Dead Men Left

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Blair: not resigned yet

Blair and his allies' attempts to shift the blame for the WMD fiasco onto the British intelligence services appear to be backfiring substantially, as a "senior intelligence source" is tonight set to state that MI6 retracted the claim that Saddam continued to produce WMD. Whilst the BBC may have rolled over and died in response to a few appropriate growls from a Law Lord, MI6 are a tougher bunch; and there is, of course, much experience in the "intelligence community" of kicking Labour governments in to line, as Peter Wright (then of MI5) made clear in his memoirs, Spycatcher. The Guardian reports on the Panorama show that:

...according to a senior intelligence source interviewed by BBC1's Panorama tonight, MI6 has since taken the rare step of withdrawing the intelligence assessment that underpinned the claim that Saddam had continued to produce WMD - an admission that it was fundamentally unreliable.

The charge leaves Blair open to serious questions over why, if the nature of the proof had changed, he did not tell the public that the evidence of WMD was crumbling beneath him.

"Because he's a lying toad," is my preferred - if unsophisticated - answer to that question. And never mind MI6: you don't want to fuck with the Church of England, either:

Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, weighed into the debate, warning that Blair would be judged before God for his actions over Iraq and suggesting he would struggle with his conscience. Asked how Blair would account for himself, Williams answered: 'At the judgment seat.' For Christians, that is the point of entry either to heaven or to hell. 'When you acknowledge that you have taken a risk which has not paid off, which has cost, and that cost does not seem be justified, that's the punishment,' he added.

(Though if the C of E wasn't so bloody soft, they'd have excommunicated him by now. I blame Martin Luther.) It would also seem Blair considered resigning prior to the June elections, being begged by "Cabinet loyalists" not to go: an unusual case of rats failing to leave a sinking ship; maybe these rodents harbour the belief they are the band on the Titanic, continuing to tootle merrily as the once-unsinkable ship disappears beneath waves... but they're still rats.

The whole process is quite excrutiatingly slow and drawn-out. Whilst Tory leaders can disappear overnight, the Labour Party retain a peculiar loyalty to even leaders quite obviously dragging the party down: compare Kinnock's persistence in losing election after election, spouting gobbledegook in between times, to Thatcher's virtually overnight dismissal. Partially, I suppose Blair must retain some of the aura of 1997, but the number of immediate Parliamentary loyalists he can count on - given the number of ministerial resignations that have taken place and the numbers now prepared to vote against the government - is by this point becoming rather limited. Why else the heavy reliance on extremely junior MPs like Hilary Benn, or Miliband? The catastrophic unpopularity of the Prime Minister - and he is widely detested, perhaps even more so than Thatcher was (and is) - must also be wonderfully sharpening the minds of those MPs in the more marginal constituencies.

The question, as it has been for some time, is not "if" but "when". Critical for those opposed to the war is wether before or after the US elections; Bush's one remaining prop, just about, is Blair himself: all else can collapse around his ears, but for as long as the British PM remains Tony Blair, Bush can credibly claim some measure "international support" for his Iraq lunacy. If Blair goes, the argument to ditch Bush, too, becomes all the stronger.