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Wednesday's publication of the
Hutton report could lead to
Blair's demise



Jonathan Power

January 28, 2004

LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair is the type of man who will go to his grave insisting that he was right. Only a leader of his moral certitude could have revamped the riven Labor party into the disciplined vote winning machine it has become. Whatever happens in British politics this week- and his resignation is a distinct possibility- and however much he is criticized in the report of judge Lord James Hutton on the suicide of David Kelly, Britain's top expert on Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, Blair will insist that he was right to have backed President George Bush in his decision to go to war with Iraq. If Margaret Thatcher was, in her own words, a "lady not for turning", Blair is a politician who says to himself "je ne regret rien" and, grey faced and exhausted though he looks according to intimates, believes he has done the right thing.

But the facts will remain to challenge him. At best he has done the right thing after giving the wrong reasons. At worst he joined in an unnecessary war, that took thousands of innocent Iraqi lives as well as those of  coalition troops, and won the authority of parliament and the support of the country to do this on manifestly false pretences.

If you are one of those who believe that, whatever the discussion about whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, it was simply a good thing that a dictator of such proven bestiality was removed from power then there is a temptation to support Blair (and Bush) whatever evidence comes to light this week with the Hutton report or, indeed, in the future when the archives are opened. As Blair said, when speaking before the U.S. Congress in July, Saddam Hussein was a murderous tyrant and that in itself was enough justification for going to war.

Fair enough- especially if you put on one side that by doing this you rammed a jagged hole through the Charter of the UN and you laid down a precedent for other powers to go too easily to war- but then in a democracy you should at least be upfront and honest about it. If Tony Blair had made this case and won the votes at home to back it he would now be on the moral high ground. But he and Bush didn't and Blair who led the argument about the certitude of there being weapons of mass destruction and gave the critical lines to Bush for insertion into his State of the Union address has been shown from the evidence presented to Hutton to be saying one thing whilst doing another. There can be no doubt that while Blair was telling parliament, the people and the world at large that  the evidence was incontrovertible he and his closest advisors felt that they had to work on toughening the presentation of the evidence given him by the intelligence agencies. Not only did he set out to mislead the public he apparently allowed himself to be swayed by evidence that he judged was not strong enough to convince a skeptical public. This surely is the fatal flaw in Blair's character, as it is in many people who are over sure of their own righteousness. Moral certitude can be a very good thing for getting things done but it becomes dangerous when you cut corners with the truth- and maybe not only with the public but, as looks likely in this case, even with one self. 

I don't believe that Tony Blair is a craven liar. I don't believe that he is an evil man. I do believe he is sincere in his religious beliefs and tries to do the right thing. But in this case  I conclude that he got on the slippery slope of  beefing up the wording of what he felt was somewhat ambiguous intelligence assessments because in his heart he held two visceral convictions. One that Saddam was truly irredeemably wicked and, second, that America had to be supported if Britain was going to continue to gain the ear of an American president.

These essentials have been clouded by two things. First, by the BBC's lack of editorial discipline with its news reporting and, second, by the suicide of David Kelly. The BBC has attempted to clear the air before the publication of the Hutton report by making a fulsome mea culpa. But, by its nature, one can never be absolutely sure of the reasons for a suicide and whatever Hutton surmises can never be more than guesswork.

In consequence by the end of the week parliament and public opinion will still be left with the question- was it right for Britain to go to war?  It will be on a knife-edge which way opinion will swing. And thus, whether Blair stays or goes.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2004 By JONATHAN POWER


Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"




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