Tony Blair decries "conspiracy theories" about Iraq

Where? On Fox News.

In a recent feature that I wrote for the New Statesman, on Tony Blair and the Chilcot inquiry, I quoted Sir Rodric Braithwaite, former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), describing how our former PM "has lost all political credibility": "He sticks to the American right and media."

So imagine my (lack of) surprise to see ol' Tone running to his neocon friends at Fox News (Fox News!) to cry and complain about how horrid the beastly British people have been to him over Iraq:

Asked on US television why the UK had held a succession of such probes into the invasion, Mr Blair said: "I think it's partly because we have this curious habit -- I don't think this is confined to Britain actually -- where people find it hard to come to the point where they say: we disagree; you're a reasonable person, I'm a reasonable person, but we disagree.

"There's always got to be a scandal as to why you hold your view. There's got to be some conspiracy behind it, some great deceit that's gone on, and people just find it hard to understand that it's possible for people to have different points of view and hold them . . . for genuine reasons. There's a continual desire to sort of uncover some great conspiracy when actually there's a decision at the heart of it, but there it is," he told the Huckabee show on Fox News.

First, "deceit" has gone on. It doesn't matter if Alastair Campbell sheds tears on Marr, or Blair bleats on Huckabee; the evidence is overwhelming.

Second, conspiracy theories feed on secrecy -- Blair presided over one of the most secretive administrations in recent times. Even now, the Chilcot inquiry is prevented from making public key documents related to the build-up to war in 2002 and 2003.

Third, it's a bit rich for Blair to go on Fox News and complain about conspiracy theories when that network is the home of conspiracy theories, especially about President Obama -- from the Birther nonsense, to the Islamophobic fear-mongering about him being a Muslim, to the health-care "death panels".

David Hughes's take on Blair and his latest ridiculous comments is spot-on:

What a terrible disappointment we must be to our former prime minister. All this pretty straight kind of guy ever wanted to do was what was right, or at least what he believed to be right, which is not necessarily the same thing. Yet in his selfless quest to make the world a better place, he just kept coming up against the innate suspicion of an unworthy British people.

. . . has it dawned on him that his conduct of government that so outraged the Butler inquiry -- decisions taken by a clique of cronies, sensitive items never minuted, the cabinet (let alone parliament) kept out of the loop -- actually feeds into the idea that something fishy was going on? Apparently not. Blair is beginning to cut a rather pathetic figure, less the world statesman, more the lounge-bar bore who just cannot resist telling you what a raw deal he's had.

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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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.