James at The Springfields Academy
James with the Prime Minister visiting the UK Aid Disaster Response Centre at Kemble Airport
James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James visiting RAF Brize Norton and inspecting the A400M.
A wounded veteran (whose name and details I shall obscure for reasons of constituent confidentiality) came to see me in my surgery last week. He described his Iraq and Afghan experiences: fighting alone in a downed helicopter for four hours; hand-to-hand combat 250 feet underground; defusing countless roadside bombs; 250 military parachute jumps and so much else. He suffers now from a variety of wounds and injuries and from quite severe post-traumatic stress disorder. All he wanted was for his back pay and pension to be sorted out, and to locate his missing combat medals. My heart went out to him, and I will do what I can to help.
That encounter doubled my fury at the weak-kneed capitulation by Sir John Chilcot whose report into the causes and conduct of the Iraq War has been long delayed because Tony Blair and George Bush do not want their secret communications and private letters in the run-up to the war to be published. They use all sorts of excuses to do with the US/UK intelligence relationship; and shelter behind a reluctance to allow the machinery of Government on very sensitive issues such as this to become public. Chilcot has compromised by agreeing to publish ‘quotations’ from the letters expressing their ‘gist.’
While there is some merit in their nervousness, I have two major concerns. First, it was Tony Blair who brought into law the Freedom of Information Act surrounded by brave rhetoric on transparency and accountability. One law for us, another for him… And surely if he is as proud as he claims of his reasons for going to war with Saddam, surely he cannot mind evidence of his thinking becoming public knowledge. The only real reason for continuing secrecy must be shame about the spin and thin reasoning which led to the sad deaths and injuries of hundreds of servicemen and women. All that seems to matter to Mr Blair is his ‘legacy,’ soured as it already is by his Iraq adventure. If indeed there was no real reason for war; if it was, as many of us suspect, an illegal war; if the net upshot is that Mr Blair has the blood of hundreds on his hands; then surely it is only right that we should know about that, and in detail, and that history should be able to judge him accordingly.
There was a sharp and chilling contrast between the badly injured war hero in my surgery pleading for a decent pension and his war medals; and the craven Mr Blair twisting and turning in an attempt to avoid any blame for it. His refusal to allow Chilcot to publish these exchanges with President Bush is cowardly, mean-minded and self-serving. It confirms the general public’s low opinion of the man, and our conviction that he took the country to war on a personal whim. He should be ashamed of himself.
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