The glimpse into Alastair Campbell’s embattled psyche as the David Kelly affair unfolded is just one of many such insights revealed by the Hutton inquiry. Campbell was right to worry about the ‘stuff about trust’. An ICM poll recorded that only 6 percent of respondents trusted the government more than the BBC to tell the truth. Revealingly, given that research has shown BBC war coverage to be the most gung-ho of the major broadcasters, over half those polled trusted neither.
Amid the minutiae and the red herrings of the inquiry, the cause of this earned distrust is apparent: the lies and distortions told in the build-up to war with Iraq. Just a week before the government published its first dodgy dossier, the Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell e-mailed Campbell. ‘We will need to make it clear in launching the document that we do not claim that we have evidence that he [Saddam] is an imminent threat,’ he wrote. The repeated use of the 45-minute claim, based on hearsay ‘evidence’ which would be laughed out of any court in the land, did nothing of the sort. It was a pretext for war.
There is nothing novel about governments telling lies to build support, or at least acquiescence, for war. What is remarkable about Iraq is how spectacularly they failed to do so. Having made his career on the dubious premise that he was an electoral asset, Tony Blair is increasingly being seen by his party as a liability. His craven support for Bush’s imperial project helped to mobilise the biggest demonstration in British history, an unprecedented wave of school strikes and significant rumblings in the workplace. The government’s subsequent disarray, and its squabbling with pillars of the establishment such as the BBC and the intelligence services, only makes sense in this context.
So now is the time to increase that pressure. Every day in Iraq reiterates that the occupation was never about ‘liberation’. That George Bush has signed an executive order giving oil multinationals immunity from prosecution in Iraq is far more revealing about his priorities than such rhetoric.
The anger about taking us into such a war has not gone away. Indeed, many who were reluctantly convinced to ‘back our boys’ are furious that they were so misled. The national demonstration on 27 September is a vital part of mobilising that mood. Reinvigorating the local, workplace and school Stop the War groups is essential to creating a turnout that really puts the screws on the government.
In the process the debate about the alternative to Blair is bound to intensify. Whether it coalesces around Gordon Brown, or around a figure with more than a cigarette paper between them and Tony Blair, is yet to be seen. But socialists are already in the process of forming a real alternative on a deeper, more fundamental basis – that of change from below.
There are encouraging signs for this on the industrial front. British Airways workers, nursery nurses and bus drivers have all taken successful militant strike action recently. And after years of cutbacks there is potential for the dam to break in the postal service. Converting the left mood in the unions into a rank and file movement capable of taking on the government is a big task. But the cycle of hopes kindled and then betrayed by Labour is not an experience we should wish to repeat.
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