Reading through the transcript of Tuesday’s House of Common debate on an opposition (Plaid Cymru/SNP) motion calling for a select committee of Privy Councillors to…
…review the way in which the responsibilities of Government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto, in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath
…it’s neither difficult to appreciate how we’ve got to where we are today nor how badly there is the need for serious and comprehensive constitutional reform of our present Parliamentary system of government.
Two issues were at stake in Tuesday’s debate and in respects of the interests of the British people, the events leading in to the Iraq War, and its aftermath, was the less important of the two. The more important issue, on this occasion, was rather that of the capacity of Parliament to hold the Executive to account for its actions and on any reasonable reading of the debate it is clear that our elected representatives, taken as a whole, distinguished themselves on neither issue.
One could discern, quite easily, the general direction that the debate would be taking almost from the outset, and certainly from the point of the first intervention by a Labour MP, in this case one local to myself (Adrian Bailey, MP for West Bromwich West and PPS to the Cabinet Office Minister and former Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong) who, a mere minute or so into the debate was moved to ask Adam Price (opening the debate for Plaid Cymru):
I quite understand that the hon. Gentleman feels very deeply about this issue. But do his electorate in Wales and the electorate in Scotland consider it to be the most pressing issue affecting them?
Why should we, the electorate, care about events taking place many thousands of miles away?
What concern is it of ours that on same day that Adrian Bailey questioned whether the British people can muster sufficient concern for Iraq to be supportive of Parliament’s efforts to debate the subject, a car bomb exploded in Sadr City killing 15 members of a wedding party and elsewhere in vicinity of Baghdad, 30 bus passengers were kidnapped by an armed gang?
Perhaps, in Adrian’s opinion, we would find some of the other matters raised in Parliament in the same week as this debate to be more in keeping with our view of what constitutes a pressing concern? Matters such as Edward Vaizey’s written question to the Leader of the House, enquiring as to the number of low-energy light bulbs purchased by the Privy Council offices in 2005 – written questions cost the taxpayer an average of £134 per question by the way. Or a written question from Lord Lester of Herne Hill inquiring as to the cost to the taxpayer of his questions inquiring as to the level of support afforded to government special advisors by various departments and how this might differ if the information he had requested in the past had been held centrally – the answer being that this information is not held centrally. Or what about another written question (from Mark Lancaster MP and fielded by Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo) asking if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will ensure that envelopes supplied for the R40 form are wide enough to accommodate A4 paper – the R40 is used to claim tax refunds from the Inland Revenue.
Now who could ever accuse MPs of raising matters not of interest to their constituents?
If one thing is clear from the government response to the motion tabled by Adam Price, as put to the House by the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, it is that it would wholly untrue to suggest that the government does not have a clear exit strategy on Iraq. It does… the problem being that its strategy has nothing whatsoever to do with stabilising the country and permitting our troops to return home and everything to do with permitting Tony Blair to exit 10 Downing Street (and most likely the House of Commons, itself) without ever having been called to account for his government’s actions in taking us into this war in the first place.
For those disclined to wade through the rhetoric and repetition of a Parliamentary debate, Beckett’s lengthy rejoinder to the opposition’s motion rauns broadly as follows:
First, there is in the government’s opinion, no need for a debate as there have already been four separate inquiries into the Iraq War (Foreign Affairs Committee, Intelligence and Security Committee, the Hutton Inquiry and the Butler Inquiry).
Of these inquires…
The Foreign Affairs Committee reported in July 2003 on ‘The Decision to go to war in Iraq’ and concluded that:
the accuracy of most of the claims in relation to Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme could only be judged once the Iraq Survey Group has gained access to the relevant scientists and documentation.
Given that the ISG found no evidence to support any of the claims of Iraq’s weapons capabilities cited by the government in the lead in to the war and issued its report long before there was sufficient evidence on which to base any substantive conclusions, the FAC’s findings can be safely considered to be of no relevance whatsoever.
The Intelligence and Security Committee reported in September 2003 and produced a report that ‘does not judge whether the decision to invade Iraq was correct’.
The Hutton Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding of the death of Dr. David Kelly revealed much of interest during its evidentiary stages and then produced a report that is widely (and justifiably) considered to be a complete whitewash. Consideration of whether the decision of invade Iraq was justified or taken correctly was not within its remit, which together with its personnel, was set by No. 10.
The remit of the Butler Inquiry specifically excluded any consideration of the role of politicians, which was considered unnecessarily restrictive by opposition parties.
So what we have are four separate inquiries of which one met and reported prematurely and in the absence of sufficient information to arrive at any substantive conclusions, while the other three were hamstrung by being handed tightly-defined remits by the government that precluded any substantive consideration of the conduct and actions of the Executive (i.e the government).
Second, it would, according Beckett, send ‘the wrong signals at the wrong time’, distract resources and attention from ‘where they are most needed’ and would risk ‘appearing to set a deadline for our operations in Iraq which would be politically and militarily damaging’.
Having outlined this view, Beckett goes on to state that:
…that this is not the time for making these decisions. I will tell the hon. Gentleman why. Our words in the House today will be heard a very long way away. They can be heard by our troops, who are already in great danger in Iraq. They can be heard by the Iraqi people and by their Government, many of whose members I know many hon. Members in all parts of the House have met—people whose bravery and fortitude is humbling and who still need our support, not the rehashing of issues that have been gone over umpteen times in the House.
In short, now is not the time for Parliament to seek to hold the Executive to account for its actions because it might (a) upset the troops, (b) upset the Iraqis, and (c) take up time and resources that, in the Executive’s opinion, would be better deployed elsewhere and, as indicated by her first argument, would simply be going over old ground again.
This third point above, the complaint that inquiries ‘deflect resources away from other priority matters’ is fast becoming the stock response of government to any call for an independent inquiry on any subject – near identical arguments were advanced in response to calls for an independent inquiry into the events leading to and during the terrorist attack on the London Underground on 7 July 2005 and as justification for the government’s decision to release only an ‘official narrative’ of the events of that day, one that, on its initial release, was found to contain errors of fact.
There can be no more contemptible response to a call for an inquiry into the conduct of the Executive and of its agents and servants than that which dismisses such a call on the grounds that the whole exercise would simply be too bothersome, time-consuming and expensive to contemplate.
The message from government is simple. You (the electorate) cannot have an inquiry because we (the government) do not think its worth all the hassle. Accountability is not a priority of government, even when the call for a inquiry is supported or initiated by Members of Parliament. Democracy and the accountability of a government to the British people is a once in four (or five) years exercise in putting a cross in box on a ballot paper, by which time we (the government) judge that you will have other things on your mind and will have most likely fogetton all about this messy business of inquiries.
Is it any wonder that almost 40% of the electorate choose not to vote in general elections when the view of politicians is that no soon as one of them has received the Queen’s invitation to form a government, they are then above and beyond all considerations of public accountability until the next time, some four years away at least, that they need the British people to go out an complete another exercise in box-crossing.
Moving a little further on in the debate, John Maples casts further doubt on the value of one of the inquiries cited by Beckett as rendering a further inquiry unnecessary; that of the Foreign Affairs Committee:
The Foreign Secretary prayed in aid the [Foreign Affairs] Select Committee’s report. I was a member of that Committee, and I have to say to her that her predecessor and the Government obstructed the Committee’s proceedings at every stage possible, refusing to produce witnesses and documents.
Only to receive this by way of response:
I followed those matters as carefully as I could, and I observed—and I observed it from Committee members who had ministerial experience—people asking for papers and for disclosures which they, as former Ministers and experienced Members of the House, would never for a single second have contemplated disclosing. I reject utterly the suggestion that the Committee did not get full support.
If all else fails, then one can always hide behind the calcified doctrine of official secrecy and, better still, when the opportunity arises, upbraid one’s opponents fro requesting information that they would not, themselves, make available were their positions reversed.
It was Winston Churchill who attempted to set out the dictum that the purpose of the Official Secrets Act was for the defence of the national interest and should be used to cover-up the incompetence of politicians and public officials, and yet, time and again, it transpires that the all-pervasive culture of official secrecy that lies at the heart of government in the UK has been used, on a near routine basis, for precisely the purpose of covering the embarrassment of Ministers and/or Civil Servants.
Beckett’s response to Maples charge that the government failed to co-operate fully with the Foreign Affairs Committee has to be placed in its proper context. Although not a Member of Parliament at the time of the publication of the Scott Report, Maples was, at the time of the collapse of the trial of four directors of Matrix Churchill, which led to the Scott Inquiry and revealed the Conservative government’s duplicity on arms sales to Iraq during the 1980’s, serving as Economic Secretary and therefore a member of the very government that was prepared, at the time, to use it its full powers of official secrecy to conceal its own double-dealing in the matter of the supply of British equipment to Saddam’s munitions industry, even to the extent of allowing innocent men to go to prison to avoid political embarrassment. To then dismiss, some 10 years later, Maples complaint of non-cooperation on the grounds that he should know better than to ask for secret information without exhibiting any recognition of precisely the difficulties that the government in which Maples served got into over their interpretation of what constitutes an official secret is to show both a lack a judgment (or perhaps memory) and a general contempt for the capacity of the electorate to remember what is, after all, only fairly recent history.
Beckett then goes on to add a further argument against an inquiry.
What happens in the House today will be heard not only by those in Iraq—the people and the Government—but by those whose intention it is to do us harm, whether in Iraq or beyond. Again, I ask the House to consider whether now is the time to send a signal—every Member of the House knows in their heart that this is true—which many will undoubtedly interpret as a weakening of our commitment.
And that settles it, for who could possibly consider a course of action that might encourage the enemy and raise questions about the UK’s commitment and resolve, as if to suggest that such matters are likely to determined here in Whitehall and not 3,000 miles away in Washington DC.
If there is to be a timetable drawn-up for the withdrawal of British Forces from Iraq then only the most conceited ‘Colonel Blimp’. With Tony Blair at the helm, there is no possibility of such a withdrawal taking place without it first being agreed with the US and timed to coincide with the scaling down of America’s commitment to Iraq, nor is there any real possibility that such a timetable will be defined in terms of anything other the demands of the US’s domestic political agenda.
Just as the window of opportunity for the 2003 Invasion was predetermined by domestic considerations, most importantly the pre-eminent need to have the main ‘shooting match’ done and dusted before Bush’s re-election campaign began in earnest - aircraft full flag-draped body-bags being a widely acknowledged vote-loser in US domestic politics - so any timetable for the scaling back of US Forces in Iraq will be set to coincide with the campaign timetable for the next US Presidential elections. With Bush forced to stand down on this occasion due to the constitutional limitations that restrict Presidents to two terms of office, the last thing that the Republican Party with either want (or need) is an Iraq-sized ‘monkey’ of the Bush Administration’s devising on their next candidate’s back.
If Beckett has, thus far, constructed her defence on a platform of contempt for the notion of accountability, her next significant response, to a question (below) from Malcolm Rifkind, is little short of staggering in its disregard for Parliament.
Rifkind: Does the Foreign Secretary realise that her opposition to an inquiry into the origins of the Government’s policy on Iraq would be more convincing if the Government were not simultaneously bitterly opposing any debate on the future of their policy in Iraq? Is she not ashamed that, in the three years since the war, the Government have not initiated a single debate on the subject in this Chamber? The United States Congress was permitted a full debate on the matter as recently as June. Is it not appalling that, when the Government have been responsible for such an arrant misuse of their powers, this Chamber has not been allowed to debate the matter?
Beckett: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is talking complete nonsense, as he must be well aware. He is a former Secretary of State for Defence, and he knows that there are five defence debates a year and that there are debates on foreign policy, all of which are in Government time. Of course it is open to people to debate those issues.
In other words, it is open to MPs to attempt to inject questions on Iraq into government debates on Defence and Foreign Policy where the actual subject matter of the debate may be – and has been throughout the last three years – anything but Iraq… and all, presumably, at the risk of being upbraided by the Speaker (or whichever of his deputies may be on duty) for seeking to take the debate away from the government’s preferred topic, whatever that might be.
It is the government that has exclusive control of the business schedule of the House, and but for the occasional ‘opposition day’ such as took place on Tuesday, it is the government that determines the subject matter of any substantive debate in the Commons. If therre has not been a substantive debate on UK policy for the future of Iraq in the last three years then the responsibility for that lies with the government and with no one else.
If truth be told, an inquiry into the circumstances leading in to the decision to join Bush in his little Middle-Eastern adventure is unlikely to tell us anything that is not already well-known and in the public domain.
We know, for example, that following the invasion of Iraq, the best efforts of the US-led coalition to turn up evidence to support their pre-war assertion that Saddam Hussein posed a genuine and immediate threat to global security proved only that no such threat existed. Try as they might, they could produce no evidence of Iraq’s supposed WMD capabilities, upon which the prospectus for war was constructed and sold both to Parliament and to the British people.
We know, from the evidentiary sessions of the Hutton Inquiry, that in preparing its false prospectus for war, Downing Street sat atop the entire process of compiling the information presented to Parliament to justify the war and took charge of its ‘presentation’; and in doing so stripped from the report given to Parliament any shred of equivocation, doubt and uncertainty, qualities that, according to the late Robin Cook in his book ‘The Point of Departure’, are omnipresent in intelligence briefing as the security community has a routine and healthy respect, if not obsession, with understanding the limitations of intelligence reports.
We know that it was only shortly before the presentation of the first of Hans Blix’s reports on the result of UN weapons inspections (in February 2003 and a mere four or so weeks prior to the matter of support for the war being put to a Parliamentary vote, that the government began to profess humanitarian concern for the Iraqi people, despite having shown no particular interest in their plight during the preceding five years of the Blair government.
(For the record, Blair’s first reference to harbouring humanitarian concern for the Iraqi people came during PMQ’s on Wednesday 12th February 2003…
There is the threat that we have identified in the resolution last year and, indeed, for the past 12 years, and there are two ways of dealing with it. [Interruption.] Someone shouts out the word “containment”. When we look at the issue and the moral background to the decisions that have to be taken, I agree that, before we take the decision to go to war, the morality of that should weigh heavily on our conscience because innocent people die as well as the guilty in a war, but let us look at the morality of the present policy that we have towards Iraq and the policy that we have had for the past 12 years—a policy of sanctions that, because of the way that Saddam has implemented those sanctions, leaves Iraq in this state: with 130 deaths per 1,000 children under the age of five, with 60 per cent. of the population on food aid, with half the Iraqis in rural areas having no access to safe water and with thousands of people imprisoned or killed every year as a result of Saddam’s regime. The fact is that the only—[Interruption.] I am sorry; the only alternative to disarmament by the United Nations is that we keep sanctions in place year on year, and I am simply saying that that is also a moral choice with bad and devastating consequences for the Iraqi people.
Blair went on to expand on this line of argument at the Scottish Labour Party conference in early March, by which time he was actively ‘bedding-in’ the humanitarian line of argument as a fall-back position while gradually drawing back from making assertions on Iraq’s WMD capabilities in light of the content of the first Blix report. By this time the rhetoric had quietly shifted from talk of actual WMDs to talk of WND ‘programmes’, which is certainly not the same thing (nor anything capable of deployment within 45 minutes.)
We know that, in his full memorandum to government on the question of the legality of an invasion of Iraq that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, unequivocally stated that the war could not legally be entered into for the express purpose of bringing about a change of regime in Iraq.
We know that in the three years since the invasion, the entire case for war put forward by the government has entirely disintegrated as has the assertion of the time that the Clinton-era policy of ‘containment’ in Iraq was ‘failing’; for all that Oliver Kamm appears to be remain quaintly wedded to that particular notion, which, in a recent response to an article by Norman Geras in which Geras recants his support for the Iraq War, he presents an undoubted truism of the position in Iraq leading up to the US-led Invasion.
Containment was not working. This matters greatly to the justification of the war, at the time and in hindsight. The alliance of Leninists and Islamists who make up the misnamed Stop the War Coalition was of course unfazed by the approaching failure of containment, because it saw in those policies evidence of Western imperialist designs.
Kamm is indulging here in much the same order of tendentious linguistic legerdemain that characterised a number of Tony Blair’s statements on Iraq in the month or so prior to the war, as here…
However, if we fail to implement resolution 1441, and if we lack the determination and resolution to make sure that that mandate is carried, the consequence will be that Saddam is free to develop weapons of mass destruction. Also, there will be an increasing risk that the threat of those weapons of mass destruction and the existing terrorist threat will join together. This country will then be less secure and safe. – PMQs, 12 February 2003
Alternatively—and I think that this is a powerful and developing threat that the world must face—the risk is that states such as Iraq, which are proliferating these chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, will combine in a way that is devastating for the world with terrorists who are desperate to get their hands on those weapons to wreak maximum destruction.
The events of 11 September, of course, changed many American minds about the threat, but they should also change all our minds. Surely everyone accepts that, had the people involved been able to cause even more death and destruction, they would have done so? My worry is that, when there are nations that proliferate, trade and develop this stuff, and terrorist groups that are desperate to cause maximum destruction, the world has to stand firm. The matter has come to a point over Iraq. If we do not stand firm over Iraq now, we will never be able to deal with the next threat that encompasses us. – PMQs, 5 March 2003
Much as Blair sought to imply the existence of a connection between Iraq, its non-existent WMDs and the risk that such terrible weapons might find their way into the hands of an Islamic terrorist group (and by implication at the time this would have meant Al Qaeda) via Iraq without levelling any specific (and easily refuted) allegations to that effect, so Kamm attempts to bolster the assertion that containment wasn’t working by implying that its now only political extremists within the ‘Stop the War’ coalition who hold to the belief that the policy of containment was still effective up to the point at which the invasion actually began.
Neither was/is correct in either their stated view or that which they are seeking to imply.
In Blair’s case, not only was there never any substantive connection between the Ba’athist regime in Iraq and Al Qaeda but even where it could established that Iraq had contact with and even actively supported terrorist organisations (as was the case with Hamas) Saddam never once showed any inclination to share any chemical or biological weapons (or any associated technology) with them or with anyone but his own trusted military forces. Ironically, Saddam was too much the controlling dictator and tyrant to ever share his, at one time, more potent weapons systems with anyone else, even during the period of the 1991 Gulf War during which he launched missile attacks on Israel in the vain hope of provoking a military response from the Israelis that would have split the coalition - those Middle Eastern countries that took an active role at the time could support the US-led liberation of Kuwait and defeat of Iraq, but not an intervention in the war by Israel.
Kamm offers no evidence in his article to support his contention that containment was failing – presumably this is to be found in his book which, mercifully, he only plugs twice on this occasion. Instead he attempts simply to discredit any notion that containment was not failing by associating it with an extremist and heavily politicised anti-war position – he also appears to consider the distinctly Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, which forms that part of the core of the ‘Stop the War’ coalition most engaged in contructing communalist alliances with Islamic groups, to be ‘Leninists’, which appears to suggest that either his understanding of the intricacies of ‘far-left’ political thought and alignments or, perhaps, his attention span in writing his lengthy response to Geras, is not all that it might be.
A rather different appraisal of containment is to be found in the late Robin Cook’s book, “The Point of Departure”…
It was evident from the government’s approach to this and other debates on Iraq that Number 10 had abandoned the long-standing Western strategy of containing the threat from Saddam in favour of military action. This came as unwelcome news to me as during my years at the Foreign Office I had administered, with the full support of Number 10, a policy of containment designed to keep Saddam in a tight cage from which he could not escape and no weapons could get through. There were problems with containment. Even after we lifted restrictions on the volume of oil Saddam could sell officially through the Oil for Food programme, he continued to smuggle large volumes of oil in order to use the illicit income for his own priorities rather than for the UN’s humanitarian purposes.
But in its central purpose of hobbling Saddam’s military ambitions containment did work. Indeed all that we have learnt in the aftermath of war is that containment was successful to a degree that even I would not have dared to hope. Saddam’s military formations were so weakened that they made little attempt to defend Baghdad and famously no weapons of mass destruction have been found, nor are expected to be found. We had succeeded in our security objectives of thwarting from converting his technical nuclear, chemical or biological capacity into actual weapons systems and had so reduced his conventional forces that they could not defend their own capital city, let alone threaten any of their neighbours.
Later in the same section, Cook goes on to address another line of argument fielded by Kamm is his article; the wholly spurious claim that the only alternative to war was to do nothing.
There are few cheaper rhetorical tricks in the armoury of the war party than the claim that those of us who believed invasion was the wrong action were therefore in favour of no action. On the contrary, we had pursued vigorous action to ensure containment, which we now know to have been a success in drawing the teeth of Saddam as a security threat. In a decade of containment, UN inspectors had disarmed more weapons than were destroyed in the first Gulf War, including forty thousand chemical shells.
Tight and effective embargoes on Iraqi imports had prevented Saddam reconstituting his programmes for weapons of mass destruction and had denied his conventional forces a single new weapons system or any state-of-the-art military technology… The strength of his conventional forces was less than half of what they were when he had invaded Iraq.
Cook saves his most damning indictment of the decision to go to war for his closing statements to this section of his book.
When I left the Foreign Office in June 2001, neither I, nor, as far as I am aware, anyone else in government, imagined that Iraq posed a real and present danger to Britain’s interests. Yet, less than two years later, the same government had concluded that we must immediately invade Iraq to remove just such a danger.
What had changed in the interim was not the military capacity of Saddam, but the policy of Washington. The new Bush Administration did not select Iraq for a victorious campaign because they really believed Saddam was a threat, but because they knew he was weak. Ironically, what had rendered him weak was the very policy of containment which they had so much derided.
Cook’s rather different view of the policy of containment is one supported by actual evidence from Iraq, not one merely sustained, as Kamm’s appears to be, by a one-dimensional portrait of Saddam as the great bogeyman of the early twenty-first century.
Noticeably, Cook is clear in his understanding both that Saddam continued to harbour aspirations of reconstituting his WMD programmes and that Iraq possessed, in its scientific community, the technical capacity to carry out such programmes – one that Iraq, incidentally, shares anything from thirty to forty other industrialised nations across the globe. Where Cook differs in his view of containment in his understanding that there is vast gulf between intent and technical capacity on the one hand and the actual delivery of usable weapons systems on the other, it being the capacity for the latter that containment had denied Iraq with – from the evidence obtained following the defeat of Saddam – absolute success.
One might well conceal a small laboratory and cadre of research scientists from the UN and its inspectors, even is country so heavily monitored by satellite as Iraq. What one cannot do – and Iraq failed to do entirely– was conceal successfully the development of the industrial capacity necessary to translate the work of such scientists into weapons systems that could be used on the battlefield or against civilian targets. Despite claims to the contrary in the war party’s false prospectus, not least those relating to the alleged rebuilding of a chlorine production facility near Fallujah, no such industrial capacity existed in Iraq immediately prior to the war. In the case of the Fallujah plant, claims that its was operational, made in September 2002, completely disregard the observations of the German inspection team from a mere five months earlier, which stated that the plant was not only not in production but had undergone no actual rebuilding since it was bombed during the first Gulf War - and, of course, after the invasion the plant was found to be just as derelict as this German team had indictated.
For all his showmanship and political posturing prior to the invasion, by the time of invasion Saddam was nothing more than a paper tiger and his defiance in the face of the UN and its weapons inspectors was no more than a ruse designed both to save face before his supporters and, more importantly, conceal the weakness of his position from his opponents. A tyrant who loses the capacity to instil terror in his opponents has but a single fate awaiting him, as former Romanian President, Nicolae Ceauşescu, discovered in all too dramatic fashion.
Who, then, is one to believe here?
Oliver Kamm, an investment banker, blogger, occasional journalist and the author of a book - which he plugs on his blog at every conceivable opportunity?
Or Robin Cook, a man who, as Foreign Secretary, held for four years not only one of the three great Offices of State but precisely that position most directly concerned with conditions in the Middle-East and the situation in Iraq?
I’ll leave you to decide for yourself, although I would suspect my own position in patently clear.
I have digressed somewhat from that point, which I set out to make and which I consider the more important arising from Tuesday’s debate, this being the now quite obvious inability of Parliament to hold the Executive to account for its conduct and actions in its role as, ostensibly, the representatives of the British people.
What, if any, useful purpose can Parliament serve if, by dint of crushing parliamentary majorities, the iron-fist of party whips (backed always by the patronage of the Prime Minister), and by legislative sleight-of-hand, such as that encapsulated in the Inquiries Act (which was passed without a vote on the consent of the ‘opposition’), it ceases to have the capacity to hold the executive to account?
There can be few things quite so damaging to the public standing of Parliament and to Parliamentary democracy that to arrive at a position in which it is a matter of public knowledge and open debate (and has been for three years) that Britain’s armed forces were committed to war, and a war of dubious legality in international law, on the basis of a false prospectus ever shred of which has since been show to have been in either substantial error on just plain untrue, only to find that Parliament, our elected representatives, are incapable of conducting a meaningful debate as to how we arrived at such a position let alone institute and inquiry to establish both why both it and the electorate were handed a prospectus for war in which any shred of veracity was conspicuous only by its absence and who might be responsible (and therefore held accountable) for what, at the very least, can only be interpreted as incompetence on a grand scale if not a wilful act of outright political mendacity.
What does that say about the present state of British democracy other than, perhaps, that our present crop of Parliamentarians would be well advised to refrain from lecturing the rest of the world on the subject of democracy and its benefits until such time as we can put our own house (or rather two houses) in proper order.
Title quotation: “I think that his history of mendacity is so intense and so long-lasting that he wouldn’t understand the truth if he fell over it.”
Said, without a trace of irony, by Jack Straw of Saddam Hussein in 2003