27 February 2004
Is the British state in disarray or what? It’s one disaster after the next for Blair’s ‘mini-imperium’ and in spite of all the calls to ‘move on and put Iraq behind us’, like a bad meal the issue of why the war and invasion and all the lies used to justify it, the issues just won’t go away.
The dirty tricks campaign mounted against members of the UN Security Council that included bullying, bribery and blackmail by the US to get the half dozen recalcitrant members to endorse its invasion of Iraq (a campaign that amazingly failed), has yet again exposed the bumbling English political class as an inept and divided servant of US capital.
Is there no end to Blair’s screw-ups? Apparently not as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decision not to continue with its case against Katherine Gun for breach of the Official Secrets Act reveals. Apparently afraid that the defence would use the illegal nature of the invasion as part of its defence and that a jury would agree with Ms Gun, at the very last minute the Crown decided not to continue with the prosecution.
Ms Gun, now a former employee of the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) was prosecuted for ‘spilling the beans’ by revealing that the UK took part in spying activities directed at members of the UN Security Council. She decided to go public after reading an email from the GCHQ’s ‘sister’ organisation in the US, the National Security Agency instructing the GCHQ to do some bugging on its behalf.
Then on Thursday 26 February, ‘lose cannon’ Ms Clare Short, former member of the Labour Cabinet went one step further and accused the Blair government of bugging Kofi Annan’s telephone conversations as well. Blair, understandably pissed off about Ms Short’s revelations attempted to make out that not only were Ms Short’s allegations untrue but in a classic Machiavellian statement Blair said that whatever it was they didn’t do, it wasn’t illegal according to domestic and international law (which definitely wasn’t true, as the spying operation broke at least three sets of laws).
Ms Short said she had actually seen transcripts of Annan’s telephone conversations during Cabinet meetings and far from retracting her accusations has publicly reiterated that everything actually took place just as she had said. But already, loyal servants of Blair are putting out (not so) veiled intimations that Ms Short is a bit short upstairs but attempting to smear her will do no good, coming as it does right on the heels of the Gun fiasco.
Predictably, Blair has tried to use the double-fiasco to invoke fear and loathing in the populace:
“It is completely irresponsible…. This is a dangerous time for this country and the world.
“We need our security services. We need these people who risk their lives for us to feel confident of the strong support and backing right across the political spectrum for what they do.”
‘Risking’ their lives in an air-conditioned office somewhere, drinking instant coffee and listening in on private telephone conversations? Right across the political spectrum? But then Blair’s ‘political spectrum’ is short a few colours.
More important is the fact that these kinds of divisions reveal a genuine crisis at the very centre of state power and although the government will no doubt use the latest ‘revelations’ to tighten even further (if that’s possible) the stranglehold the British state maintains over the flow of information via the Official Secrets Act, it seems unlikely that it will make much difference simply because the OSA only works because of the public’s belief in the integrity of the state and hence belief in the necessity to ‘protect’ its workings from an ‘enemy’.
Remove that belief then no matter how dire the threats of state retribution are, people will come forward just as Ms Gun did when they see through the lies of the public pronouncements of their leaders. That Ms Gun did what she did, reveals much about the changed nature of the relationship between the state and its citizens. No longer can the state rely on the blind acceptance of its citizens in support of its policies and this is an attitude that has to be encouraged.
We can of course expect a propaganda blitz from Blair and co in a (vain) attempt to shift the focus from the lies to those whose actions the state deems “irresponsible” and “dangerous” but will it do any good? For what is at stake here is the public’s belief in the state as an essentially benign institution that by and large, operates in the peoples’ interests. Remove that belief and the power of the state can rely only on force or the threat of the use of force in order to pursue its agenda.
And this is where the various and sundry repressive laws that ‘Thug’ Blunkett would have enacted (aside from those already in place) are critical to the state’s pursuit of its objectives. For without them, enacting unpopular policies becomes an uphill struggle, that get challenged – in public – every step of the way.
And when people are no longer afraid to speak out, then the ‘revelatory process’ gathers pace as the latest exposure of the tapping of Hans Blix’s cellular in Iraq shows. The trickle becomes a torrent and reveals the nature of how the state operates and especially how it uses ‘threats’ of one kind or another to silence the opposition and garner support.
Can we view these events as a watershed? I believe so because it means that appeals to ‘patriotism’ and all the jingoism that the state’s propaganda machine utilises, is no longer effective even after months of scare tactics involving ‘terrorist’ threats (all of which have come to nothing). It would seem that the British public are largely unconvinced and content to continue gathering in public places in large numbers and running up even larger credit card debts.
For the issue is not about spying per se – billions are spent by the US and the UK in what amounts to a joint operation that allows an plausible deniability on the part of both countries by passing the buck between them – the issue here is the nature of the war, planned long in advance of all the phony debate about WMD, and whether or not the UN could be used to try and rationalise the invasion.
In other words, all Blair’s talk about ‘national security’ and so forth has absolutely nothing to do with the basic issue, namely the UK’s policy of waging an illegal war and a war that the great majority of the population were opposed to.
More’s the pity that Ms Short didn’t have the ‘courage of her convictions’ back when it counted, before the war was launched. Her argument, that she thought she would have more influence within the government’s inner circle than outside it, rings hollow when you consider the nature of the present-day politician and the opportunistic nature of the ‘political’ process, where expediency rules. I find it difficult to believe that Ms Short was not aware of how the ruling class rules and Rule #1 is; don’t break ranks. This is after all, the same Ms Short who voted for the war last March.
And unlike the unfortunate Ms Gun, who in her political naïvity let the cat out of the bag and as a consequence felt the full force of the state, it’s unlikely – aside from being pilloried in the press – that Ms Short will be arrested and thrown in jail for ‘breaking ranks’ with the ruling elite. But as she says:
“I’m not troubled about myself. I’ve reached an age  and stage where I’m free to tell the truth and be responsible to my conscience.”
Hmmm…but a year ago she hadn’t yet reached that age and stage? Perhaps she should go tell the victims of Blair’s imperialist war in Iraq that she is not troubled by her conscience, I’m sure they’ll understand. This is after all not an issue about the state of one’s conscience, it’s about right and wrong (let alone the illegality of the invasion), that Ms Short was surely aware of even at a younger age and stage of her life last March.
What I can never escape from is the knowledge that in spite of all the hot air that gets expended and all the ‘breast-beating’ done by conscience-stricken politicians, the Iraqi people are nowhere to be seen in the ‘debate’. They figure not at all whilst the privileged members of the fourth richest country in world ‘debate’ the workings of the imperium.
Where is Ms Short today as the US, with EU backing, dismembers Haiti through its proxies, Duvalier’s former death squads? Perhaps I’m old-fashioned in believing that principle comes first (even if leavened somewhat with hard-headed pragmatism). Clearly, Ms Short’s real problem is that she had to make a decision between her ‘principles’ and the threat of Labour losing power. This was after all the ultimate ‘threat’ that Blair used last March (‘back me or I’ll resign’). I don’t know the woman personally but surely she knows how the ‘game’ is played. She did say after Blair got elected leader of the Labour Party in 1994 “My God, what have we done?” so it’s not like his neo-con agenda crept up on her unseen.
And because of the way Ms Short has behaved, much of her ‘opposition’ rings hollow in the ears of many, just as Robin Cooke’s ‘opposition’ has and in doing so, they have done damage to the anti-war movement. Continued ‘revelations’ by Short or anybody else in government don’t alter the fundamental reality of the war, the occupation and the mess that you can bet won’t be Ms Short’s job to clean up.