Mottram makes it official: politicians lie.
Joint Intelligence Committee chairman, Sir Richard Mottram, has come out against the suggestion that minutes of the Cabinet relating to the Iraq War should be released publicly. His reasons? Apparently if they know it will be later released, Cabinet ministers will be more careful about what they say. If one words it another way, ministers are wholly prepared to say things in private but god forbid that they might have to defend them to the electorate.
If Gordon Brown is a ‘conviction’ politician, as has been said, then he should have nothing to worry about in releasing the Cabinet minutes. If he and his ministers really believe all that they said at the time, then where they stood in cabinet discussions should be released for the rest of us to check their claims against the facts. This would have the added bonus of stopping self-serving politicians unsubtly leaking things that were said in Cabinet for their own benefit, as Peter Hain did during the deputy leadership elections.
For those on the right of the Labour Party, it would prevent people like Clare Short making political hay out of Cabinet discussions in the middle of serious debates. People could read what was said, the media could quote what was said, without having to rely on possibly tendentious sources for that information. Mottram says debate within government would be harmed. I’m inclined to think that debate across the country would be helped.
Additionally I think the idea that if the Iraq War cabinet discussions were released, politicians would be less likely to speak up is a spurious argument. The Iraq War discussions took place five years ago under a different Prime Minister, with a largely different Cabinet. The most senior placed members besides Gordon Brown are no longer in position – John Reid, Charles Clarke, David Blunkett, John Prescott, Clare Short, Robin Cook, Alan Milburn and Peter Hain, to name a string of examples.
The Iraq War cabinet documents are incredibly important to writing the histories which our children are going to be studying ten years from now and to significant chunks of the Labour Party for re-assessing their opinion now. That re-assessment has profound implications for our Party, particularly since popular participation has now been reduced to a bare minimum and everyone is wondering what to do about it. The extent to which our leadership was complicit in engineering an illegal war could have massive implications.
Since they can have little effect on most of the individuals involved, but could have a profound effect upon the course of the Labour Party, these specific minutes should be released, even if the remainder of Cabinet minutes remain protected. If in fact it is possible that a current member of the government has something to lose, well that’s regrettable – but the rank and file deserve to know who was where on one of the most divisive issues we’ve ever faced.
In sum total, I think anything less than full disclosure is a cowardly attempt to hide behind the rules.