Daily Archives: January 29, 2010

Blair Getting Away With Murder

Blair just said “You would be hard pressed to find anyone who in September 2002 doubted that Saddam had WMD”.

It wouldn’t have been that hard. If he had asked members of the Near East and North Africa Department of the FCO, the Middle East experts in the FCO’s Research Analysts, or in the Defence Intelligence Service, he would have found absolutely no shortage of people who doubted it, whatever position No 10 was forcing on their institutions.

One of the many failures of this Inquiry has been a failure to ask individual witnesses before it whether they personally had believed in the existence of any significant Iraqi WMD programme. I know for certain that would have drawn some extremely enlightening answers from among the FCO and probably MOD participants.

Sir Martin Gilbert allowed Blair to conflate Iran, Iraq, Al-Qaida, WMD and terrorism in a completely unjustified way. When Straw tried exactly the same trick, Rod Lyne did not allow him to get away with it.

A further stark contrast with Straw is that both Blair and Straw were asked about the failure of the UK to secure movement in the Middle East peace process by using our role in Iraq to influence the USA. A major, detailed and fascinating part of Straw’s answer was that Israel’s – and specifically Netanyahu’s – political influence in the USA had prevented progress.

By contrast, Blair did not even mention Israel in response to the questions on the failure to achieve progress in the Middle East. He solely blamed the Palestinian Intafada. He has been anxious to widen the discussion beyond Iraq at every opportunity, and frequently referred to destabilising factors in the Middle East, and again and again pointed to a growing threat from Iran and Iranian sponsorship of terrorism, and to Palestinian terrorism (including Saddam Hussein’s past sponsorship of it).

He has made not one single comment about Israel’s behaviour as a contributing factor in Middle East instability. Given Blair’s official position as Middle East envoy, this lack of any bare pretence at impartiality is most revealing.

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Blair’s Demeanour

I am astonished that Blair had not prepared a convincing answer to the question of why he told Fern Britton that, if he had known there were no WMD, he would have found another argument “to temove” Saddam. Blair blustered, failed to finish several sentences and then concluded that he had not used the words “regime change”. So “to remove” Saddam from the local knitting circle, then.

I have no hopes rhe ultimate report will be anything but a whitewash. However the body language is fascinating. Baroness Ushar is not a good forensic questioner but is looking at him with great disataste. Blair has lost his smoothness in lying. When pushed on the details of Crawford Blair varies between stumbling and gabbling too quickly for the stenographer. When he manages to get off subject, for example on to Clinton and Kosovo, his whole demeanour changes and he is his old fluent self – but only when he wriggles off subject.

“I would not have done Iraq if I had not thought it was right” he just said. Nobody doubts that. I think Hitler could have honestly said the same too. There is nothing more dangerous than a sociopath who thinks he is right.

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Standing Down as Dundee Rector

My three year term as Rector if the University of Dundee comes to an end shortly. I have decided not to seek re-election. I was touched by the very kind observations on Subrosa’s blog including the comments.


I am not standing for re-election becuase I have come to the conclusion that it is essential that the Rector lives in Scotland to do the job properly.

When I was elected I did hope to move to Scotland. However Nadira has made it very clear she does not want to live in Scotland – or indeed anywhere but London. Personally, if I had the chance to live in any town in the entire world, plus the seventh circle of Hell and an oxygenless planet off Alpha Centauri, London still might be bottom of my list. But that’s family life for you.

I missed the December university court meeting because weather related London Transport problems meant I missed my flight from London City airport. I am flying back from Africa to make it to a university nominations committee on Tuesday (I’ll come to why shortly). Despite being non-resident, I have had a much better attendance record than any recent Rector. I attended over 70% of Court meetings to argue for the students – and that’s 70% more than Lorraine Kelly, my immediate predecessor.

We also have established the Rectors’ Group. All five Scottish University Rectors meet on a regular basis to agree joint positions – for example against student tuition fees – and to lobby for those postitions. We are meeting again on Wednesday, and then as a group meeting the Scottish Parliament Education Committee and the Scottish Education Minister Fiona Hislop on Thursday. A major theme will be that the public spending deficit should not be used to heap the costs of education further upon students.

The Scottish Rectors’ Group has been possible because we have achieved a situation where all five universities have Rectors who are really committed to doing the job. It is perhaps not a coincidence that, for the first time in history, all five were R|ectros of their own Alma Mater.

What I was not able to do was to spend as much time as I would like at the University, meeting individual students and dealing with their problems. I would not recommend anyone to become Rector unless they are able to devote twenty working days a year to the job.

Subrosa is quite right that the University authorities will be delighted to be rid of me. Lorraine Kelly was their ideal Rector. She never went to committee meetings, and allowed the University authorities to nominate her Assessor, who can represent the Rector. I nominated my old student friend Mike Arnott, described to me by a shocked University official as “A communist from the trades unions”. Pretty accurate, exactly. And just what they need.

Universities to New Labour were in one sense just another quango into which they could place supporters. The Chairman of Dundee University Court is John Milligan, close to Gordon Brown and biggest single donor to Scottish New Labour and its tax dodge, the “Charitable” Smith Institute. The Court is packed with businessmen, whose idea of the value of education is measured in pounds and pence. Teaching is viewed as vastly less important than income-bringing research.

What the University does not feel like at all is a self-governing University community exisitng primarily for the benefit of its students. I did my best to apply that view to all issues, and to remind others at least that this view still exists. Looking back, I remain proud of my Rectorial Address. The University refused to follow tradition and print it and put it in the University library, let alone give it to the media.


The University administration had put their press and public affairs office fully behind their candidate, former British Lions captain Andy Nicol, whom I beat in the election. Andy is a nice man, but he was precisely what the University would want – a local celebrity they could use for PR, but with no particular views on higher education and most unlikely to turn up to a string of committees.

On the day of the election itself, the Dundee edition of the New Labour touting Daily Record was being given out free around the University and extraordinarily the full front page was devoted to the Dundee Rectorial election, with a huge photo of Andy Nicol and a banner headline “I was born to lead Dundee students”. (Wrong!!)

It had been organised by the University press office, as had the front page endorsement of Andy Nicol by my two immediate predecessors – Lorraine Kelly and Fred Macaulay. The involvement of the University Press Office was completely out of order. I also believe that it was very bad form indeed, and against all tradition in all the Rectorial universities, for past Rectors to endorse a candidate and thus oppose others.

The University were plainly stunned and very unhappy when I won. They couldn’t understand how I had defeated their much more famous candidate. It is also worth noting that my immediate predecessor Lorraine Kelly made no attempt to contact me or offer advice – perhaps unsurprising as she knew fuck all anyway. The predecessors who did give me some advice were Stephen Fry and Gordon Wilson.

Which brings me back to why I am making a point of attending Nominations Committee on Tuesday. The committe is deciding on the appointment of two more members of University Court, and that learned body has already opined that “Finance and Pensions Experience” should be key qualifications, as a preliminary attempt to exclude from University governance anyone interesting.

My last act as Rector will be to attend the Scottish parliament to argue for continued investment in higher education and against tutition fees. But my penultimate action will be to create as big an unpleasant row as I can about the packing of Court with yet more balance sheet dullards. All entirely appropriate.

The election for my successor is now on. I am going to return to what I consider proper behaviour and not tell students for whom to vote. But I do recommend criteria to them.

Judge the candidates’ on their views on the funding of higher education and on tuition fees in particular. But also judge candidates on their views on the position of students within the university, how the university should be governed, and further on the purpose and value of higher education in society.

Then – and without this the rest is pretty worthless – judge whether they are both willing and able to actually turn up on a regular basis to argue for these views and values.

To my successor, please continue to fight cuts in the University and especially the pruning of arts and environmental subjects in order to concentrate on “Core” (ie money-making) activity. Be sceptical of all governments, and conscious that the value of education is much more than merely economic. Remember that the University has become essential to the remaining economy of a fine but shrinking old city, and that brings its responsibilities too.

I wish all the best to all the candidates.

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