I have known Gordon Brown for forty years since we were both emerging figures in Scottish politics and he sat under my chairmanship of the Labour Party in Scotland.
Stay informed with email updates
When he joined me on stage at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh during my Scottish referendum “Just Say Naw” tour he began thus: “Ah George, my mentor, my tormentor” which pretty much sums up my long relationship with him.
I know him to be a decent and disappointed man. Disappointed that he wasn’t in the end able to do as much decency as he would’ve wanted. Disappointed that he had taken under his wing the shameless charlatan Tony Blair only to be knifed in the back. He survived that knifing unlike the millions whose death can be laid at the door of Blair who left the Labour Party itself with a near-death experience from which it is only now recovering a decade later.
Brown has a brain as big as Wembley Stadium (a point which will become germane to this piece) and after decades at and near the top of British politics it is not easy to “mislead” him.
In his new book My Life, Our Times, Gordon Brown makes some frankly historic admissions.
He confesses on the war on Iraq (over which I was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003) that the war now cannot be justified, that it failed the Just War criterea of St Thomas Aquinas (Brown is a son of the Manse) on two counts – it was not a “last resort” and it was “disproportionate”.
So far so what I hear you say, such commonplaces have been part of the settled will of the British people for many years. True, but Gordon Brown never said it before. Not when he could have toppled Blair (as he considered doing) when the war started to go pear-shaped and when Blair broke yet another promise to make way, not in his evidence at the Chilcot Inquiry ( which to Brown’s credit he set up and to his discredit he emasculated from the start), not in his last books, not ever. Trust me, Brown the staunch dour Presbyterian doesn’t find “Confession” easy.
But crucially, Brown now claims that “the UK” was misled by George W Bush’s administration which secretly withheld documentary evidence that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, was not a clear and present danger, was not concealing WMD underneath Saddam’s bed, did not not not have to be “disarmed” by an invasion and occupation which has set the world on fire.
Brown claims the secret Rumsfeld papers were “leaked last year”. If they were they weren’t leaked over here or at least none of our “media” was willing or able to report it. If it was leaked only to Gordon Brown he carefully put it away for a rainy day (or at least publication day of his book).
The former PM and Chancellor is entitled to be shocked at the leaked documents but he cannot credibly claim to have been surprised. This I know. I frequently told him that the Iraqis had destroyed their weapons, that Hans Blix was getting nowhere in finding any trace of breaches of the UN resolutions on disarmament. I told Brown that in August 2002 Saddam Hussein had sworn to me that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and more importantly authorised me to announce after the meeting that Iraq would allow Hans Blix (who had been withdrawn by the US and Britain not “kicked out” as teenage scribblers still write today) to return to the country and enjoy full co-operation.
People like Gordon Brown continue to repeat the mantra (including in this book) that Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions. But it was not as it turned out. That means the criminals were us. Saddam told me the truth, it was the leaders of the “Free World” who were the liars. Just think about that for a moment…
Having known Gordon Brown for so long I can read his body language very well. But frankly a blind man could have seen that the slouched sullen (even by his standards) Chancellor sitting next to Tony Blair during the set-piece Iraq War debates in Parliament knew that the prime minister was selling snake-oil. And because I know that Brown is a man with a conscience (unlike his usurper) I also knew that in time, as he writes in the book he would “ask myself over and over and over whether I could have made more of a difference before that fateful decision was taken”.
I’m afraid that Gordon Brown already knows the answer to his own question and he knows that I know.
As the late great Scottish actor Duncan MacRae put it: “Ye didnae ken? Ye didnae ken? Well, ye Ken noo!