Short on Blair


A very interesting interview with Clare Short was broadcast on ITV on Sunday morning, 13 July 2003.She was interviewed by Steve Richards.


The following extracts deal with the road to war on Iraq and the lack of preparation for its aftermath in Iraq, and with the problems thrown up by making policy in Downing Street.


CS:Ö we havenít focussed yet on why Blix couldnít continue to do his work.What was the urgency?ÖAnd thereís no explanation without them working to a preordained date.And then thereís various publications and interviews, when Tony wasnít under such scrutiny and therefore he and his entourage werenít being so careful, that indicate the date.


And, as Iíve said before, some very, very senior figures in Whitehall, different people, said to me, look Clare, itís already fixed, at a time when I still believed that a second resolution, we were really committed to it, so I think the evidence is overwhelming, and I think it will become clear.And Iím sure if Tony denies it, heíll do it with careful words. Ö


Iím, as I said before, Iím very sad about the conclusions I have reached, but I have read now various books, the Woodward book that came out of the Bush White House collaboration.Iíve just read this 30-day Stothard book, which again says, it says it might have been June actually.


But I just ask everyone to concentrate their mind: why couldnít Blix have more time, and why were we lied to about the French position, because itís now absolutely clear? And if you read Tonyís 18 March speech, and I believed him at the time, he says over and over and over again that the French saying No to any second resolution made a second resolution impossible.Itís now clear what Chirac said, and he said it publicly in France on the 10 March, that Blix must have his time to do his work; if he fails it will have to come back to the Security Council, and then Iím afraid thereíll be war.So it was completely dishonest to say France made impossible a second resolution.


SR:Ö Do you think he meant it at the time that there were these imminent threats and that there would be tangible evidence of the weapons themselves, or was he, in your view, as he has done in other elements of this war, lying?


CS:I think that Tony Blair convinced himself that it was very, very important to stay close to the US post September 11, that they were determined to go to war with Saddam Hussein, that Saddam Hussein needed to be dealt with, and America being isolated would be a disaster for the world, and quite why he thought it was such a disaster I donít understand, and thatís one of fixed points.


So I think he thought it was honourable, and committed us, and thought it was honourable and brave to get us there, and then a series of half-truths, slight deceptions, exaggerations, and I think heís used to being a persuader and using language quite generally, not being very precise, and by and large the media and politics in Britain has bought it for six years.Iím sure heís very shocked by whatís going on now, and Iím sure heís convinced that what he did was right.But Iím also sure that he fooled the country in a series of ways, in a way thatís intolerable when itís a matter of war and peace, and human beingsí lives, and the future of a country.


SR:What are the implications for him?Ö


CS:Well, itís not for me to say, because I've already said I think it would be in the interests of Tony Blair himself and his legacy of the Labour Party, and actually of the country, if he would think of making a voluntary departure and we could have an elegant handover and Labour could renew itself in power.I donít think the Conservatives Ė theyíre shaping up a bit Ė but theyíre not fit to form a government yet.So, from every point of view I think thatís the best way to go.Ö


We will see, thereís two good years to the next election, weíll see how this plays out.I think the best solution for Tony would be if he planned to move on before it gets ever nastier.


SR:Presumably, if you wanted a new leader the only way there could be a smooth transition would be that voluntary departure.


CS:Itís difficult to do it without voluntary co-operation, because weíve got a system of elections for the leader thatís designed for opposition.


SR:So itís harder in government to manoeuvre it.Stepping back from what youíre saying, it is astonishing if true the allegations are very, very serious.


CS:Theyíre fantastically serious.The other one that hasnít been discussed is the lack of preparation for afterwards.They chose the date, they planned this, they organised it, they got the world to war, and they didnít plan for what happened afterwards, and people are continuing to die, American soldiers, British soldiers and Iraqi people.This is disgracefully incompetent.


SR:Some people blame you and your department for that, of course, donít they?They say, come on, this was Clare Shortís responsibility to get this co-ordination with the UN, and so on.You know that that is an allegation.


CS:But that is a joke.I had an undertaking from Tony about how the post-conflict arrangements would be.What you need is the military and the coalition to absolutely focus on their Geneva Convention obligations, which is keeping order, very urgent humanitarian, and keeping civil administration going.The UN humanitarians were all ready, pre-positioned in the region to come in and get the electricity and water and hospitals going. But they canít do that without order.Itís the military not doing its job because thereís been so much messing about.


And then the UN needs to do the job of consulting the Iraqis to get an interim administration, as in Afghanistan.Then you can get the IMF and World Bank and start the economic reform, and if you do it like that the international community will all come in.That was what I said repeatedly to the Commons would be done, thatís what I understood that Tony Blair had agreed weíd do, when I agreed to stay in the government, after lots of pressing from him.


He completely then ignored all of that, just let the Americans get on with this Pentagon-led ORHA, Organisation for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq, and the Pentagon and the State Department were fighting about who would be the Iraqi administrator, not preparing for their job.Itís a disaster.To suggest that it was the Department of International Development is a pathetic joke.


SR:Moving to the domestic agenda, thereís still a very direct link, there are clear problems on the domestic agenda.Will he have a problem with it because of this trust question? Ö


CS:I think there are problems, and itís a kind of hubris, itís the centralisation of power in Number 10, thinking that everyone else is stupid, weíve got to force these things through.


Foundation hospitals is a complete mess, itís not a sensible policy.I believe fantastically strongly in decentralisation in the public services, the control freakery, too many targets, too many bureaucratic trails, is a major thing thatís holding back the success of reform in the public services.But this sudden reorganisation, giving privileged status to the most privileged hospitals, is not decentralisation in the health service, getting quality and buying in of all the staff so you get the improvement.


Top up fees is outrageous. We fought the election on a commitment not to bring them in.He's driving that through and itís not just ideological. He tries to suggest people like me are conservatives and he's the great radical.Its absolutely crummy, un-thought through, bad policy.


And then on the Euro, we had a very clear policy, which must be the right policy that we presume weíll end up in, but weíve got to go with the economic interests of our country, and thatís what the five tests are all about, and weíll all proceed accordingly.


We were all united on that, there wasnít really any division to speak of in the Labour Party, and heís manufactured this great big division with Gordon Brown, so now everybody thinks there was a kind of great big division, and that heís trying to drive us into the Euro before the economyís ready.Thatís manufactured from Number 10, again, I think.


So, itís just a series of errors that come I think from centralisation of power into Number 10, so thereís not proper consultation, and the discussions with others that leads to improvements in policy. And then this sort of arrogance of trying to drive things through, and itís just error after error.


SR:Is it arrogance or is it, if youíre correct with these policies, of emerging without much thought being put to them, does it tell us anything else about Tony Blair?


CS:Well, itís partly I think the result of the expanding advisors in Number 10, faceless clever young things come up with these clever ideas.The Prime Ministerís not a detail man, but he wants bold ideas for his second term, so he thinks Yes thatís a bold idea, and the Parliamentary Labour Party, the Cabinet, and all that, theyíre not quite up to it, and Iíll get this through and Iíll get my place in the history books.I think thatís whatís going on.It leads to mistake after mistake. Ö



Labour & Trade Union Review

August 2003