"Teflon Tony" and the Chilcot inquiry

Torture revelations remind us of the former premier's evasiveness

Ian Cobain has another excellent (and depressing!) piece on the UK's alleged complicity in torture abroad on the front page of today's Guardian, in which he mentions an exchange that he had with Tony Blair's spokesman over Blair's alleged role in authorising or approving the policy that may have led to British citizens being tortured abroad. Note the manner in which the former PM, through his spokesman, avoids answering the question and instead repeatedly reframes it in his favour.

From Cobain's piece:

The Guardian reported this year that an official government policy, devised to govern British intelligence officers while interrogating people held overseas, resulted in people being tortured, and that Tony Blair, when prime minister, was aware of the existence of this policy.

The Guardian has repeatedly asked Blair about any role he played in approving the policy, whether he knew that it led to people being tortured, whether he personally authorised interrogations that took place in Guantanamo and Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, and whether he made any effort to change the policy. Blair's spokesman responded by saying: "It is completely untrue that Mr Blair has ever authorised the use of torture. He is opposed to it in all circumstances. Neither has he ever been complicit in the use of torture."

When the Guardian pointed out to Blair that it had not suggested that he had authorised the use of torture -- as opposed to asking him whether he had authorised a policy that led to people being tortured -- and that his spokesman had not answered the questions that were asked, his spokesman replied: "Tony Blair does not condone torture, has never authorised it nor colluded in it. He continues to think our security services have done and continue to do a crucial and very good job."

Teflon Tony remains the master of evasion. Good luck to Chilcot et al next January or February when the time comes to grill him on Iraq, WMDs and the intelligence. They'll need all the luck they can get . . .

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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Beware, hard Brexiteers - Ruth Davidson is coming for you

The Scottish Conservative leader is well-positioned to fight. 

Wanted: Charismatic leader with working-class roots and a populist touch who can take on the Brexiteers, including some in the government, and do so convincingly.

Enter Ruth Davidson. 

While many Tory MPs quietly share her opposition to a hard Brexit, those who dare to be loud tend to be backbenchers like Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan. 

By contrast, the Scottish Conservative leader already has huge credibility for rebuilding her party north of the border. Her appearances in the last days of the EU referendum campaign made her a star in the south as well. And she has no qualms about making a joke at Boris Johnson’s expense

Speaking at the Institute of Directors on Monday, Davidson said Brexiteers like Nigel Farage should stop “needling” European leaders.

“I say to the Ukip politicians, when they chuckle and bray about the result in June, grow up,” she declared. “Let us show a bit more respect for these European neighbours and allies.”

Davidson is particularly concerned that Brexiteers underestimate the deeply emotional and political response of other EU nations. 

The negotiations will be 27 to 1, she pointed out: “I would suggest that macho, beer swilling, posturing at the golf club bar isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

At a time when free trade is increasingly a dirty word, Davidson is also striking in her defence of the single market. As a child, she recalls, every plate of food on the table was there because her father, a self-made businessman, had "made stuff and sold it abroad". 

She attacked the Daily Mail for its front cover branding the judges who ruled against the government’s bid to trigger Article 50 “enemies of the people”. 

When the headline was published, Theresa May and Cabinet ministers stressed the freedom of the press. By contrast, Davidson, a former journalist, said that to undermine “the guardians of our democracy” in this way was “an utter disgrace”. 

Davidson might have chosen Ukip and the Daily Mail to skewer, but her attacks could apply to certain Brexiteers in her party as well. 

When The Staggers enquired whether this included the Italy-baiting Foreign Secretary Johnson, she launched a somewhat muted defence.

Saying she was “surprised by the way Boris has taken to the job”, she added: “To be honest, when you have got such a big thing happening and when you have a team in place that has been doing the preparatory work, it doesn’t make sense to reshuffle the benches."

Nevertheless, despite her outsider role, the team matters to Davidson. Part of her electoral success in Scotland is down the way she has capitalised on the anti-independence feeling after the Scottish referendum. If the UK heads for a hard Brexit, she too will have to fend off accusations that her party is the party of division. 

Indeed, for all her jibes at the Brexiteers, Davidson has a serious message. Since the EU referendum, she is “beginning to see embryos of where Scotland has gone post-referendum”. And, she warned: “I do not think we want that division.”

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.