Tony Blair, Iraq and war crimes

Keeping an eye on the Iraq inquiry

I have to hold my hand up and confess that I haven't been keeping an eye on the independent Iraq inquiry, set up by Gordon Brown and chaired by Sir John Chilcot, despite having opposed the Iraq war since 2002 and obsessively followed every twist and turn of Hutton, Butler et al.

So imagine my surprise to see Seumas Milne, in his Guardian column, referring to the anti-war "climate that saw parents of soldiers killed in Iraq tell the official inquiry on Tuesday they want to see Blair indicted as a war criminal".

Did they? How had I missed this, I wondered? I was aware that Tony Blair had been publicly snubbed by a bereaved father who accused him of having "blood on his hands" at a reception last Sunday, following the service at St Paul's to commemorate the Iraq war dead.

But, on Tuesday, a group of bereaved parents, it seems, went further. Here is the BBC's online report:

At the meeting, Sir John invited the first comments from family members of those Britons killed in Iraq.

Colin Mildinhall, whose 26-year-old son, Tom, a member of the Queen's Dragoon Guards, was killed in Basra in 2006, said his prime concern was the legality of the Iraq war.

"The country was badly let down and lied to," he said.

Flt Lt Paul Pardoel was killed in the crash of an RAF Hercules in January 2005.

His widow, Kellie Merritt, asked the committee whether there would be an examination of the preparations for the Iraq invasion.

Roger Bacon, whose son Major Matthew Bacon was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in 2005, said: "This was an illegal war, and there is still a great deal of anger. It showed today.

"The anger was directed at Tony Blair for taking us into this mess."

His sentiments were echoed by Deirdre Gover, the mother of 30-year-old Kristian, who died in a helicopter accident in 2004.

She said: "Tony Blair deceived us on weapons of mass destruction. He should be held responsible for the conflict. He lied to his cabinet, to his government, to parliament and to us."

Strong words. But will Teflon Tony -- who, not surprisingly, wanted the inquiry to be held in private -- ever be held responsible for the Iraq imbroglio? Or will he survive the Chilcot-led inquiry as well, as he goes on to become the first president of Europe?

Watch this space.

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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