Photo: Wikimedia Commons Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The High Court judgement shows that the establishment is closing ranks to prevent politicians being held accountable for their actions argues Chris Nineham

Few will be surprised that The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and his colleague have ruled that Tony Blair had no case to answer over the Iraq war because there is ‘no crime of aggression in British law’.

But neither will people believe this judgement was a purely technical, detached decision. The problem with the judgement’s credibility is not just that it was effectively contested in court. Michael Mansfield argued persuasively that in a whole number of cases, including the Nuremburg trials, British law has operated on the basis that aggression is indeed a crime. It is also not helped by the fact that the fact that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General at the time of the invasion agreed with Mansfield and gave Blair the diametrically opposite advice, saying, “Aggression is a crime under customary international law which automatically forms part of domestic law”. This was private advice given to Tony Blair before the invasion, when the attorney General was presumably giving a relatively dispassionate view on what he thought the law really was.  

Cynicism about this controversial judgement will be widespread. Most of all because it will be seen as part of a concerted and co-ordinated effort by most of the establishment to protect Blair and to stop the damning findings of the Chilcot report from being turned into effective action against him.

Attempts have been made previously to block this legal challenge - supported by the current attorney General Jeremy Wright – on completely different grounds including a spurious view that Prime Ministers should be immune from such charges and the claim that the prosecution shouldn’t go ahead on the grounds that it might reveal official secrets. Tony Blair’s friend and former Secretary of State for Justice was on BBC radio this morning recycling these arguments even though they have been rejected in a court of law.

Other attempts to prosecute have been blocked in similar ways. Meanwhile last year in parliament, MPs voted by a huge margin against Alex Salmond’s motion to hold Tony Blair to account for his conduct as outlined in the Chilcot Report. The key arguments used here were that the mistakes of the Iraq War should not be personalised and that Tony Blair was acting in good faith.

The report did in fact show that Blair systematically misled the British People, backed illegal regime change and knowingly prosecuted an unnecessary war. The conduct of the British establishment since the Chilcot Report has exposed a huge contempt for basic justice and democracy.

Partly they are protecting their own. His continued influence in ruling class circles testifies to the fact that Tony Blair is still a valued political force amongst them. But two other things are probably more important. The establishment is closing ranks in defiance of the notion that politicians should be held publicly accountable for their actions, and in particular that the launching, conduct and consequences of foreign wars should be a matter of public debate, scrutiny and sanction.

This is what the battle about Tony Blair’s legacy is really about and this is why it matters so much.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

Tagged under: