities whenever they are lying, dissembling, hiding the facts, acting as cowards ? Firstly, that will never be the goal. Secondly, the author and his associates have no idea how one would develop a “culture of challenge”, especially when all the incentives are to lick arse, and the punishments for not doing so are draconian. And even if the environment were to improve, an invitation to challenge would simply result in people stabbing their rivals.

    A culture of challenge would have to start at the very top: a willingness to be frequently and strongly challenged and respond constructively. May ? Blair ? Cameron ? Brown ? Lets get real. This is empty nonsense, rather like the boiler plate response (popularised, I believe, by the horrible duo of Harman and Blears): “we will understand what went wrong to prevent this ever happening again”. Please, stop insulting us.

    Things dont occur because of an ABSENCE (like the absence of a culture of challenge). They occur because of a PRESENCE: the desire to ingratiate at all costs, and keep silent when receiving “that look”. Quick reference to an undergraduate 101 text book on organisational change would reveal how vapid and idiotic this PACAC conclusion is. The intellectual dumbing down of government (happening apace in both the UK and the US) alongside the dumbing down of the media, is one of the main causes of the loss of democracy and the growth of incompetence. The PACAC may be a great case study of how this happens, and Chilcot and his colleagues are classic examples.

    Thank you Chris A.

  9. Lee

    on March 20, 2017 at 8:39 am -

    Conundrum: How to you reconcile a governmental system that rests four-square on the Whip, and that promotes on the principle of blind loyalty; — and developing a culture of challenge. Bag of Rowntrees Pastilles for the best answer.

  10. Peter Beswick

    on March 20, 2017 at 11:08 am -

    I beg to disagree with everyone!

    We live in a distopian realm where common sense and ethics have no relevance, if we were beamed up to a place where our longings wish for, we would be hit by a dilemma.

    The head of Mi6 (SiS) told the Hutton inquiry, of the 45 Minute claim, it was;

    “a piece of well sourced intelligence.”

    Dearlove was big mates with Blair and would have told this to Blair.

    Remember we are in a pleasant fantasy world ……

    Dearlove and Blair would be so alarmed that action was needed very quickly.

    Britain could not wait for months to get the US or UN to get their acts together, there were British troops and citizens on Cyprus exposed to the risk of being slaughtered by Chemical or Biological weapons in less that an hour.

    This monster is the antithesis of a Utopian leader he and the people he leads (they should have got rid of him) must be exterminated.

    Blair (in that world) would have been correct to obliterate Iraq (bar the oil fields) with nuclear weapons, turn the sand to glass and then shatter it.

    Back in our less than perfect world what did Blair do after receiving the well sourced intelligence? A. Fuck All! The British on Cyprus were expendable.

    So there’s the dilemma, the reasonable people in dystopia apply rules from a better place and try and make sense of what is served to them. The leaders in dystopia take advantage of this weakness and serve to us; Blair, Bush, Trump, May, Corbyn, Heywood, Chilcot etc etc.

    The lesson being don’t rationalise the irrational And only vote for independent candidates at a general election. Political Parties are the vehicles of the Devil, they don’t have a place in an ethical world, they only serve evil. We get what we vote for.

  11. Chris Lamb

    on March 20, 2017 at 7:07 pm -

    ‘One of the ironies I have noticed in the PACAC report…'(Comment 7)

    Here is a link to the defintion of ‘irony’ for those commenting in this Digest who evidently do not understand the concept;

    http://malas.sdsu.edu/2011/spring/ROBOTIC_ELECTRIC/irony.pdf

    This is my last contribution to the Digest. I consider it a privilege to have worked for it and see its strength residing in its form as a collective, not in terms of individual ‘heroes’. I, too, want to thank Chris Ames who, as editor, made this project both possible and formidable over the last eight years.

  12. Chris Ames

    on March 22, 2017 at 7:39 pm -

    I’m going to have the last word here, acknowledging the thanks and kind words as well as the contributions of Chris and Andrew.