In the last fortnight a number of media commentators accused Russell Brand of naivete and political ignorance for his criticisms of the democratic system and the limitations of the right to vote.
This week however, the British public were presented with further evidence of how hollowed-out the democratic process has become, when the Chilcot Inquiry revealed that it was being denied access to 25 notes sent by Tony Blair to George Bush, and 130 documents relating to conversations between the two architects of the Iraq War, in addition to dozens of records of cabinet meetings.
There is no more serious decision that a government can take than a declaration of war, and there is no more serious test of a democracy than the ability to hold its leaders to account over why and how such decisions are taken, especially when a war is declared on false pretenses and results in a tragic and bloody disaster of the magnitude of the Iraq War.
The Chilcot Inquiry was established by Gordon Brown with the fairly mild remit to establish ‘lessons’ from the Iraq war, rather than ‘apportion blame.’ Much to its own surprise no doubt, it has shown more teeth than anyone expected, to the point when its investigations threaten the reputations – and the cash flow – of those responsible.
Today these noble statesmen have moved on. Bush now paints pictures of dogs and puppies, and makes donations to an organization that seeks to convert Jews into Christians. When he talks about Iraq at all it’s only to say that like Edith Piaf and Dick Cheney, he doesn’t regret anything.
Nor does his partner-in-crime, the Right Honorable Tony Blair, Peace Envoy and all-round money-making machine, who just gets richer and richer, and continues to urge on new wars with the same combination of bug-eyed fanaticism, pig ignorance and deference that once produced such sterling results in Iraq.
This week he picked up £150,000 for an hour-long speech in Dubai, whose subject, apparently, was something called ‘global affairs’. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of human history has one man earned so much from the deaths of so many.
And people are still dying in the broken country and interminable battlefield that Iraq has become. Yesterday, 67 Shi’ite pilgrims were killed and 152 more wounded in sectarian attacks on the Ashura celebrations in Karbala.
This year, more than 6,000 people have died in Iraq – exactly ten years after it was ‘liberated’ and its society effectively destroyed by the madcap free market experiment, the incredibly botched occupation, the lies and manipulations, the death squads, the suicide bombers and all the other disastrous consequences of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
That matters, and should matter most of all in the countries that made it happen. Yet now we find that the inquiry established to ‘learn lessons’ from the war will not be able to know what the two men most responsible for this bloody debacle were saying to each other, or what Blair was saying – or not saying – to his cabinet.
If a democratic society cannot establish mechanisms to hold its elected officials to account over a war that amounts to one of the greatest foreign policy disasters in British history – a war that according to the Nuremberg process amounts to a war of aggression and the ‘supreme crime’ then it is not serious.
If such a society allows those responsible to cloak themselves in secrecy on spurious grounds of reasons of state that are designed to protect them from scrutiny – then such a democracy is essentially a simulacrum, an elite-managed spectacle, a Derren Brown magic trick that provides the illusion, but not the substance of public participation in the political process.
It means that democracy is a kind of theatre, in which the public is allowed to play a limited role, like the audience in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or Strictly Come Dancing, and press a buzzer for this party or that party, but it cannot be privy to the backrooms where politicians and civil servants take decisions without consultation and without explanation.
That is why it matters that the US State Department and Whitehall are conniving to keep Bush and Blair’s machinations under wraps. One of the key individuals who is blocking the Chilcot Inquiry’s access to key documents is Sir Jeremy Heywood, the UK’s most senior civil servant, formerly private secretary to Tony Blair during the lead-up to the Iraq War.
To expect such a man to behave otherwise is a bit like expecting MacBeth to hold a public inquiry into the murder of King Duncan.
But Heywood should not be allowed to get away with it, and nor should the Coalition, which is also complicit in this cover-up. All of them clearly hope that Chilcot will just go ahead without these documents and produce some polite and-all-very British pseudo-criticism that Blair can agree to and no one will pay any attention to.
Then everyone will agree that lessons have been ‘learned’, when we won’t have learned anything at all. We shouldn’t let this happen. Because it isn’t just about them and it isn’t just about Iraq. It’s also about us.
Because if a government can get away with this, it can get away with anything.