The issue of Iraq has dominated the political agenda for 15 months or more now. There has long been significant concern about both Saddam Hussein’s disregard for democracy and the deadly consequences of the indiscriminate use of sanctions against Iraq. But British politics have been driven during this period by the foreign policy of the White House.
Since Bush’s reasons for going to war could never be sold to a sceptical British public, a more acceptable justification had to be found. Hence the supposed weapons of mass destruction, the new UN arms inspection process, the dodgy dossiers, etc. It is the gap between the actual reason for going to war and the flimsiness of the public justification for doing so that has subjected the Blair government to both enormous internal pressure and widespread public distrust.
Going to war not only involved deception; it has proved an act of enormous folly. The casualty list of the war is long and growing – not only in terms of human life, property and infrastructure destroyed in Iraq.
Instead of bringing democracy to Iraq, war has created a new “axis” of terror and anarchy. It has intensified, not resolved, the conflict in Palestine. It has given the green light to governments everywhere to suppress opposition in the name of the war on terror. It has weakened the UN, divided the EU and damaged Britain’s standing abroad.
At home it has undermined trust in government, in Parliament and in the credibility of the intelligence services, diverted attention and resources from the government’s domestic agenda and provoked a damaging conflict with the BBC that will only bring comfort to the corporation’s enemies.
Enter Lord Hutton to investigate the death of an arms inspection expert in the Oxfordshire countryside. Given the scale of the damage outlined above, it is not surprising that the narrowness of Hutton’s brief should be seen as a diversion from the real issues.
Yet, despite the government’s attempt to circumscribe His Lordship’s enquiries, the larger issues have kept breaking through. We have been treated to a rare glimpse into the secret heart of government. Much of what has been revealed by the inquiry only confirms what we knew already about Blair’s drive to war. But other revelations – about how our “executive democracy” behaves when under pressure – have surprised even the most hardened government watchers.
We have seen, for example, how highly politicised the intelligence services are. The services were used not to provide information to help decide whether to go to war, but to support the government’s presentation of a decision that had already been taken. Worst-case scenarios were served up as hard fact for public consumption.
John Scarlett’s claim that the September dossier was all his work as head of the Joint Intelligence Committee is belied by the many memos from Number 10 urging a trawl for more evidence and a toughening of the wording. The fact that, in any case, the intelligence provided has been proved wrong seems not to concern Scarlett at all.
Then there is the ruthlessness with which Blair’s image of personal rectitude has been defended when under challenge. The pressure to “out” Dr David Kelly, and make him appear before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and refute Andrew Gilligan’s story for the Today programme, clearly contributed to his death. We have also been treated to another threat by Blair to resign should his integrity be questioned. Despite being couched in the retrospective mode (“if I had been guilty of exaggerating the danger, I would have had to resign”), the threat is clearly designed to put pressure on Hutton as well as (once again) Labour MPs. Responsible for everything, guilty of nothing, m”lud.
Similarly, we have glimpsed the obsessiveness with which Number 10 controls every government department’s publicity and presentation. Defence secretary Geoff Hoon may have his reasons for avoiding responsibility for and even knowledge of the Ministry of Defence press briefing that led to the “outing” of Kelly, but it is clear that it was scripted under the supervision of Alastair Campbell.
The attempt to manipulate the questioning of Kelly by the Foreign Affairs Committee, so that he did not embarrass the government, has also been a revelation. In contrast, the shock expressed at the discovery that Gilligan primed a member of the committee seems wholly misplaced. Select committees are at an informational disadvantage in scrutinising government, and are surely entitled to get leads from wherever they can.
Finally, there is the extent of the government’s bullying of the BBC. Whatever the errors of Gilligan’s note-taking (which are still not clear), the pressure on the BBC chairman Gavyn Davies by Blair personally to retract the story and apologise was intense, and included blackmail by underlings in relation to the forthcoming review of the corporation’s charter.
What all of this has revealed is a government that, while attempting to control everything, has a complete lack of self-control in the face of a crisis entirely of its own making. Whatever the outcome of Hutton’s inquiry, no political closure of the Iraq affair is in prospect.
Many people have compared the Iraq invasion to Suez. Yet Suez was rapidly wrapped up with the withdrawal of UK troops and the departure of prime minister Anthony Eden on indefinite sick leave. No such resolutions are in prospect today.
Yet the fact remains that we went to war on a false prospectus, and the outcome has proved disastrous (and is continuing to do so). Until the individual responsible leaves office, there can be no political closure, nor any chance of addressing the systemic defects of our representative democracy exposed once more by the Hutton inquiry.
We will carry on with a system in which the electorate has no effective right to information about what the government it pays for is doing in its name, and in which there are no controls on a political leadership enjoying a hugely inflated parliamentary majority.Professor David Beetham is director of the Centre for Democratisation Studies at the University of Leeds
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.