Posted by Big Gav
Crikey has sent Guy Rundle off to cover the British election (poor bugger), with the first dispatch looking at the inquiry into Britain's entry into the Iraq war - Rundle’s UK: Jack Straw takes the stand, Chilcot becomes the new Watergate.
Britons don’t have a lot to marvel at, at the moment. The grey indifferent skies reflect the mood on earth. The recession has bit hard, with half a dozen familiar store chains going bust, leaving big gaps in the high street.
The most spectacular and disturbing was the UK arm of the Borders book chain, which had huge flagship stores in Oxford Street and Soho, and just went pffft last November. Not a trading out, not a winnowing down — the whole chain just shut, the stores are still empty, and only a printed A4 notice directing inquiries to the administrator’s office gives any clue they were ever there.
For many, the collapse of Borders was a sign that a recession was really here. Woolworths had collapsed a year earlier — but it was simply a dying brand, waiting for the final coup. Others, such as the CD/DVD chain Zavvi, had been idiotic enterprises from the start. But Borders was slacker pomo lifemode distilled to its very chai latte essence, part of the furniture of contemporary existence. The fact that it can go in a heartbeat was a chilling reminder that a lot of other things might be less secure than was once imagined.
So it is a time for national doubt and introspection. A time when Britons are being borne back into the past more than the future, with the Chilcot Inquiry into UK participation in the Iraq War providing revelation after revelation.
Today, Jack Straw took the stand, the first currently serving cabinet member so to do — and promptly landed his erstwhile leader, Mr Tony, even further in it.
Looking, as he always does, like a shifty Nazi dentist caught in Bolivia, and frantically manufacturing an alibi for the years 1939-45, Straw claimed that the Iraq War decision had been his toughest and most wrenching decision during the Blair years, and that he had had “a secret plan to keep the UK out of the war” — by offering support, but no troops, pretty much the formula Harold Wilson used to stay out of active engagement in Vietnam.
There’s no reason to disbelieve him, but his opposition to the Bush-Blair scheme to launch a full-scale occupation and invasion wasn’t enough to prompt him to resign, as Robin Cook had resigned. Nor was there any likelihood of that happening — Straw knew it would split the government down the middle.
The real revelation in his evidence was that he believed Blair’s correspondence with Bush over the months leading up to the war took regime change and full occupation as a given, and that its tone was tantamount to a confession of breaching international law, and conning the UN. ...
Since Mr Tony is to return to give evidence to the inquiry, Straw has landed him right in it — giving him near-solitary responsibility for the decision to run with total war at all costs. The last person Blair could turn to as a co-conspirator is … Gordon Brown. Which may be why Brown announced late this evening that he had now agreed to appear at the inquiry, before rather than after the election.
Whether explicitly so or otherwise, the decision was clearly contingent upon what Straw said and the Cabinet underlings are now united in a common plan — sheet it all home to Mr Tony, one way or another. Day by day, Chilcot is starting to have a Watergateish feel to it — a legal-political process put in train due to irresistible pressure, and now drawing all behind it.