Brown: Iraq Was Nothing to Do With Me

by Alex Massie

Gordon Brown has been giving evidence to the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq war today. And, to be honest, no-one cares. As the Prime Minister drones on it's clear* that his only real message is this: It Wasn't My Fault! This, admittedly, also has the benefit of being true though it's also the case that Brown could have, had he chosen to do so, stopped British involvement.

But, with the honorable exception of African debt relief, Brown has never been interested in foreign policy. In this sense, as in others, he is a curiously uninquisitive Prime Minister. Only half-formed really. The Iraq war was, generally speaking, an inconvenient distraction for Gordon, hoovering up funds that he'd have rather splashed elsewhere. When it came to defending government policy Gordon was, like TS Eliot's cat Macavity, simply not there. This was often the case when the Blair ministry found itself in trouble; suddenly Gordon would have gone to ground.

One way to understand the septic relationship between Brown and Blair is to think of it in American terms. Though of the same party they exemplified the old saw that the other party are merely your opponents; your enemies are much closer to home. In American terms, it was as if Blair had the White House and Brown the House of Representatives.

This division extended, in fact, to policy too: like many a President Blair became more interested in foreign policy than its domestic brethren, not least because overseas he was free of Brown's baleful influence and jealousy. for Gordon guarded his domestic privileges fiercely. Brown, by contrast, had no real interest in foreign policy and was happy to let Blair exhaust himself overseas not least because the more Blair swanned around the world the less attention he could pay to domestic policy and, consequently, the more power Gordon and his souped-up Treasury would enjoy.

No wonder their relationship, once so happy and so close, became strained and, well before the end, utterly dysfunctional to the point where, though of the same party and neighbours, they simply could not work together.

*Would Britain have backed Bush if Brown had been PM rather than Blair? I suspect so, though not as enthusiastically and Brown would, natch, have been a poorer salesman.