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Let's have a referendum on punishing Blair

R.A.McCartney | 27.01.2010 16:38 | Anti-militarism | Iraq

Blair will give evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war on January 29. The law allows local referenda to be held on any subject. There should be a referendum to demand that Blair is punished for his crimes.

If you live in a Civic Parish Council in England or a Community Council in Wales, you can initiate a local referendum on any subject. (See for further information, including examples of previous referenda already held). One previous referendum ask voters in a number of councils "Do you want to keep the pound as the currency of the United Kingdom?").

As we all know, Blair deliberately misled Parliament to involve the UK in an unnecessary war which killed over 400,000 Iraqis, turned 3 million into refugees, and killed 103 British soldiers, with 6,700 casualties (British figures from There does not seem to be any prospect of him being punished for his crimes. I propose that a referendum should be organised to demand that he is punished. The best location for this would be somewhere with strong military links. Unfortunately, my personal circumstances would probably prevent me from taking any part in organising it.

Evidence to the Chilcot Enquiry makes it clear that the war was illegal. The 27 lawyers employed in the Department of Foreign affairs unanimously took that view. A Dutch enquiry also reached that same conclusion. Many people therefore believe that Blair should be tried as a war criminal before an international tribunal. It would be possible to demand a referendum on that. However, it would be difficult to hold anyone to account for the failure to hold such a tribunal. If a referendum demanded that Blair was punished for misleading Parliament, the responsibility for doing so would fall squarely on MPs. This may seem like getting Al Capone for tax evasion, rather than for his more serious crimes, but it is far more important than that.

The original purpose of Parliament was to hold the government to account. It didn’t take on the role of passing legislation until hundreds of years later. The bedrock of British democracy is supposed to be that Ministers are accountable to Parliament, and that Parliament is accountable to the voters at elections. Erskine May’s rules for Parliament say that any attempt to mislead Parliament is contempt of Parliament. Until November 2004, the House of Commons used to start each session by passing a resolution promising to punish this with the "utmost severity". This was then stopped, ostensibly on the grounds that it didn't add to the power of Parliament to punish offenders. MPs must also have been conscious of the fact that it was pure hypocrisy.

The fact is Blair’s lies about Iraq is merely the most infamous example of government Ministers misleading Parliament. They lie all the time about absolutely everything, and are never punished for it. (See my previous articles such as for ministers lying to conceal evidence of major fraud on MOD Equipment contracts). This has rendered Parliament virtually useless as an instrument for holding the government to account, and neutered British democracy.

Making people tell the truth in Parliament would be the single most important improvement in the way Britain is governed. We should have a written constitution which ensures that anyone who misleads Parliament is tried before a jury, which can not only determine guilt or innocence, but also impose fines and terms of imprisonment. Unfortunately, those who support a written constitution don’t seem to be interested in this issue.

Right now it’s up to Parliament to govern itself. It can fine and imprison people for breaking its rules. (See In 1750, Alexander Murray was found guilty by the Commons of malpractice at a City of Westminster election. He was ordered into custody at Newgate Prison until the end of that parliamentary session. The last imprisonment by the Commons of a non-Member was of Charles Grissell in 1880. This document says that the Commons “is now considered not to have the power to imprison beyond the length of the Parliamentary session”. However, that isn’t set in stone. Parliament is sovereign and can do anything it likes. Parliament is often proclaimed to be “the highest court in the land”.

I would like to see a referendum ask “should Parliament, as the highest court in the land, sentence former Prime Minister Blair to the maximum term in prison which could be given for lying in a court of law”. I’m pretty sure that would get a majority vote anywhere in the country.



Display the following 4 comments

  1. referendum? ask the highest court? — Ivor
  2. If your fed up.... — bemused
  3. This is so ridiculous words fail me! — @narchist
  4. What Odds? — Gambler