Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Tony Blair must have really pissed off the British establishment. Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq inquiry has seen them acting most uncharacteristically. From generals to lawyers, ambassadors, mandarins and even spies, Britain’s ruling elite has spent the past few months dumping on a former prime minister in an unprecedented way. All are putting distance between themselves and Tony Blair.
Whatever the inquiry’s eventual conclusions, the evidence that has been dripping out has now established pretty much as fact that Blair committed Britain to joining the US invasion of Iraq in spring 2002 – a full year before the war began – without saying a word to parliament or the public. Moreover, the objective was regime change rather than disarmament.
That will come as no great revelation to Red Pepper readers. The surprise has been to hear the establishment effectively confirm that everything the anti-war movement said at the time was right.
So we’ve had Britain’s former ambassador in Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, setting out the chronology and saying Blair threw away any leverage he might have had by pledging British involvement so early. This made the UN route a sideshow – the war was planned on an ‘unforgiving’ US military timetable that paid no regard to the work of chief inspector Hans Blix and his team.
We’ve had Sir John Scarlett, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, finally dropping Blair in it over the dossier on Iraq’s alleged WMD. Contrary to claims by Alastair Campbell when he appeared at the inquiry, Scarlett did not endorse Blair’s infamous foreword, which falsely claimed ‘beyond doubt’ that Saddam had continued to produce WMD. Rather, Scarlett said, ‘I saw the foreword as quite separate … The foreword was an overtly political statement.’
We’ve had the military top brass expressing their frustrations: how Admiral Lord Boyce couldn’t properly plan because of the charade that war was not inevitable; how post-war preparations were a shambles, according to General Tim Cross, and run by ‘amateurs’, in the words of General Sir Freddie Viggers.
The willingness of these and other usually tight-lipped witnesses to point the finger at the former prime minister is a measure of the scale of the Iraq disaster. Certainly witnesses have dropped their bombshells with minimal prompting. The inquiry panel was hand-picked to deliver very little – outrageously, it even includes Sir Lawrence Freedman, author of Blair’s most significant foreign policy speech, delivered in Chicago in 1999, which sought to justify liberal military intervention.
Despite this, Chilcot is probably now wrestling with how to deliver an establishment stitch-up when the establishment is using his proceedings to settle a score. Each small revelation at the inquiry forms part of a mosaic that is gradually becoming clear. It shows a gung-ho PM who decided to go it alone and pledge British lives and resources to a US war that he knew would be illegal without a clever ruse at the UN. When that failed, he went ahead regardless.
The inquiry is exposing something else, too. A leader bent on illegal regime change faced an establishment made up of men who, despite holding doubts, were incapable of exerting any contrary influence. They are all now keen to blame anyone else, be it the White House, the Pentagon or Tony Blair, but they give no hint of their own culpability. A case of rats fleeing from a sinking rat.
The fundamental problem this inquiry is illuminating is that at every stage the mechanisms of accountability in the British state have been feeble or non-existent. Chilcot has said his inquiry is not a court. Even if the final report pins all the blame on Blair, which it won’t, there will be no way of sanctioning him even for harming the interests of Britain, let alone for sacrificing the lives of Iraqis.
Chilcot’s stated aim for his inquiry is to ‘write the narrative in order to learn the lessons for the future’. It is probably too much to expect the inquiry panel to meet this modest aim – but the unexpected wealth of evidence might allow the public to do so.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook