Alastair Campbell: There were no lies or deceit over Iraq

We elect leaders to make the toughest calls. Amid all the talk of learning lessons I fear we have already learned some wrong ones.

Leaders in democracies have learned that if you do the really difficult, unpopular thing, it can be hung around your neck forever. ‘Look at Tony Blair,’ they say, ‘in so many ways a great Prime Minister yet with so many people refusing to see him as the author of anything but chaos in the Middle East.’

One, it is over simplifying things to say he is the author of that chaos. Two, he made many changes to our country and to the wider world which cannot be erased from the national consciousness because of one hugely controversial issue.

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I saw the care he took over the decisions. I have seen the agonies it has caused him many times since and will do till his dying day. The deaths of soldiers weigh heavily on him, as do the deaths of Iraqi civilians. He knows there are things he should apologise for. But one thing he will never apologise for is standing up to one of the worst, most fascist dictators the world has ever known. Nor should he.

So [there were] no lies or deceit, contrary to what Jeremy Corbyn has just said. No secret deal with Bush. A messy process surrounding the legal advice and the role of the UN. Mistakes in intelligence but no improper interference with it. Bad planning for the aftermath. Many mistakes and shortcomings made alongside successes.

I am going to leave the final word in this piece to the constitutional expert, Professor Vernon Bogdanor. Last month he gave a long and thoughtful lecture on the Iraq war. I was particularly struck by his final paragraph.

‘Of course, with hindsight, all things might have been done differently, but as President Bush said, and on this I agree with him, “Hindsight is not a strategy. Everyone’s hindsight is better than the most acute foresight.” My conclusion,’ said Bogdanor, ‘is that there are no easy answers, that Bush and Blair were faced with an almost impossible dilemma, and that all of us should be very grateful that we were not in their shoes and did not have to make their difficult decisions.’

• Mr Campbell’s comments are an edited version of his blog