Some RSA Fellows think I take on every opportunity I can to pursue media appearances, regardless of whether they are good for the Society. So I am keen to report that I have turned down at least half a dozen invitations to comment on my former Boss’ appearance at the Iraq Inquiry.
I will stay off the airways. But, for what it’s worth, here are my very brief reflections on what – between meetings - I have managed to watch today. Some people may think it is inappropriate for me to comment at all, but it is the issue of the day and relevant to many of the debates about democracy and policy which we regularly host here at the RSA.
TB was highly unlikely to say anything new. He made his case as well as could be expected and he spoke with clarity and conviction. What he said was important not just for the historical record but in relation to current foreign policy and security challenges.
Overall, the picture painted by TB tallies with that of other witnesses, including those who are less inclined to take responsibility for the war. There is little evidence of a conspiracy or a cover up. On the strategy, legality, planning, the different views are there for people to see and to judge for themselves. Indeed not a great deal has changed since 2005 when Iraq hurt TB’s standing but not so much that he failed to win the general election..
TB was visibly tense at the beginning of the hearing and very focussed throughout. This was for real. I couldn’t help wondering how many other countries would have put a former leader through such a public interrogation (and how many former Prime Minister’s of the UK would have been willing to be questioned in this way)
The outcome, I suspect, will be that those who hate TB will continue to hate him, or maybe even hate him more because they will feel he has ‘got away with it’ again. In contrast, those who used to like TB may be reminded of why they did and what they miss about him as a leader.
On the lead up to the war itself my view (and, as I was not in Downing Street I have no greater claim to insight than any other observer) is that I trust TB’s motives. But I also think there were failures of governance. Methods of communication, persuasion and decision making acceptable for major domestic policy decisions were on occasions applied to the very different matter of a highly contentious and risky military conflict.
I’m not sure whether if things had been done differently the decisions or outcomes would have changed. What might have done is the level of suspicion and hostility that TB faces not just now, but quite possibly for the rest of his public life.
The public are ahead of policy-makers and, indeed, most of the business world. COP26 is an enormous opportunity to catch up. Global leaders should take it.
Al Mathers Anthony Painter
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