Sunday, 5 June 2011

Iraq, Chilcot and linguistic hegemony

Originally sent March 2010

Whatever the outcome of the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq war (, the fact that it is being held in public will enable people to join some of the dots in the bigger picture. What is the connection, for instance, between Iraq, Gordon Brown’s role as Chancellor, 9/11, Baroness Ashton’s appointment as EU foreign policy chief, and language wars? Read on.

In his performance before the Chilcott Inquiry on March 5, Gordon Brown showed a masterly skill in appearing to say one thing, but implying the opposite (

When repeatedly questioned on his part in the decision-making, as a senior member of the Cabinet, he would say that the details did not concern him, or that he was informed of this or that. On points where he may have disagreed with the Blair policy, he would say merely that there were lessons to be learned. I think we can take it from Clare Short’s statement to Chilcott that Gordon Brown was marginalised in the decision-making regarding the waging of war against Iraq, may well have been justified.

The first question, coming from the chair, was whether he thought the decision to invade Iraq was right. He replied “It was the right decision, for the right reason”. What was that reason? He didn’t subsequently mention Weapons of Mass Destruction, nor 9/11, but only violations of UN resolutions. He didn’t even justify the invasion on the basis of an immediate threat of agression from Iraq. The stated reason was vague: “For me, the problem goes back to how we deal with rogue states”, he said.

Although Tony Blair had talked about UN violations, Gordon Brown’s statement would suggest that he thought that Tony Blair had gone to war largely for the wrong reasons. He gave no indication of any collective Cabinet view on the issue. When pressed on the decision-making process, he would talk about trying to achieve a diplomatic solution, in the knowledge that there was a military option. “We had to make the diplomatic solution work”, he said. The Chancellor is not traditionally in war cabinets, he told Chilcott, and his role was not to second-guess military options, but to make sure the funding was there. This would be in line with Clare Short’s statement that Gordon Brown had been non-commital on the invasion of Iraq before the event.

In his rather lengthy answer to the first question, he pointed out that the structure of decision-making had been changed. Communication between ministers and their opposite numbers in the US was now much easier, he pointed out. What, then, were these new decision structures? Did that mean that the Cabinet was being by-passed, and that the decisions were being taken at best by Blair and Bush, and at worst by powerful people in Washington or Wall Street? Later he stated that they needed proper structures for decision-making. “Shouldn’t we have had a Cabinet committee?” he was asked. “I think we need to learn that lesson”, he replied.

On financial reconstrucion, he said that one of his regrets was that he was not able to push the President further on this issue, again supporting the interpretation that the masters were in the US rather than London. Asked whether he thought the Cabinet was properly briefed, he said, “I was”, again avoiding the issue of collective decision-making in the Cabinet, and giving credence to Clare Short’s view that the Cabinet was not properly briefed. On the question of whether the Cabinet was able to take a genuinely collective decision, he said, “Let us be clear”. That would sound like another lesson to be learned. He then restated that the war was right for the right reason.

He also said that in future the House of Commons should make the final decision to go to war. So who did take the decision to go to war? When asked why a decision had to be taken on March 17, and whether this was because the US was about to go ahead, he stated merely that that was a matter of judgement. Who would have made that judgement? Would they have been in London or Washington? The Chairman asked whether he thought that a simple yes/no answer from the Attorney General on the legality of the war was sufficient, and whether he should have seen the Attorney General’s document. Gordon Brown replied that he knew the military were satisfied by the legal assurance. Presumably, the military would have thought that the Cabinet would have been satisfied by the legal assurance, since that was where the document was supposed to have originated. It sounds as if each side accepted the legal advice because they thought the other side had accepted it. In future, Gordon Brown said, we will have to provide greater information to Parliament. Another lesson learned.

On reconstruction, he was asked what went wrong. He said that we needed a UN reconstruction agency. It was pointed out by Chilcott that the UK didn’t get the support of the UN for the war, so we didn’t have legitimacy of international institutions. Gordon Brown emphasised that we need international organisations, and concluded, “We have learned lessons”. He also said twice that he did a paper for the Americans. Not for the Cabinet? Not for the international development secretary Clare Short? For the Americans. “I felt the US should take more seriously the issue of reconstruction”, he added. Yet Clare Short had been persuaded by Tony Blair to stay on in the Cabinet thinking that she was in charge of reconstruction on the British side.

Much of the questioning of Gordon Brown was on the financial side, and the role that he had played in funding the war. One telling line was, “Clearly, when sanctions are involved, the treasury has to know”. He was marginalised, then, in the decision-making. There had been much cricisism from the generals about lack of equipment for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet when questioned on this, he stated that he had, as Chancellor, made it clear to the Prime Minister that no option should be ruled out on the basis of cost. “Every request for equipment had to be met”, he said. When asked about the Treasury setting limits on the military, he said it was the other way round: “If you need more, come back to us”, he had told the military. “We managed to meet the requirements for Iraq and Afghanistan”, he told Chilcott. “The first priority was to ensure that the soldiers were properly equipped”, he insisted. He stated that he did understand the concerns of relatives, and that every request for equipment was answered. As Prime Minister, he asked the military to assure him that they have the resources. However, he did add, “It’s not for me to make decisions on specific items of equipment”. So how do we reconcile that with previous claims of a guilotine coming down on military expenditure? “That’s not much to do with Iraq”, he said, “The Iraq war was being funded separately. MoD ended up with more money than expected”. He then repeated, “The Ministry of Defence ended up with more with more money, not less”, adding that the Ministry of Defence’s budget was out of control. On equipment, he said that there had been a procurement problem, involving a time lag, and that the Chinooks had to be modified, and adapted for use in Afghanistan. The UK helicopter fleet, however, was the biggest in Europe.

The overall picture coming across is that Gordon Brown had been attempting to restrain the military by means of the only tool at his disposal, but that he gave the military all they needed for the specific operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It looks as if he was indeed marginalised in the decision-making process, which took place behind the scenes in the UK and the US. Faced with that fait accomplis, he adopted a survival tactic, rather than vociferously speaking out, as Robin Cook and Clare Short did. What would have happened if Gordon Brown had not restrained the military post 9/11? Would the military have been better equipped in the subsequent wars? Or would they have extended their reach into more areas? Would we by now have been in Iran and Pakistan, or some other areas of the world? It would have been quite in line with traditional Labour Party politics to attempt to restrain the military and its post-colonialist adventures. Suppose that Gordon Brown had resigned, together with Robin Cook and Clare Short. Would that have stopped the war? Or more to the point, would it have been likely in the judgement of someone in Gordon Brown’s position to have stopped the war? Clare Short didn’t know in advance that Robin Cook was about to resign, so there was no coordination in any case. At first sight, a resignation of three key ministers would have made the war impossible. On the other hand, Gordon Brown may have been aware that it would only have taken a Gladio-style operation to bring the House of Commons back into line very quickly.

This brings back memories of Harold Wilson and his silent opposition to the Vietnam war being waged by the Americans. He managed to keep Britain out of that, but could not openly oppose it. As a Prime Minister with traditional Labour Party views, he would have been opposed to post-imperial military adventures of this sort. A further sign of this is his support for Esperanto as a second language for the world, rather than the imposition of English, which, we now know was being planned behind the scenes in conjunction with the security services ( Interview at In the Esperanto association we knew at the time that there was something wrong, because of Wilson’s silence on this during his premiership, despite the Esperanto Parliamentary Group having a majority of members in the House of Commons. He had spoken out in favour of Esperanto before his premiership, and, indeed, joined the Esperanto Parliamentary Group some time after his premiership, but Esperanto seemed to be taboo for those holding office. Harold Wilson was ousted as Prime Minister in 1976 by MI5. (

Wilson was not the only office holder at that time to keep quiet on Esperanto. Lord Thompson of Fleet, having been appointed UK Commissioner to the European Economic Community, denied knowledge of Esperanto in an interview with The Guardian, only days after having written to a member of the Esperanto association that he spoke the language and supported it. Wilson’s friend Lord Davies of Leek resigned suddenly as Chairman of the Esperanto Parliamentary Group, following dirty tricks, which I was charged with investigating. I concluded that the Esperanto association was under surveillance, and that a spoof letter sent in his name to The Guardian was a professional job. I was puzzled, though, at Lord Davies’s immediate resignation, when he could easily have declared that he had not been the author of that mysterious letter. I felt the he must have known something I didn’t. This was in the same period that there was a denigration campaign against the President of the Universal Esperanto Association, a professor at the London School of Economics, and shortly before my own resignation in my public relations role in the British Esperanto Association, following dirty tricks from within. It took thirty years to join the dots (

Meanwhile, in 1997 the Shayler Affair exploded in the British media, when David Shayler and Annie Machon resigned from MI5, telling the press about illegal operations by the security services, including penetration and dismantling of even tiny organisations which posed no threat to national security. Subsequently they have continued to bring these issues to the public’s attention, despite the odds. Annie Machon nearly died of a rare strain of meningitis, and David Shayler is now immersed in narcotics. Annie has talked publicly about their experiences on numerous occasions. She gave a fairly detailed account at a conference in Berlin, which is available on video via the Internet (

Following 9/11, Gordon Brown told Chilcot, the counterterrorism budget doubled in size, leading to twice as many people working in the security services. So what have they been up to? The Shayler Affair and the Wilson Affair both point to the security services targeting the very people they are supposed to be protecting. With a very much enlarged budget and extended personnel, are the security services really there to defend the realm, according to MI5’s motto, or are they moving us towards a police state, as many people in the UK now suspect? If Harold Wilson had been Prime Minister during the current era, what more could he have done to reign in these military adventures? Gordon Brown would have been acutely aware of Wilson’s predicament. Tony Blair’s EU Commissioner was for some time former Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. I don’t remember what his previous views on Esperanto had been, but Glennys Kinnock, recently denied that she had written to a constituent before she was an MEP, saying that she was in support of Esperanto. Unfortunately, the archives are missing. Either in an act of incredible stupidity or an act of language vandalism, the two filing cabinets of Esperanto Lobby disappeared from the Esperanto headquarters in London. That was about the time that a frenzy was stirred up against their organiser, leading to the collapse of the Esperanto Parliamentary Group. In 2002 The European Commission asked their Vice-President Neil Kinnock to set up a working group on Esperanto. Later he obfuscated on whether or not that had been done, but the previous year he had come under fire from the French and German foreign ministers for his plans to cut down on the number of languages used in EU translation.

Le Monde described this as "a perfidious British plot in order to transform the EU into a sort of English speaking area”.

Neil Kinnock went on to head the British Council. In December 2009, Britain’s Baroness Catherine Ashton was appointed as the EU’s foreign policy chief, a post created by the new EU Constitution, together with the post of President of the European Council, which was filled by Herman van Rompuy. Britain’s rebel MEP Nigel Farage recently criticised Herman van Rompuy’s suitability for the post, and was fined for language which was considered unparliamentary in Brussels, but would have been considered parliamentary in Westminster. In reply, Herman van Rompuy used language which evidently was considered parliamentary in Brussels but would have been considered unparliamentary in Westminster. Previously, Nigel Farage had been reprimanded for criticising the appointments of Herman van Rompuy and Baroness Catherine Ashton to those positions:

Although Herman van Rompuy is a native Dutch speaker, he replied to the criticisms in French, and is known, in language terms, as a francofile. To offset the French language influence, Baroness Ashton is well qualified, as essentially a monolingual English speaker. Not only that, she is uniquely qualified as having been Tony Blair’s junior minister responsible for the collapse of foreign language learning in English state schools, in her role as chair of a ‘Languages Strategy Group’.

The National Centre for Languages (CILT) has been carrying out Language Trend surveys since 2002, and the 2009 survey shows that the number of students choosing to take a language at 14 is still in decline."

In 2002 there were calls from EU politicians and diplomats for the British to become more skilled in foreign languages.

Clearly, something had to be seen to be done. I also picked up on discussion in the Lords on a new strategy for languages in schools, and so I contacted an old friend, who had been a headmaster and language teacher, as well as the President of the British Esperanto Association in the 1970s. He wrote an interesting piece for me, saying,

“The Government's latest initiative on language teaching is like most Government initiatives - good in parts”, and then later suggesting, “And to ensure that only a very small number ever reach the stage of fluency in another language, they will allow the majority to give up at the age of 14.”

Some time later I was able to report on a forthcoming new languages strategy document to appear later in 2002.

This was announced in the Lords by a Baroness Ashton of Upholland. I did wonder at the time about Baroness Ashton’s idea that a Spanish teacher in Spain could teach a class of school kids in England via the Internet, but I thought they must know what they’re doing. Then in April 2003 I reported on an assessment from my language teacher friend, who had now rejoined the association and become their spokesperson for education. “There is already an acute shortage of language teachers”, he wrote, “If this policy is implemented, in a few years time there will be virtually none at all, thus making it impossible for pupils to achieve even moderate fluency in a language other than their own." What we hadn’t envisaged was crazy things happening within the association. That was my last newsletter for the association, and my language teacher friend left the association again a couple of years later. The Government went ahead, continually ignoring warnings. We all knew that language learning in the schools was collapsing, and the government just let it happen. It seems to me now that I was right: they did know what they were doing. The National Strategy for Languages in England now looks like one of those ‘projects destined for failure’ which Clare Short wrote about in her book on Iraq. Was it controlled demolition?

Now Baroness Ashton is talking of a comprehensive strategy for the Western Balkans.

Shortly before becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown suddenly started talking about the New World Order:

He described it as a ‘restructuring’. Presumably that is what he would have been referring to in his statement to Chilcott when he said that the structure of decision-making had been changed. Clearly, such a New World Order would be one to be imposed primarily by the US and British military. Yet Gordon Brown had been reigning in the military. What could have persuaded him at the last moment to make speeches that would impress the military in the US and the UK, but would have been unlikely to gain him much popularity amongst his own MPs or amongst the public? And was that a willing conversion? If you’re planning a military empire, there are certain things you have to do. One of these is to decide on an imperial language.

Sure enough, in 2008, Gordon Brown announced that he wanted the world to want to learn English, and that the Government were putting resources into this, and funding the British Council, a registered non-political charity, to implement this political strategy

I don’t know what Gordon Brown’s personal views are, but I doubt whether he had joined the Labour Party with the idea of imposing an English-speaking militaristic hegemony on the world.

According to Clare Short, we have not had cabinet government in Britain since 1997. So who does rule Britain? Is it the elected representatives, and are they allowed to speak freely. Or is it a military industrial complex, pushing its own interests, silencing anyone with dangerous questions, and using the secret services to turn the UK into a police state? We don’t quite know, but it looks like crooks.

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