With the General Election chalked in for May 6th, the focus of political reporting in this country seems to be focused on the present and immediate future. Meanwhile, however, we have seen recently the ghost of politics past hovering around proceedings. This has been manifest in several forms, from evidence showing that class differences have widened since the 1970s to analysing the 28-egg-per-week diet of Margaret Thatcher in the lead-up to the 1979 election.
At the forefront, however, has been Tony Blair’s testimony to the ongoing Chilcot inquiry into the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. In this week’s Comment, Thomas Brooks looks at the running of the inquiry as a whole. Nonetheless, it is also interesting to look specifically at Blair’s evidence.
Anybody hoping for a Frost/Nixon moment wherein Blair breaks down and apologises in a moment of contrition, humility and humanity would have been sadly disappointed. The only ‘sorry’ that he issued related to the division caused by the decision – most cleverly worded to avoid apologising for the decision itself, about which he says he has no regrets. It also seems the only thing he would have done differently if he had his time over would have been to correct media reports that Saddam Hussain’s weapons could be mobilised in 45 minutes – raising the question of why this wasn’t in fact done at the time.
There did seem to be something of a backtrack on what he said in the infamous BBC interview from December. In that interview, Blair said that he would have invaded Iraq with or without evidence of WMDs. At the inquiry, however, he said, “The decision I took – and frankly would take again – was if there was any possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction we should stop him.” This, he says, was the basis for the war, not the desire for regime change, which would be considered illegal under international convention.
All in all, the event itself was not really as big news as it could have been. As expected, Blair was unapologetic and unrepentant; as expected, he gave an impassioned defence of his actions while still emphasising that he understands the position of those who oppose his views; and as expected he was booed and heckled from the public gallery. However, Lord Chilcot left open the possibility that Blair could be recalled. The media will hope he is, though it is debateable whether this is out of a desire for justice or a morbid hope for drama and scandal.