A mere three and a half years after voting to invade Iraq, MPs got their first chance to debate the wisdom of their decision. It is also the first time I’ve watched a parliamentary debate since that vote. It is time to review my opinion of our form of government.
On the 18th of March 2003 our government decided to commit our troops to the US led invasion of Iraq. The decision was made by two thirds of the 600+ MPs that form our ruling elite. It was a controversial decision. Had the other member states of United Nations acted on the promise each made on joining, we’d have been at war with the rest of the world. Fortunately for us, in the short term at least, the ideal of nations cooperating against aggressor states was again shown to be a fantasy.
Millions of UK citizens protested and marched on London at the time, but they represented a minority of the British people. I’ve never been a fan of democracy. In a referendum, I suspect the country still would have voted for war. In such a situation, the power belongs to the media and war sells. I doubt even true democracy protects us from costly mistakes.
But the UK isn’t a true democracy and neither is the US. Our systems are more accurately described as polyarchies. In a democracy the public decide through popular vote. In a polyarchy, we are limited to choosing which of the competing elites will make our decisions for us.
But, as in the US, it doesn’t usually matter which of the competing elites we choose because (except for trivial domestic matters) they tend to vote the same way anyway. Not that the government needed a vote in this case. But it added legitimacy to the decision and helped to prevent debate for a long time.
Criticism of the decision was controlled in the following years with skillful misdirection. A few months after the decision, investigative journalists uncovered a plot by our government, to revise the evidence into a compelling case for war. We were told that the source for this was Dr. David Kelly. Soon after, he was dead. The government was forced to hold an inquiry. But the inquiry was not to look at the decision to go to war.
The Hutton Inquiry nominally looked at the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly. In the event, it gave little attention to Dr. Kelly’s death. Instead, it concentrated on related (although trivial by comparison) matters of procedure. So for the price of one man’s life, and one and a half million pounds of our money, our government averted attention for almost a year. Some journalists and broadcasters lost their jobs. The cause of Dr. Kelly’s death remains un-investigated.
However, the Hutton Inquiry did raise some questions regarding the evidence presented in the March debate, and eventually the government was forced to deal with that too. The Butler Review was the result. It was more independant, but unlike the Hutton Inquiry, its meetings were held in secret. Its conclusions were made public: the problem was faulty intelligence.
This review put a stop to the debate for the next two years. A few MPs did try to force the issue by drafting an impeachment motion, but couldn’t get enough support to have it heard. It was three and a half years before MPs first got to debate the decision in the house of commons.
The debate itself was disappointing. The majority of the seats were empty. Each party claimed the others were guilty of disgusting behaviour. The purpose of the debate was to vote on a motion to investigate our government’s behaviour surrounding our decision to invade Iraq. Few who voted were present at the debate. The motion was denied.
My opinion of our form of government, much like our government’s position on the Iraq invasion, remains unchanged for now.