As I read further extracts yesterday in the Sunday newspapers from Robert Peston's book Brown's Britain, this time showing how the decision whether or not to enter the European single currency was taken, I kept comparing it with the approach to war in Iraq. For a key part of both processes was that a document would be published. In the case of the euro, this would be a report on the five tests against which the merits of British entry would be judged. In the case of Iraq, an intelligence dossier was to be made available to Parliament and the public.
Huge resources were devoted to the two exercises, for the outcomes of both would be historic. To integrate the United Kingdom more closely with continental Europe on the one hand, to invade a large country in the Middle East on the other. Some 25 Treasury officials worked full time on the euro report. The Iraq dossier likewise consumed the time and attention of a significant part of the intelligence, defence and foreign policy establishments.
In both situations, the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, behaved in exactly the same fashion. He took the decision intuitively and then looked for the evidence to back up what he had already decided to do. Thanks to Lord Butler's report, we now know that in preparing the Iraq dossier for publication, material that did not fit the Prime Minister's preconceptions was omitted, with the result that the public was misled. What Mr Peston's book shows is that Mr Blair also wished to edit the Treasury's work on the euro so as to produce the result he wanted. In this instance, however, there was an unmovable object in the way: Mr Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Ah yes, readers are entitled to interject, but what we know about the taking of the Iraq decision was revealed to us by an official enquiry chaired by a former Cabinet Secretary. Mr Peston is just a journalist working on his own, taking on trust everything Mr Brown and his friends have told him. Fair enough, but Mr Peston has been a colleague of mine, and I respect his judgement. In any case, experienced reporters are quite as good at sorting out truth from falsehood as retired civil servants.
Moreover, in its detail and analysis, Mr Peston's account is persuasive. In describing the Prime Minister's role, Mr Peston emphasises Mr Blair's desire "to fix the outcome of the tests to allow the UK to join the euro". Thus a colleague of Mr Brown is quoted as saying of the Prime Minister: "He could not conceive that we (the Treasury) had not prejudged the outcome. He always thought the whole thing was a charade and it was going to end in a bargain." Mr Peston goes on to write that the notion that the Treasury was producing an impartial and objective assessment was anathema to Mr Blair.
So finally, when the Prime Minister was presented with the results of the Treasury's work, he said, according to one of those in the room with him, "This is all fine, but I don't accept it." This supposedly final report must be worked on - in the same way as the Iraq assessment produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee was politically edited. The difference was that the Treasury, unlike the Joint Intelligence Committee, managed to preserve the integrity of its work.
While I am sure that prime ministers and cabinet ministers have often tried to fix reports so that they support the party line, one gets the impression that Mr Blair's administration tries harder than its predecessors, and is more successful in bending the truth.
But there is a further aspect of the Prime Minister's fitness for office which Mr Peston's book confirms - Mr Blair's poor judgement. Can there be any doubt now that entry into the euro would have been a big mistake? The European monetary system has helped to inflict high unemployment on its members. And the system we were asked to join has since broken down, with France in particular wilfully breaking the rules.
Mr Blair was trying to fix things so that we would join what has turned out to be a failed experiment.
Wrong on the euro, the Prime Minister is also likely to have been wrong on Iraq. This is not the occasion to evaluate the results of the invasion and the subsequent attempts to rebuild the country and introduce democracy. The Iraqi elections, due at the end of the month, will demonstrate what, if anything, has been achieved.
Meanwhile, the retiring Conservative MP for Wantage, Robert Jackson, announces that he defecting to the Labour Party. Mr Jackson writes that "I greatly admire Tony Blair's leadership of the country. He has risen above narrow sectional interests and demonstrated real courage on ... our country's international security."
On the contrary, with the evidence revealed in Mr Peston's book added to what we already know about the Prime Minister, Mr Blair is both foolhardy and untrustworthy.Reuse content