Back to article index


An article in the Sunday Independent of July 3rd has an interesting title and blurb: Governing Is For Grown-Ups, Democracy Is For Kids. And: "Voters remain abysmally ignorant of basic facts and many of them behave like children"

It is an attack on Boris Johnson's Brexit campaign, which is described as a series of ridiculous misrepresentations of the EU, but "Many voters lapped it up"

That is the essence of the case against referendums. The people don't understand so they elect people to understand, and act, for them. 

But the war on Iraq was not decided on by the people. It was decided by the representatives they elected to take decisions for them. 

British decisions to make war used to be taken by the monarch. From the early 18th century until a few years ago they were taken by the Prime Minister, acting with monarchical authority. It was only in 2003 that the decision about making war was transferred down to the elected Parliament. Parliament decided for war. That is now held to have been a bad decision. But responsibility for it is being transferred back to the Prime Minister, who had freed himself of it by giving it to Parliament. 

It is said that he misled Parliament. But it is Parliament's business not to be misled. It has authority to do anything it wants and it can only be misled if it is content to be—if it is childish enough to be. 

Fair play to the Sunday Independent writer, Eoin O'Malley. He says that in parliamentary democracies "voters don't themselves get to choose policies directly. The voters pick leaders who then make decisions on our behalf. It's like picking people to be our parents". But he doesn't suggest what might be done about it. 

(It must be said that O'Malley's strictures apply far more to British voters than to Irish. There can be little doubt that the Irish democracy is capable of a degree of political acumen which results from having established its own state by blood and tears within living memory.) 

Iraq was invaded because it did not have weapons of mass destruction, although the reason given for the invasion was that it probably had weapons of mass destruction which were deliverable within 45 minutes. Nobody in England waited with bated breath during the 45 minutes after the point of invasion for the weapons of mass destruction to fall on them. The thing was done in the certainty that Iraq had been rendered completely defenceless by twelve years of United Nations destructive activity on it. 

The offence that the Iraqi Government gave to Washington and to the British Labour Party in 2003 was that it maintained the national structure of state, and kept up the endless work of repairing the public amenities that the United Nations was continuously destroying— electricity supplies, water supplies etc. 

The only purpose for the invasion was to break up the structure of the Iraqi State and reduce the population of Iraq to a state of nature in which primitive social forms would revive. 

The Washington Neo-Cons, who inhabit a bizarre ideological wonderland, might have expected something different to happen when the State was destroyed by overwhelming power. But Britain, the Imperial Power that constructed Iraq, must be presumed to have known what it was doing when it destroyed it so recklessly. And that presumption is strengthened by the fact that it was the Progressive party of the British state that did the work of destruction, while the reactionary party had doubts. 

The plea that the Labour Party was woefully ignorant, and did not know what it was doing, is not allowable. Certain presumptions must be made about those who perform public functions in powerful states. In domestic law there is a maxim that ignorance is no excuse. If everything was excusable by ignorance, there could be no law. Is there less necessity for the maxim in international affairs, especially when a powerful State destroys a weaker state and reduces its society to anarchy? 

Tony Blair is being held to account, as a scapegoat, for what the Labour Party did. But it was the Labour Party that did it. 

Hilary Benn led the assault by the Parliamentary Labour Party on the new Party Leader who had opposed the war on Iraq. Benn, a Junior Minister in Blair's Government, said, after the invasion had reduced Iraq to a shambles: We gave them their freedom and it was up to them what they did with it. 

The notion that the destruction of a State by overwhelming force from outside confers freedom on the populace is ludicrous. Existential freedom, in this regard, is the hobby of the individual within the security of well-established States. 

Democratic Britain decided democratically to destroy the Iraqi State and thereby deprived the Iraqi populace of the freedoms that the State had made available to them. 

What punishment can there be for a democracy that wages an aggressive and purely destructive war? A brief, passing consideration was given to this question in connection with the Nuremberg Trials, when the Victors in the World War were pretending that there were laws regarding war which Hitler had broken and which his lieutenants were made to take responsibility for in his absence. 

Lord Shawcross, British Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, later found difficulty in defending certain aspects of the Trials when he came to write his memoirs. He referred his readers to Rebecca West, "a brilliant and philosophical writer" for a reply to the criticism.. 

West was the author of a very famous book, The Meaning Of Treason (1949) and A Train Of Powder (1955). In the latter she writes, concerning the inadequacy of the Kellogg Pact (1928) for the use to which it was put at Nuremberg: 

"There was then no country that seemed likely to wage war which was not democratic in its government, since the only totalitarian powers in Europe, the Soviet Union and Italy, were still too weak. It would not be logical to try the leaders of a democracy for their governmental crimes, since they had been elected by the people, who thereby took responsibility for their actions… But the leaders of a totalitarian state seize political power and continually declare that they, and not the people, are responsible for all government acts". (This is quoted from Brendan Clifford's Appendix to the 2nd edition of the Aubane Historical Society publication of Elizabeth Bowen's Notes On Eire, where the matter is dealt with.) 

There is now talk of impeaching Blair for waging an unnecessary and destructive war on Iraq in breach of international authority. On Rebecca West's reasoning—and we know of no other on the subject—that means treating him as a dictator. But, contemptible creature though he is, he was no dictator. 

Angela Eagle, who is trying to oust the democratically-elected leader who opposed the War, does not want Blair disciplined for the War. She has reason for this as being herself a party to the declaration of war. (More recently, she also voted for bombing Syria.) 

Blair did not present Parliament with the accomplished fact of war on Iraq. The decision to make war was a Parliamentary decision. But Parliament is essentially a structure of two parties. The proposal to Parliament that it should make war on Iraq was put to it by the Labour Party. If there is to be punishment, the subject of it should be those with the responsibility for it—the Parliamentary Labour Party of the time.