Blair’s willingness to follow Bush
into any torture chamber shames Britain
All my life, till this month, I have felt
more proud than I could say to be British. I felt there were special
and irreducible things that we stood for and would, if necessary,
fight for: freedom, decency, fairness, humanity, the rule of law.
Of course there have been blots — the Amritsar massacre, Bloody
Sunday. But on the whole the conduct of British troops during the
30 years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, or our record during
the second world war, has been outstanding. We have been a force
for good in the world.
Today there is no pleasure in being British. We are almost a pariah
nation. Ordinary British citizens are now starting to learn about
the terrible things that have been done in our name. We have been
collaborators with the Americans in something so gross, murderous,
barbaric and obscene that it defies belief. It is no excuse that
US troops have been responsible for the most bestial of the atrocities.
We are part of a joint command in Iraq, and thus share the joint
shame. Tony Blair went to great lengths to share the credit with
President Bush during their triumphalist, flag-draped victory summit
12 months ago. Now he must stomach the disgrace.
The Prime Minister appears not to sense any of this. But hopefully
this low-grade and wretched man will be out of Downing Street before
long, because many of his party are starting to feel the moral humiliation
that already grips the rest of us. The most sordid moment yet of
Tony Blair’s increasingly despicable premiership came two weeks
ago when, in a response to Sir Peter Tapsell at Prime Minister’s
Questions, he defended the murder of hundreds of innocents in Fallujah.
It was a deadly moment this, an apotheosis: the final fulfilment
of the Prime Minister’s policy of complete identification, come
what may, with the United States. Tony Blair’s dedication to George
Bush is so total that he will follow the President into any killing
field or torture chamber. It may in due course become highly relevant
that Britain, but not the United States, has signed up to the International
Criminal Court. What a very curious thing that Tony Blair came to
power pledging a special kind of morality.
Historians will seek to explain this paradox for many years to come.
I think there is a personal explanation for this. The Prime Minister
has never known, not properly, who he is. All students of his life
have noted his way of attaching himself to more cogent individuals
— Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, etc. — as a
method of personal self-affirmation. Blair cannot survive without
such a crutch, as the government’s listless, drifting ineptitude
since the departure of Campbell nine months ago demonstrates.
Just as the Prime Minister lacks a real personality, he has no sense
of Britain as an independent state with its own magnificent values
and history. He does not really esteem our country, hence his prostration
before the United States. He does not grasp that Britain will not
tolerate atrocities, especially not from our allies. If Tony Blair
had even an ounce of the strong ethical sense that he constantly
used to boast about, the pain and outrage would have flared out
of him when he answered Sir Peter Tapsell’s question in the Commons.
Instead he squeaked out a routine defence of American barbarism.
For all the protestations, decency and morality are not of overriding
concern to Tony Blair. His policy as Prime Minister is best summed
up like this: he is the partygoer who automatically sucks up to
the most powerful man in the room.
This power worship has led the government, again and again, to betray
British values and traditions. Take the routine hooding of prisoners,
one of the breaches of the Geneva Convention set out in the Red
Cross report which ministers claim not to have seen. Hooding of
prisoners was banned by Edward Heath in the early 1970s when it
came to light in Northern Ireland. So why has it been reintroduced?
Did government ministers insist on it? Or is the grim truth that
the Americans were doing it, so we felt duty-bound to follow suit?
Another of the mysteries surrounding the terrible and tragic events
of the last 15 months is how the Labour party has tolerated Blair.
It was led into war on the back of a monstrous lie about weapons
of mass destruction (last week Tony Blair made John Scarlett, one
of the primary perpetrators of that deception, head of the Secret
Intelligence Service) and yet seems not to resent it. This is the
most maladroit as well as malign intervention of modern times, and
yet there has scarcely been a word of complaint from the party of
Keir Hardie, of Aneurin Bevan, of Michael Foot. There is a disconnection
here, a most peculiar inability to grasp or confront reality. Take
the case of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s remaining cheerleaders.
Jowell, with her exquisite Camden Town sensibility, frets about
the rights and wrongs of banning smoking in pubs. And yet she apparently
signs up without a word of complaint to the politics of murder in
But there is the beginning of a new mood. Last weekend Gordon Brown,
his Cabinet ally Alistair Darling and their back-bench henchman
Lewis Moonie drove up through the Scottish Highlands, across Mull
and then took the little ferry across the strand to Iona, where
they joined the family and others at a simple Church of Scotland
service to mark the tenth anniversary of John Smith’s death. There
are reasons to believe that the family of the former Labour leader
expressed a preference that the Prime Minister not attend. John
Smith represented an older, wiser and richer vein of the Labour
party than Tony Blair does, and it is swiftly regaining the ascendancy.
This week there was renewed talk at Westminster that Blair would
stand down this summer. In a significant development the Guardian’s
normally unexcitable political editor Michael White reported that
Tony Blair now says that he will go once he becomes a ‘liability’.
That point is closer than the Prime Minister realises.
Gordon Brown is seen everywhere as the successor. And yet it should
not be forgotten that the Chancellor — like Michael Howard’s Tory
party — supported the war as well as its disgusting aftermath. There
are only two politicians in Britain today with the moral right to
take the premiership from Tony Blair. One is the Liberal Democrat
leader Charles Kennedy, who lacks the capacity to do the job, and
the other is Robin Cook. Cook’s resignation on the eve of the war
was the most noble and distinguished act of its kind since Duff
Cooper quit as First Lord of the Admiralty over Munich. The quality
of Cook’s decision then has been matched only by the calibre of
his conduct since. Realistically one must accept that Gordon Brown
will succeed Tony Blair. But only Cook has the stature and the vision
to lead Britain away from America, and out of the sewer into which
Tony Blair has led us.
© 2004 The Spectator.co.uk