Berry last blog

Since newstatesman.com relaunched on 30 November 2006 Sian Berry has been a regular contributor on h

Yes, I know I promised to file a blog on eco-towns a fortnight ago. However, I have to confess I was tempted into moonlighting it away to the Telegraph, who are running a series of stories on what they are calling ‘Gordon’s poll tax’. So, for an update on the impressive number of campaigns that have emerged to oppose the fifteen shortlisted eco-town sites, you’ll have to read my article here.

In other news, therefore, the Greens have scored a second decent result in a by-election with our best ever mid-term Westminster score of 7.4 per cent and second place in Haltemprice and Howden.

Congratulations to Shan Oakes, who blogged her determined campaign for this site, and who worked incredibly hard to win many new voters in a seat we haven’t contested for many years.

This comes just two weeks after an excellent third place for our candidate Mark Stephenson in Henley, on an election stage that carried a full slate of parties, and where we beat a Labour candidate for the first time in a parliamentary election.

Interesting developments also in the Census Alert campaign to prevent arms company Lockheed Martin running the 2011 Census. No, not the response from the government to our petition, which we received this week. Their three paragraph missive said nothing much, other than they were getting everyone to sign agreements to look after our personal data properly, which is not particularly reassuring.

However, the Treasury Select Committee have been taking up the cause, rightly supporting our concerns about how the US Patriot Act (which forces US companies and their subsidiaries to hand over any data they hold that is deemed of interest to their country’s intelligence agencies) would apply to any work done by Lockheed on our Census.

In a recent report, the committee put in a strongly worded request for more work to be done, saying: “We remain concerned that the personal information gathered through the 2011 Census could be subject to the United States Patriot Act and therefore we ask the government to take clear legal advice and advice from the US State Department and to publish it in response to this Report.”

We’re now looking forward to reading this advice. If the legal position continues to be a grey area then, faced with the choice between breaking UK privacy laws and the Patriot Act, which government would Lockheed choose to ignore? The point of our campaign remains that it would be better to ensure the Census data is not allowed anywhere near Lockheed Martin by removing them from the procurement process altogether.

And finally, goodbye, as this will be my last blog for this site. From this week I will be going, if not undercover, then at least behind the scenes to work full-time in the Green Party press office. We have an extraordinarily important two years ahead of us, with European elections in 2009 followed (or possibly preceded) by a general election in which we have our best chance ever of making a breakthrough into Parliament.

With no elections I can personally fight until 2010 at the earliest, I have decided the best way I can serve my party is to help promote the excellent work of Greens around the country, and to help Caroline Lucas MEP make history by winning in Brighton Pavilion, where we already have a majority in local election votes.

Westminster elections are, of course, a world away from local polls, so winning there will be a tough and exciting challenge, but also a huge opportunity to make a real difference to UK politics which I am looking forward to with great relish.

I will miss the opportunity to blog here though. Not the angry and libelous comments I get in response, naturally, but it has been a privilege to be able to highlight the work of a wide range of campaigns and causes on this site. Over the past 22 months, lots of green issues have obviously had an airing, from the campaign to stop Heathrow expansion to the exploitation of Mongolia’s natural resources and the failings of the Tory Quality of Life review.

But I’ve also been able to bring up much wider issues, including local high streets, fair pay campaigns and free and open source software. I hope the New Statesman will continue to give all these issues prominence and trust it will find someone to replace me who has even more to talk about.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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How Tony Blair's disingenuous line on Iraq eroded our faith in politicians

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne reveals how Blair exagerrated evidence from the intelligence services to parliament – and the public.

In this incisive book, Peter Oborne calls the invasion of Iraq “the defining calamity of the post-Cold War era” and I am inclined to agree. Not long after the March 2003 attack, I interviewed Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and UN ambassador for Iraq. He told me that he had visited President George W Bush in Washington a few weeks before the invasion and begged him not to go ahead with it. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein would, Pachachi warned, lead inevitably to civil war between Iraq’s two main religious groupings, the Sunnis and the Shias. Bush was shocked. According to Pachachi, he had no idea that any such division among Muslims existed.

Granted, Bush was an ignoramus – but you would have thought that someone might have explained this crucial fact to him. Pachachi turned out to be right. Iraq has fallen into a disastrous religious civil war as a direct result of the invasion and Isis, a more extreme force even than al-Qaeda, has come to the fore. Nearly 5,000 coalition soldiers died; many hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, perhaps a million, have lost their lives; and the man who led the whole terrible business didn’t know that the danger even existed.

Pachachi, like many politicians across the Middle East, found this puzzling. The US had never understood the Middle East, he said, but the British did; so why hadn’t Tony Blair warned the Americans what was going to happen? We know the answer to that: although Blair was far cleverer than Bush and had better advisers, his approach was always a subservient one. Like the entire British establishment, he believed that Britain’s influence in the world depended on sticking close to the US and he was prepared to be led around on a leash because he knew that this was the only relationship Bush’s people understood or wanted from him.

To “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Bush – at least, to stand closer behind him, head bowed, than any other national leader – Blair had to persuade the British people that Saddam posed a threat to them. Oborne, in fine forensic form, demolishes (his word) the notion that Blair was simply repeating what the intelligence services had told him about Saddam’s weapons and capability; he shows that Blair exaggerated and misrepresented the intelligence he was given.

Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary who had investigated the government’s pre-invasion use of intelligence, said the same thing in a speech in the House of Lords in 2007. He described Blair’s approach as “disingenuous”: mandarin-speak for dishonest. Oborne quotes Butler at length:

 

The United Kingdom intelligence community told him [Blair] on 23 August 2002 that, “We . . . know little about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons work since late 1988.” The prime minister did not tell us that. Indeed, he told parliament only just over a month later that the picture painted by our intelligence services was “extensive, detailed and authoritative”.

 

Oborne’s central point is that this dishonesty has done serious damage to the fundamental trust that the British people used to have in their rulers. There are all sorts of reasons why people have lost faith in politicians but it was the charismatic Blair – along with his head of communications, Alastair Campbell – who let us down the most.

Campbell is a former journalist who, even when he was the political editor of the Daily Mirror, seemed far more concerned with pushing a party line than with trying to report things truthfully. In May 2003, the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan accused him of “sexing up” the dossier on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Campbell was irate. In July, Dr David Kelly, the Ministry of Defence weapons expert who had briefed Gilligan, committed suicide. If, indeed, it was suicide – once you start losing faith in the ­official version of things, there is no end to it. And that is Oborne’s point.

Kelly’s death was followed by the scandalous Hutton inquiry, which managed to deflect attention from the questionable nature of the dossier to the way in which Gilligan had reported on it. However, although Kelly wasn’t a sufficiently senior source for Gilligan to base his report on, there is no doubt that Gilligan was essentially right: the intelligence dossier had been grossly hyped up. Campbell’s frenzied efforts to protect himself and Blair did huge damage to the BBC, the judiciary, the intelligence and security agencies and public trust in government.

Oborne’s excellent book is clear-headed and furious in its condemnation of Blair. But what about the Chilcot report, when it appears on 6 July? The ludicrous delay in publishing it has given people the expectation that it, too, will be a whitewash. Yet we are starting to get leaks that it won’t be – that it will be just as savage as Oborne would like. That is the only way we can start to drain the poison that has built up in our national life since Blair took the calamitous decision to follow the US into invading a country that its president knew zip about.

John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) is the world affairs editor of the BBC

Not the Chilcot Report by Peter Oborne is published by Head of Zeus (208pp, £10)

John Simpson is World Affairs Editor of BBC News, having worked for the corporation since the beginning of his career in 1970. He has reported from more than 120 countries, including 30 war zones, and interviewed many world leaders.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad