It is always the cover-up that does you

An iron law of politics is that it is never the mistake that causes the political damage, but the cover-up. Think of Watergate, or the Lewinsky affair. Think of Peter Mandelson’s troubles over his loan from Robinson, or Blunkett’s resignation. The leak of the Attorney General’s advice on the legality of the war in Iraq makes compelling reading. It has emerged at a time when it will do maximum damage to Tony Blair’s prospects for re-election. The question is why the Government did not quietly release this document as part of its evidence to the Butler Enquiry, or at soon after the Butler Enquiry produced its report which (superficially at least) appeared to exonerate the Government from wrongdoing. But because the Government tried to avoid releasing it, it has acquired almost totemic status, and the damage done to the Government will be amplified. Having read the leaked advice, I find it hard to believe that Parliament would have voted for the war if they had been given the full advice, or even an accurate summary of it. By failing to reveal to Parliament that the legal case was questionable – even if the Attorney General concluded that on balance military action would be legal – the Government can fairly be accused of having misled Parliament. And that is not a good thing in a democracy.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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