The impeachment of Tony Blair would form a fitting end to a prime ministership which opened with the promise to be ‘purer than pure’, but ended in the arrogant deception of the British people. This ancient form of trial, which has lain disused but not defunct in the armoury with which we defend our liberties, is the means by which Parliament can humble a chief minister who has arrogated grotesque quantities of power and has treated with contempt the constitutional forms which ought to have restrained him.
Eminent among those forms or conventions or traditions is the dictum that ministers must not lie to or mislead the House of Commons. This is what Mr Blair did repeatedly and flagrantly as he sought over a period of many months to persuade the nation of the case for invading Iraq. Nor has he ever apologised for the sustained duplicity with which he advanced his bogus arguments for the impending war. He treats Parliament as a nullity, rather as he treats his own Cabinet and his own party.
We recognise that Mr Blair has a number of lines of defence open to him. He may claim that he erred only in matters of detail, and protest that nobody can want to plunge yet again into any question including the words ‘weapons of mass destruction’. He may rely, in other words, on the belief that most of us are heartily sick of the subject, and are disposed to let it drop.
But when one reads the evidence presented by Adam Price, the Welsh Nationalist MP who has assembled the case for impeaching Mr Blair, this defence no longer seems tenable. For here we find the whole inglorious catalogue of the Prime Minister’s bogus assertions laid bare, and are bound to feel that such prolonged and deliberate deception deserves to be punished.
Mr Blair’s second (or often first) line of defence is that he acted in good faith. He is a man of incurable sanctimony, always anxious to convince us that he is incapable of falsehood. He tries, in other words, to convince us that he believed every word that he spoke about Iraq when he spoke it; if he deceived us, it was only because he had first been deceived. This defence once more fails when one examines the evidence. We find the Prime Minister assuring us that Saddam Hussein’s WMD programme ‘is active, detailed and growing’ and insisting that our knowledge about it ‘is extensive, detailed and authoritative’, when only an exceptionally stupid person could have reached those conclusions from the intelligence being supplied by the security services to Downing Street. Mr Blair may be many things, but he is not stupid. He is an acute lawyer, who pounces swiftly on the strongest and the weakest points in any case that is presented to him. He must have known that he was giving the British people a grossly distorted account of the intelligence he was receiving, intelligence which was patchy and unreliable but which tended to suggest that Saddam Hussein posed no serious threat outside the borders of Iraq.
The third line of defence open to Mr Blair is that he did the right thing, even if the reasons which he presented for doing it were wrong. This is the defence which supporters of the war generally have the greatest difficulty in refuting. For many of us still believe that it was right to fight alongside the United States, and right to help overthrow Saddam Hussein. We believe the world is on balance a safer place, and Iraq a happier one, because the coalition assembled by George Bush and Tony Blair was prepared to act, instead of searching in the manner of Jacques Chirac or Gerhard Schröder for excuses to do nothing.
The trouble with Mr Blair is that he betrayed the case for the invasion — and in particular for taking robust action alongside our American allies — by making it rest on assertions that would very rapidly stand exposed as falsehoods. Our Prime Minister assured us that when we entered Iraq we would find those famous WMDs. He deceived not only his opponents in the anti-war movement, who rather imagined he would deceive them, but his friends, including his Conservative friends, who helped him to see the invasion through.
Mr Blair may congratulate himself, if he wishes, on a clever political manoeuvre, but he acted with a Bismarckian lack of principle, and Britain does not wish to be governed in that manner. Our form of government works best when ministers take the people into their confidence, not when one overmighty minister sets out to deceive the people. This is particularly the case when British troops are to be put in harm’s way. Politicians may bewail the declining turnout at elections, and the Labour party may lament its plummeting membership, but can one blame increasing numbers of people for refusing to become Mr Blair’s dupes? To impeach the Prime Minister would be a first-rate way for the House of Commons to demonstrate that not all politicians consider the kind of trickery in which he has engaged to be a tolerable way of conducting our affairs.