16 July 2004
by Ted Honderich
letter appeared after the exonerating report by the
Butler inquiry, the fourth inquiry set up by the Blair government into
Blair government's conduct with respect to the war in Iraq. Like the
three inquiries, the Butler inquiry found the reputation of the
its leader to be unblemished. Many, a majority of people according to
the polls and all ordinary experience, distrusted this
finding. However, there was less plainness and forthrightness than is
called for by a strong principle of morality about public and other
It is time for a little less decorum.
You can lie or do worse than lie by arranging for other people to do things or by letting them do things. You can do it my omission, say by leaving a room without saying something.
You can also engage in self-deception, which is avoiding evidence that may go against what you want. You stay out of places where you are likely to find it. Self-deception may be more dishonourable, lower, than lying.
You can also be dim and confused about what you ought to be doing. You can think it is a matter of your wretched sincerity. What you ought to have been doing, to the extent that your intelligence allows, is to judge the consequences of your possible actions, the rightness of your possible actions.
You can employ the cheap subterfuges of a politics that has lost what commitment it had to clear speaking, to answering questions. When you are faced by an appallingly cogent opponent in the House of Commons, and a muddled one, you can give all your attention to the muddle.
You are not required, as a prime minister, always to tell the truth. You could lie to save your country. You cannot lie to forward an ideology, or to have a place in history, or to suck up to an empire stupid in its ignorance. Those are situations in which you cannot lie. They can come together in one.
The prime minister has lied when there was no possibility of justification. On the evidence now clear, he is also a liar. He has kept at it. He is, very likely, also more dishonourable than an open liar. He is confused about what matters most. He has dragged down democratic politics further.
Prof. Ted Honderich
Ted Honderich's enlarged and revised edition of Conservatism, under the new title Conservativism: Burke to Nozick to Blair?, is forthcoming from Pluto Press. For past journalism on Blair, see Yes, Tony's Talking That Equality Talk, and Going Down the Third Way in Politics, and Mr Blair as Moralist
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