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The Corruption of New Labour: Britain’s Watergate?

John Simkin

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Tony Blair used "deceit" to persuade parliament and the British people to support war in Iraq, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, said today.

In an article in the Times, Macdonald attacked Blair for engaging in "alarming subterfuge", for displaying "sycophancy" towards George Bush and for refusing to accept that his decisions were wrong.

Macdonald's comments about Blair's decision to go to war are more critical than anything that has been said so far by any of the senior civil servants who worked in Whitehall when Blair was prime minister.

Macdonald was DPP from 2003 until 2008 and he now practises law from Matrix Chambers, where Blair's barrister wife, Cherie, is also based.

In his article Macdonald highlighted a remark Blair made in an interview broadcast yesterday about supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein regardless of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction to explain why he thought the former prime minister was guilty of deceit.

But Macdonald also expressed concerns about the Iraq inquiry, suggesting that some of its questioning has been "unchallenging" and that Sir John Chilcot and his team will be held in "contempt" if they fail to uncover the truth about the war.

Macdonald wrote: "The degree of deceit involved in our decision to go to war on Iraq becomes steadily clearer. This was a foreign policy disgrace of epic proportions, and playing footsie on Sunday morning television does nothing to repair the damage.

"It is now very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Tony Blair engaged in an alarming subterfuge with his partner, George Bush, and went on to mislead and cajole the British people into a deadly war they had made perfectly clear they didn't want, and on a basis that it's increasingly hard to believe even he found truly credible."

Macdonald said that Blair's fundamental flaw was his "sycophancy towards power" and that he could not resist the "glamour" he attracted in Washington.

"In this sense he was weak and, as we can see, he remains so," Macdonald went on.

"Since those sorry days we have frequently heard him repeating the self-regarding mantra that 'hand on heart, I only did what I thought was right'. But this is a narcissist's defence and self-belief is no answer to misjudgment: it is certainly no answer to death."

Macdonald said that, with the exceptions of some of the interventions from Sir Roderic Lyne, the questions asked when the Chilcot inquiry has been taking evidence from witnesses have been tame.

"If this is born of a belief that it creates an atmosphere more conducive to truth, it seems naive. The truth doesn't always glide out so compliantly; sometimes it struggles to be heard," Macdonald said.

Many commentators have criticised the fact that all members of the Chilcot team are establishment figures – Chilcot himself is a former permanent secretary – and Macdonald said the inquiry needed to prove its independence.

"In British public life, loyalty and service to power can sometimes count for more to insiders than any tricky questions of wider reputation. It's the regard you are held in by your peers that really counts, so that steadfastness in the face of attack and threatened exposure brings its own rich hierarchy of honour and reward.

"Disloyalty, on the other hand, means a terrible casting out, a rocky and barren Roman exile that few have the courage to endure."

Macdonald said Chilcot and his team needed to tell the truth without fear of offending the Whitehall establishment.

"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," Macdonald said.

Yesterday, in an interview with Fern Britton broadcast on BBC1, Blair said he would have backed an attack on Iraq even if he had known that Saddam had no WMD.

"If you had known then that there were no WMDs, would you still have gone on?" Blair was asked. He replied: "I would still have thought it right to remove him [saddam Hussein]".

Blair added: "I mean obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat."


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There have been some interesting revelations at the Chilcot Inquiry. However, the most noticeable thing about the inquiry is the failure of the committee to ask penetrating questions. On several occasions witnesses have made fascinating comments but committee members have failed to ask follow-up questions. This is not difficult to understand when you look at the membership of the Chilcot Committee.

Sir John Chilcot, a former Whitehall mandarin who spent years at the Northern Ireland office (note the Ireland connection to all the Iraq investigations).

Sir Lawrence Freedman, an establishment historian who was a foreign policy advisor to Tony Blair (wrote most of Blair’s speech on “liberal intervention” in 1999.

Sir Martin Gilbert, Conservative historian who is the unofficial spokesman for Israel’s foreign policy. During the Iraq invasion he wrote that Blair and Bush “may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill”.

Sir Roderic Lyne, a former ambassador to Russia.

Lady Prashar, a former first civil service commissioner.

Margaret Aldred, director general of the foreign and defence policy secretariat at the Cabinet Office.

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Hans Blix, Monday 14 December 2009


Before the Iraq war was launched in March 2003 the world was given the impression by the US and Britain that the goal was to eradicate weapons of mass destruction. Recent comments by Tony Blair suggest, however, that regime change was the essential aim. He would have thought it right to remove Saddam Hussein even if he had known that there were no WMD, he said, but he would obviously have had to "deploy" different arguments. Must we not conclude that the WMD arguments were "deployed" mainly as the best way of selling the war? Blair's comments do not exclude a strong – but mistaken – belief in the existence of WMD even when the invasion was launched. However, given that hundreds of inspections had found no WMD and important evidence had fallen apart, such a belief would have been based on a lack of critical thinking.

How could the issue of – non-existent – WMD mislead the world for more than 10 years? At the end of the Gulf war in 1991 the UN security council ordered Iraq to declare all WMD and destroy them under international supervision. However, Iraq chose to destroy much material without any inspection, giving rise to suspicions that weapons had been squirrelled away. These were nurtured by the frequent Iraqi refusals throughout the 90s to let UN inspectors enter sites and by evasive and erroneous responses to inspectors' inquiries.

What other reason could there have been than to prevent inspectors getting evidence of existing weapons? It is possible that Saddam wanted to create the – false – impression that he still had WMD. What seems more likely to me, however, was a sense of hurt pride, a wish to defy and the knowledge that some of the inspectors worked directly for western intelligence – perhaps even passed information about suitable military targets.

Only in September 2002, when the US had already moved troops to Kuwait, did Iraq say it was to accept the inspection that the UN demanded. By that time a new US national security strategy declared that it could take armed (pre-emptive or preventive) action without UN authorisation; many in the Bush administration saw UN involvement as a potential impediment.

Many are convinced that the American and UK military plans moved on autopilot, and the inspections were a charade. I am sure that many in the Bush team felt that way. It seems likely that British and American leaders expected that UN inspections would again be obstructed or that Iraqi violation of the draconian new resolution 1441 would persuade the security council to authorise military action to remove the regime. For my part, I tended to think of the war preparations rather as a train moving slowly to the front and helping to make Iraq co-operative. If something removed or reduced the weapons issue, the train, I thought, might stop.

For the UK to join the US on an unpredictable UN line was a gamble – and in the end it failed. Inspections did not turn up any "smoking guns" and gradually undermined some of the evidence that had been invoked. Iraq became more co-operative and showed no defiance that could prompt the authorising of armed force. Thus, while the train of war moved on, the UN path pointed less and less to an authorisation of war.

What could the UK have done to avoid this development? It could have made a condition of its participation in the enterprise that the movement of the military train be synchronised with the movement on the UN path. With inspections just starting in the autumn of 2002 the military train should have moved very slowly. We have heard that Karl Rove had said that the autumn of 2003 was the latest time for invasion. Why so fast then in 2002? As the then German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said: what was the sense of demanding UN inspections for two and a half years and then let them work only for a few months? Of course, if regime change – and not WMD – was the main aim, the steady speed becomes logical.

The responsibility for launching the war must be judged against the knowledge that the allies had when they actually started it. The UK should have recognised that no smoking gun had been found at any time, and that in the months before the invasion evidence of WMD was beginning to unravel. As we have heard recently: out of 19 Iraqi sites suspected by the UK – and suggested to the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission for inspection (Unmovic) – 10 were actually inspected, and while "interesting", none turned up any WMD. This warning that sources were not reliable seems to have been ignored. Intelligence organisations seem to have been 100% convinced of the existence of WMD but to have had 0% knowledge where they were. Worse still: the uranium contract between Iraq and Niger that George Bush had given prominence in his 2002 state of the union message was found by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be a forgery.

The absence of convincing evidence of WMD did not stop the train to war. It arrived at the front before the weather got too hot and the soldiers got impatient waiting for action. The factual reports of the IAEA and Unmovic did, however, have the result that a majority on the security council wanted more inspections and were unconvinced about the existence of WMD.

At the end the UK tried desperately to get some kind of authorisation from the security council as a legal basis for armed action – but failed. Confirming the fears of Dick Cheney, President Bush's vice-president, the UN and inspections became an impediment – not to armed action, but to legitimacy.

Unlike the US, the UK and perhaps other members of the alliance were not ready to claim a right to preventive war against Iraq regardless of security council authorisation. In these circumstances they developed and advanced the argument that the war was authorised by the council under a series of earlier resolutions. As Condoleezza Rice put it, the alliance action "upheld the authority of the council". It was irrelevant to this argument that China, France, Germany and Russia explicitly opposed the action and that a majority on the council declined to give the requested green light for the armed action. If hypocrisy is the compliment that virtue pays to vice then strained legal arguments are the compliments that violators of UN rules pay to the UN charter.

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  • 1 month later...

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War should get interesting this week as John Hutton (former defence secretary), Sir Michael Wood (former legal adviser to the Foreign Office), Elizabeth Wilmshurst (former legal adviser to the Foreign Office), Lord Goldsmith (former Attorney General) and Tony Blair are all due to appear.

Wilmshurst resigned after the invasion of Iraq because she believed it was an illegal war. It is rumoured that Wood will also say that he advised Blair that the invasion was illegal without a new UN resolution.

Philippe Sands QC suggests that Blair should be asked the following questions:


This week sees the inquiry's real purpose – restoring trust in British government – being put to the test. After contributions today from former ministers, and key legal advisors later in the week, the one man the public has been waiting to hear will appear on Friday. Mr Blair understands history will judge him by his performance. Will he adopt Alastair Campbell's defensive, evasive and unconvincing approach, and 'stand by every word', or talk of the benefits of hindsight? Will the inquiry push him or let him off the hook?

The picture emerging is consistent with the unambiguous findings of the recent Dutch inquiry: there was an early policy commitment to join the US in going to war; it was based on inadequate intelligence, mis-presented to the public; and the decision-making suppressed serious doubts over the legality of military action.

Here are the key questions to think about in assessing Mr Blair's performance, and that of the inquiry:

The case for war – "regime change"

Early on Mr Blair was told that military action for regime change would be illegal under international law. The inquiry has heard that he therefore justified action as disarmament and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). However, Alastair Campbell's diary entry for 2 April 2002 confirms that participants at one meeting "discussed whether the central aim was WMD or regime change" and that "TB felt it was regime change". So was regime change one of your aims?

"Solidly with the president"

Mr Blair claims no decision on war was taken until after parliament had voted on 18 March 2003. Yet evidence shows he communicated his unconditional support for regime change much earlier, in spring 2002. In January 2003 Mr Blair met President Bush at the White House. Sir David Manning, his foreign policy adviser, records the president telling Mr Blair that military action would be taken with or without a second Security Council resolution and the bombing would begin in mid-March 2003. The note records the reaction: "The prime minister said he was solidly with the president." Why didn't you tell the Cabinet or parliament that you were "solidly with the president" about military action with or without a second UN Resolution, when you reported on your meeting with President Bush on 3 February 2002?


In September 2002 the government published a dossier. Mr Blair's foreword said the intelligence established "beyond doubt" that Saddam was producing WMD and continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons; we now know doubts were expressed. On 24 September 2002 Mr Blair told parliament that the intelligence was "extensive, detailed and authoritative"; we now know the intelligence was patchy and old. He also told parliament that Saddam night acquire a usable nuclear weapon in "a year or two"; no substantive intelligence supported that claim. How do you account for these misleading statements?


On 30 November 2009 Sir David Manning agreed that, in early 2003, he and Mr Blair had told the Americans that a second UN resolution was "essential". But his note of Mr Blair's conversation with President Bush in the White House records the prime minister as saying that he "wanted a second resolution if we could possibly get one". This is rather different. When did you first indicate to President Bush you were prepared to support a military campaign without a second UN resolution? How much did you personally care about the legality of military intervention?

Your lawyer's advice

On 7 March 2003, Lord Goldsmith sent you detailed legal advice, concluding it would be less safe legally to proceed without a second UN resolution. You did not make it available to Cabinet or parliament. Instead, on 17 March the Cabinet was given a one-pager that said war was unambiguously lawful without further UN resolution. Lord Goldsmith says his 17 March document "did not purport to be a summary" of his 7 March legal advice. You contradicted him and told parliament it was a "fair summary". Your parliamentary motion for war referred to the contents of the 17 March document as "the opinion of the attorney", when it was not. Lord Turnbull told the inquiry these two advices were "materially different", you have said such a view is "patently absurd". Why did you withhold from Cabinet and parliament the advice expressing doubts, and instead present a different document purporting to provide unambiguous legal backing for the war?

Strategy and support for our troops

The inquiry has considerable evidence that planning for the military campaign and its aftermath did not make adequate financial and other provision to ensure the safety of British troops. It has also heard that political considerations meant that military planning and preparation was subject to considerable delays. Why did you not secure timely and adequate funds for our troops?

Post-war planning

On 31 January 2003 President Bush told you it was "unlikely" there would be internecine warfare between different ethnic and religious groups. The record of that meeting indicates you did not correct this view, though you had received strong contrary advice as to the grave risks. Do you accept responsibility for the manifestly inadequate postwar planning, including all the deaths that ensued?

Individual responsibility

The war caused large-scale loss of life, among British and US troops and innocent Iraqi civilians. The recent Dutch inquiry concluded that the Iraq war was illegal. In her resignation letter Foreign Office lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst wrote that "unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression". Since the case of former Chilean head of state Augusto Pinochet, arrested in 1998 on a trip to Britain, it is well-established that former leaders cannot claim immunity for certain international crimes. How often do you wonder whether you might one day face a 'Pinochet moment'?

Gordon Brown

You said to President Bush you were solidly with him. Jack Straw said he was so doubtful about the war that he nearly resigned. Robin Cook did resign. On the Iraq war, did Gordon Brown give the impression that he was solidly with you?

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Tony Blair has agreed to become a paid speaker for Lansdowne Partners, a London-based hedge fund managed by the former Goldman Sachs banker Paul Ruddock and a major Tory party donor. It is reported that he will earn as much as £180,000 for 90 minutes for his thoughts on geopolitical matters. That works out at about £2,000 a minute.

Blair has made more than £10m since leaving office from deals including books, advisory roles and event appearances. He is reported to have received £4.6m for his memoirs, to be published by Random House after the general election. Blair also receives about £2m for an advisory and representative role with US investment bank JP Morgan, and another half a million from Zurich Financial Services. He has a £63,000 annual pension, funded by UK taxpayers.

Lansdowne became known for making money by betting on the fall of Barclays and Northern Rock shares at the peak of the credit crunch. The fund made an estimated £100m from the demise of the now nationalised Northern Rock.

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Blair also receives about £2m for an advisory and representative role with US investment bank JP Morgan, and another half a million from Zurich Financial Services.

JP Morgan have won the contract to run Iraq's banking system. Was this decided by Bush and Blair before the invasion?

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When Blair appeared before the Chilcott Inquiry on Friday he claimed a humanitarian justification for the war. He stated that between 2000 and 2002 “Iraq had a child mortality rate of 130 children per 1,000… Now the figure is 40 child deaths per 1,000.” What Blair does not tell us is the child mortality rate for the period before Saddam Hussein gained power. In fact, for all his faults, he dramatically reduced child mortality rates. The problem was that between 2000 and 2002 the UN imposed a blockade on Iraq that resulted in such a high child mortality rate. It was the policies of Bush and Blair towards Iraq that was mainly the cause for the high rate of young children dying in Iraq between 2000-2002.

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Over the last 20 years Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair have been involved in a massive corruption scandal. Not only have they been receiving payments via BAE but they have used their influence as prime minister to make sure these corrupt activities were not exposed. Thank goodness, the Department of Justice in Washington decided to get involved.

Yesterday BAE agreed to pay out almost £300m in penalties, as it finally admitted guilt over its worldwide conduct, in the face of long-running corruption investigations. BAE said it would plead guilty to charges of false accounting and making misleading statements, in simultaneous settlement deals with the Serious Fraud Office in the UK and the department of justice in Washington.

The admissions in the US covered BAE's huge £43bn al-Yamamah fighter plane sales to Saudi Arabia that took place under Thatcher and enabled her son to make millions. In the UK, the admissions cover a highly controversial sale of a military radar to poverty-stricken Tanzania, which the development secretary Clare Short said at the time "stank" of corruption, but which the then prime minister, Tony Blair, forced through the cabinet.

The Serious Fraud Office said in its announcement yesterday that some of the £30m penalty BAE was to hand over in the UK would be "an ex gratia payment for the benefit of the people of Tanzania". Another $400m (£257m) would be paid in penalties to the US authorities. BAE will not face international blacklisting from future contracts, because it has only admitted false accounting, not bribery.

In 2006, under pressure from Blair, SFO's own extensive inquiry into the al-Yamamah deal was shut down. The then attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, cited national security when he announced the inquiry was being abandoned. Blair said he took full responsibility for the decision.

Although BAE Systems has confessed to being involved in corrupt activities, nobody has been brought to account. The main reason for this is that both Tory and Labour governments were involved in this scandal. Both major parties are involved in this cover-up. As Vince Cable of the Liberal Democrats has pointed out: "The British government was up to its neck in this whole business. Government ministers were almost certainly fully aware of what was happening."

Richard Alderman, director of the SFO, called the deal "pragmatic". It later emerged that the only prosecution of an individual by the SFO – Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly – was being dropped. Alderman added: "This brings to an end the SFO's investigations into BAE's defence contracts."

Yesterday's announcement in Washington focused on BAE's acceptance of guilt of the Saudi deals, and described secret shell offshore companies for making covert payments, and specific payments into a Saudi intermediary's Swiss account. It also identified £19m secretly paid to lubricate Czech and Hungarian weapons deals. BAE admitted writing an untrue letter to US authorities in 2000, denying it was paying any secret commissions.

Sue Hawley of the Cornerhouse NGO, and the former South African ANC MP Andrew Feinstein – said they reacted to the deal, under which no trials will take place, with "dismay". They said it "betrays the people of Tanzania, South Africa, the Czech Republic and Romania, who have the right to know the truth about corruption in their countries perpetrated by British and other companies. It … sends the message that large enough corporations are able to pay their way out of trouble."

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  • 1 month later...

Soon after he retired from office, Tony Blair set-up an obscure partnership structure called Windrush Ventures. All his multimillion-pound income gets paid into Windrush. The reason for this is that Windrush does not publish normal company accounts.

However, there is a business appointments watchdog committee that overseas payments made to former ministers. This is an attempt to stop politicians from receiving corrupt payouts for services rendered when they were in power. This is usually overcome by politicians like Blair receiving highly inflated payments for memoirs and speeches by organizations not directly related to the corrupt activities.

Yesterday, the watchdog published details of Blair's relationship with a a South Korean oil firm. The company concerned is UI Energy Corporation which has extensive business interests in Iraq. In July 2008 Blair signed a contract with UI Energy. However, it was not revealed how much he was paid by the organization. Blair asked the watchdog to keep the deal secret because of “market sensitivities”. The watchdog agreed to postpone this information for three months. Since then, the watchdog has asked Blair several times for permission to publish details of this contract. Each time he has asked for more time. They agreed until yesterday. However, we still do not know how much Blair has been paid for ordering the invasion of Iraq.

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I have not been paying as much attention to this thread as it deserves, but it has recently been getting more attention on the Australian media. If you have the time, would you mind doing a summary of facts / events as you see them?

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Guest Stephen Turner
Although few other members seem interested in this subject I note it has over 66,000 page views.

John, I find very little to add, you have covered all of the bases. My two latest threads here are a small counter harmony to the greed and deception that this thread points up.


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Guest Gary Loughran
Although few other members seem interested in this subject I note it has over 66,000 page views.

Members are interested as evidenced by the page views. You are doing a good job in summarising events that few have interceded.

I will, however, add some things - not sure if you've already noted - but a nice introduction. A Guardian site expose into much the same things as you have delved, they add some colour to the mystery of Blair's money and his scam companies Windrush etc.

Guardian Site Dedicated to Blair's Post PM Ventures and Monies

The Mystery of Tony Blair's Finances

The Guardian's Self Praising Solution to the above!

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I will, however, add some things - not sure if you've already noted - but a nice introduction. A Guardian site expose into much the same things as you have delved, they add some colour to the mystery of Blair's money and his scam companies Windrush etc.

Guardian Site Dedicated to Balir's Post PM Ventures and Monies

The Mystery of Tony Blair's Finances

The Guardian's Self Praising Solution to the above!

Thank you for that. It is true the Guardian is the one of the few newspapers to make an issue of this. I always thought the Tory dominated press would make it very difficult for a Labour MP to get away with this kind of corruption. However, they seem fairly uninterested in it. The BBC has been especially poor in reporting on Blair's money-making schemes.

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  • 3 months later...

Documents released this week show that on 30th January, 2005, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, told Tony Blair that the planned invasion of Iraq would be against international law under UN resolution 1441. Blair wrote on the document: "I do not understand". The following day Blair told Bush that the UK would support a US-led military action against Iraq. Blair then put Goldsmith under pressure to change his opinion. He did this shortly before the invasion on 20th March, 2005.

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