It seems that if you were a member of Tony Blair's cabinet, you had to read the newspapers to find out what your own policy was. Blair was asked at the Chilcot Inquiry this morning (21 January) whether the cabinet realised in 2002 that things were progressing towards war. He replied that they must have done because, “Daily, there were stories" in the media about preparations for military action.
It might be thought that ministers should have known about the issue before reading the papers. Indeed, that they should have been part of the decision.
Blair insisted that “the leading members of the cabinet” were involved. He avoided increasingly strongly worded questions from Roderick Lyme about when the decision was made by cabinet. Chilcot himself pointed out that the cabinet had discussed Iraq only twice, and only briefly on each occasion, between April and September 2002.
Blair casually said that it would have made little difference if more ministers had been involved, insisting arrogantly that “I had the right people there”. Given the devastation still being experienced in Iraq, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened if Blair had chosen the “wrong people” instead.
There can be little doubt that the cabinet never made a decision to invade Iraq. Rather they went along with Blair.
Members of that cabinet bear just as much responsibility for not standing up to Blair as they would have done if they'd made a collective decision to invade Iraq. But, by more or less admitting that he failed to put the decision to them, Blair has once again shown his contempt for democracy.
Blair's message to the inquiry this morning is a familiar one: I was right. I'm still right. Everything is all right.