The day Mr Blair reached his point of no return

by Stephen Tall on February 25, 2007

Today’s Observer previews one of the revelations to be broadcast in the second part of Michael Cockerell’s profile of Tony Blair – the confirmation by Mr Blair’s former chief policy advisor, Sir Stephen Wall, that the Prime Minister and his press secretary Alastair Campbell cynically played the anti-French card to justify the Labour Government’s decision to go to war with Iraq on a false prospectus:

‘I recall the moment,’ Wall says in the documentary, ‘because I happened to be in the corridor in Number 10 when he and Alastair Campbell were walking down the corridor and they decided effectively to play the anti-French card. They’d been given an opportunity to do so because President Chirac had given a broadcast interview the previous day in which he said that, as of that moment, France would veto a resolution authorising war.’ Wall says it was clear that Chirac had not ruled out the possibility of future French support for such a compromise.

The moment Sir Stephen recalls was, I believe, the point of no return for Mr Blair – the day he chose dishonest means to promote dishonest ends. This is what I wrote about the incident, almost two years ago, in the lead-up to the 2005 general election:

One incident defined for me the depths to which Mr Blair’s desperately ugly utilitarianism plummeted in the build-up to war. A second UN resolution authorising military action against Iraq was, the Prime Minister knew, vital to obtain before he could give the go-ahead to the right-wing, gung-ho, nut-jobs in the White House. Without it, he might not win the vote approving war in the House of Commons, and British troops might be liable to prosecution for war crimes in the international courts. Such a resolution required a unanimous vote of approval from the nine UN Security Council members: the trouble was the UK and US could scarcely muster half that number, despite the blackmail, bribes and arm-twisting to which the poorer members were subjected. So what did Mr Blair decide to do? He pulled that trusty old British stand-by – blame the French.

President Chirac had pledged to wield France’s veto against a second resolution unless robust proof of Saddam Hussein’s contravention of UN resolutions could be demonstrated. The threat was academic, as Mr Chirac himself noted, because France was not alone in this position on the Security Council: in fact, she was in the majority. Summing up, he concluded: “My position is that, whatever the circumstances, France will vote ‘no’ because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, that is to disarm Iraq.”

Mr Blair, and his Bad Angel, Alastair Campbell, spotted the chink in the Gallic armour. Though Mr Chirac had been referring only to “this evening”, meaning the French position was not fixed in granite, it was too late: the full might of the xenophobic populist press was unleashed against the ‘French worm’ with Mr Blair’s full connivance. The story was spun to show France deliberately and maliciously putting the kibosh into Mr Blair’s best endeavours at international consensus. It was a crude and disgraceful distortion, reprehensible ends used to justify squalid means. Mr Blair chose his destiny – American imperialism over European partnership – and now deserves all the electoral opprobrium that can be heaped upon him.

Mr Blair’s departure from No 10, and Gordon Brown’s likely assumption of office, doesn’t change anything. Every single member of today’s Labour Cabinet voted for the war. As I remarked in 2005, when explaining why Labour deserved to lose the election:

They are all stained by Mr Blair’s decision. And at least the Prime Minister believed in what he was doing: most of those who went along with Tony for the ride did so not out of gut conviction, but out of expedience, or careerism, or ignorance.