John Rentoul: For a balanced verdict on Blair, look beyond Chilcot

Chilcott is being intimidated into coming up with the 'right' answers

Share
Related Topics

Things are are not going well for Tony Blair. His place in the history books is being revised, and not in his favour. If the reaction to his interview on a BBC religious affairs programme last weekend is anything to go by, he faces an impossible situation when he gives evidence to the Chilcot inquiry, possibly in February.

He will undoubtedly say what he has said many times before, but it will be reported either as a "confession" of premeditated wickedness, or as a delusional denial of the hidden truth that explains it all. The media climate is such that the coverage of the Chilcot process is more selective and distorted than anything ever alleged of Blair's presentation of the intelligence.

This week's prize exhibit was an article in The Times of quite undignified ferocity by Sir Ken Macdonald, who was Director of Public Prosecutions until last year. As such, it was his job to act as the guardian of legal due process, yet he judged Blair guilty of "alarming subterfuge" and concluded threateningly: "If Chilcot fails to reveal the truth without fear in this Middle Eastern story of violence and destruction, the inquiry will be held in deserved and withering contempt." Of course, as DPP, Sir Ken had nothing to do with the legal case for military action, although – and this may be relevant – Peter Goldsmith, the Attorney General, was his senior among the Law Officers, and they were said to get on "incredibly badly". Sir Ken is also a member of Cherie Blair's legal chambers, along with Professor Philippe Sands, another notable critic of her husband's foreign policy. Those chambers meetings must be fun.

All of which makes dispassionate contemporary history difficult. The Chilcot inquiry is like the seminar room at Queen Mary, University of London, where I help to teach history undergraduates taking the Blair Government course in their final year. Our class and the Chilcot panel are both engaged in the attempt to make sense of aspects of the Blair years. Several of our witnesses – although we call them guest speakers – are the same. Yet a historical reputation is not constructed in a seminar room, or in an official inquiry chaired by a former civil servant, however distinguished. Nor will it be influenced, much, by the former Prime Minister's memoirs, on which I am told he is working steadily, in longhand, with a fountain pen on legal pads.

No, it is formed much more by the prevailing assumptions of those that work in the media and in the creative arts. Thus the reporting of what Blair says to Fern Britton, or to the Chilcot inquiry next year, is more influential than his actual words. Last weekend, therefore, people did not hear Blair say of Saddam Hussein, "I would still have thought it right to remove him," which is what he said. They heard him say he "would have invaded Iraq" even if he had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction, which was how it was reported. Him and whose army? The British media seems to collude with Blair in one – and only one – respect, that is, in refusing to accept his subsidiary role in what was essentially an American enterprise.

Thus, too, it may be that Pierce Brosnan, playing Blair in Roman Polanski's film of Robert Harris's novel The Ghost, to be premiered in Berlin in February, will seem more real than any attempt to make historical sense of the choices facing a British prime minister faced with an unpredictable tyrant in persistent breach of United Nations resolutions. Why try to understand a choice between unpalatable options when we can retreat into a simple fiction in which all is explained by the fact that Cherie is in the pay of the CIA?

Thus it was last time, when the Hutton inquiry concluded that the case for war had not been "sexed up"; all that did was increase the conviction of the conventionally wise that the opposite was the case. Now, as then, the proceedings were reported through a selective prism that let through only the anti-government case, so that the report, when it came, seemed perverse. The difference in Chilcot's case is that both the inquiry panel and the media know what happened last time. Hence the attempts to intimidate Chilcot and his colleagues into coming up with the "right" answer.

Yet it hardly matters: the headlines are already written. Depending on what Sir John and his colleagues conclude, it is "whitewash" or "Gotcha". It will be a while before a more balanced verdict is reached.

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for 'The Independent on Sunday'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ice skating in George Square, Glasgow  

How many Christmas cards have you sent this year?

Simon Kelner
 

Al-Sweady Inquiry: An exercise in greed that blights the lives of brave soldiers

Richard Kemp
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum