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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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July 18, 2004

This post is a bit out of date. The Butler Report came out around Thursday last week and Australian bloggers, such as Ken Parish and Tim Dunlop and Chris Shiels, have been all over it.

We are now well aware of what Butler found. Key intelligence sources were unreliable, flawed or just plain wrong. It said that though "there was no deliberate attempt on the part of the government to mislead", No 10 Downing Street placed the intelligence services under such "strain" that their neutrality was compromised. And we know that Tony Blair seized upon the lack of personal criticism to say that there was no conspiracy, no impropriety, no one lied and no one made up intelligence.

There are views to the contrary:

Steve Bell

With Alastair Campbell we have the introduction of the processes of tabloid journalism by which a reporter is persuaded by superiors to 'firm up' copy, to turn it into a scoop into the selling of the war. Shades of Tampa.

What the Butler report shows is that it was the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who had initiated all the main steps which led to the war. It was not the intelligence services which persuaded him, but he who needed them to justify the war.

I presume the same happened in Australia. John Howard who had initiated all the main steps which led to the war. He encouraged the intelligence bureaucrats to provide judgments which went to the outer limits of the intelligence available. Howard went to war on the basis of evidence that was manipulated and proved false.

There is an implied indictment of the undermining of processes of British governance under the Blair Government. The embedded safeguards in the constitution, such as cabinet government, collective responsibility, proper audit trails and minuted meetings and respect for the independence and impartiality of official advice, have been set aside or seriously degraded.

What has happened in Australia is that ministerial responsibility has been eroded from the executive increasingly tightening its grip on the House of Representatives. The House is now the executive's instrument, and all that is left of public debate about pressing issues in the House is the spectacle of the theatre of Question Time.

There is a good debate on ministerial responsibility over at Ken Parish's place. I personally think that this convention has been gutted under the Howard Government.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)