More soft soap from Jack the Slipper


Like a bar of soft soap, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw once again managed to confuse everyone – and keep his distance from culpability – in front of the Chilcot Committee.

In a marginally more aggressive session this afternoon, Jack Straw summed up his guiding light in life by asserting two things to the Chilcot Inquiry about his role in the decision to go to war with Iraq: that he was allowed to ignore legal advice – and then leave the final decision to the legals. When I was at school, we used to call this ‘I think you’re wrong, but if you want to hit him fine – if you win I’ll be right behind you’.

But we were all left in no doubt that Straw had the greatest respect for the Panellists, because he mentioned this to them no fewer than fourteen times. Keen foreign students of English will understand perfectly well the meaning of this phrase, viz, “You are all talking unutterable tosh”.

He is quite wrong,of course. But as first Baroness Prashar, Sir Roderic Lyne and then Sir Lawrence Freeman tried to catch Slippery Jack, most people in and around Chilcot wound up more puzzled than they had been at the outset. So for the sake of people too bored and/or busy to learn the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Legal Advice on UN Resolution 1441, here’s the heads-up as I read it:
1. Prashar accused Straw of bullying the FCO legal advisers – a belief she backed up by showing that Goldsmith had taken the unusual step of writing to Straw to say ‘lay off’.
2. Sir Roderic accused Jack of misrepresenting the Government’s position to the Americans – indeed, overtly suggested that Straw had ‘anticipated’ Goldsmith’s final position. (Following which there was laughter)
3. Sir Lawrence accused him of keeping Goldsmith away from hard evidence of the version of negotiations on 1441 that he (Straw) was giving him (Goldsmith).

This in turn adds up to an obvious conclusion: all three feel that Straw was, basically, Blair and Bush’s bag-carrier knocking all those involved at the UK into shape…or to use New Labour speak, on message.

All the facts support this hypothesis. Indeed, Straw’s own son committed something of a gaffe last month by slagging off Blair for firing his Dad “after all the loyalty he had shown the Prime Minister”. The simple truth is that Bush and Blair had already made their minds up to ‘get’ Saddam, and Straw was the man charged with selling this to the UN – and breaking enough legal arms to cobble together a bonkers legal opinion.

Jack is an eel: he was forty years ago in the NUS, and he always will be. He is the walking epitome of the Buddhist aphorism about lassoing ether.

Sir John Chilcot, by the way, burbled on to no effect,and Sir Martin Gilbert seems to have decided that (in the light of the coming cold snap) it’s time to go back into hibernation again.

None of this alters the fact that if the inquiry could just force one witness into feeling ‘hung out to dry’ by the other conspirators, the whole edifice of lying legalese would collapse. And my view remains that either Campbell or (more likely) Goldsmith will turn out to be this witness.
We shall see.