Leading article: Brown vs Blair (again)

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The Independent Online

Gordon Brown's appearance before the Iraq Inquiry was never going to be the hot-ticket event that Tony Blair's had been.

Mr Brown has not been seen as the author of Britain's involvement in the war, and his role has never drawn the same popular wrath. As a Prime Minister facing a general election within weeks and a leading member of the Cabinet that made the unpopular decision to go to war, however, he arguably had the more to lose. As it was, he managed the not insignificant feat of defending his support for the war, while subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – dissociating himself from Mr Blair.

Much of the pre-inquiry criticism of Mr Brown, from families of dead and injured servicemen, as well as from some of the top brass, had focused on charges that, as Chancellor, he had left the armed forces without funds for some of the life-saving equipment they desperately needed. Mr Brown insisted that nothing had been refused on financial grounds, but that it had been up to the armed forces to forecast their requirements correctly.

In effect, he passed the buck, but in a way that was not without credibility, given recent criticisms of flaws in Ministry of Defence procurement. He also blamed the long lead times for many military orders: you could not order new helicopters today and expect them to arrive, ready for service in Iraq, tomorrow. It is hard to quarrel with that. The argument about responsibility for the lack of helicopters and armoured vehicles will go on.

Most striking, however, were the ways in which Mr Brown distanced himself from Mr Blair. Yes, he said, he still believed the decision to go to war was right. But he said he had never held to the "neocon" idea that liberty and democracy could be imposed by force. He clearly did not share Mr Blair's view that all the post-war violence was instigated by outsiders. And when invited to add to his testimony, he expressed gratitude to the armed forces and their families and regret for the military and civilian deaths. After four hours of questions, the Prime Minister emerged pretty much unscathed. In his own low-key way, he might even have done himself some good.

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