Tuesday 2 March 2004

Extreme measures

The only way to bring down Blair and change the political context is to take direct action

by George Monbiot

George Monbiot So now what happens? Our prime minister is up to his neck in it. His attorney general appears to have changed his advice about the legality of the war a few days before it began. Blair refuses to release either version, apparently for fear that he will be exposed as a liar and a war criminal. His government seems to have been complicit in the illegal bugging of friendly foreign powers and the United Nations. It went to war on the grounds of a threat which was both imaginary and known to be imaginary. Now the opposition has withdrawn from his fake inquiry. Seldom has a prime minister been so exposed and remained in office. Surely Blair will fall?

Not by himself, he won't. If we have learned anything about him over the past few months, it's that he would rather stroll naked round Parliament Square than resign before he has to. The press has a short attention span, Iraq is a long way away and the opposition is listless and unpopular. He has everything to gain by sweating it out.

In many ways, the strength of the case against the prime minister has been an advantage to him: our tendency is to assume that he is so badly wounded that all we need to do is to sit back and watch him bleed to death. But we reckon without the clots who run the country.

British people know that our legal system stinks. Over the past week, the attorney general's conflicts of interest have been exposed three times. First we discover he instructed that a prosecution be dropped when the case threatened to reveal his own advice to the prime minister. Then we discover that he took his decision in consultation with the government. The "Shawcross principle" he invoked in the House of Lords (ministers shall be consulted over a decision to prosecute) sounds very grand. What it means, of course, is that the law is applied only when it is politically convenient. Thirdly we find that he changed his professional opinion about the legality of the war to suit Blair's political needs.

We also know that our MPs are weak and frightened, that the civil service remains in the grip of the upper middle classes and that the press is run by multimillionaires, whose single purpose is to make this a better world for multimillionaires. Yet somehow we continue to trust that all these twisted instruments will deliver us from evil, that the sound chaps in the system will ultimately do the decent thing. How we reconcile our understanding with our belief is a mystery, but this mystery is a perennial feature of British political life. As a result, we now wait for the establishment to bring Blair down. We could be waiting forever.

In other words, nothing happens now unless we get off our butts and make it happen. This means abandoning that very British habit of expecting someone else to act on our behalf. Worse still, it means recognising that, for all the complexities and evasions of a modern political system, the motive force of politics is still the people, and the people remain responsible for what is done in their name.

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