They say ‘a week is a long time in politics’, but it’s taken seven long years for the Chilcot Report to be published. The Inquiry into the Iraq war may have been announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on 15th June 2009 but the final report published on the 6th July 2016 with its ‘damming conclusions’ about the ‘decision to go to war’ and upon what basis the nation did so, immediately shone a light, once again, upon his predecessor, Tony Blair. The media were waiting with eager anticipation as to what he would say – and whether he would apologise for the deaths of 179 British Servicemen and many others killed during the conflict.
The pros and cons of such a debate are far too long and complex for me to consider here, but they do raise some interesting questions about power, leadership and authority, and raise the conundrum of what do we do when the people that we vote into government (often with large popular majorities), do things that we rather wish they didn’t? Frequently the cry is for firm leadership – but what happens when our leaders firmly direct us in the wrong direction? Understandably many people will have a view on Tony Blair, and hindsight as they say is a wonderful (and occasionally cruel) thing, but perhaps it should be noted that despite his many failings Chilcot does not say that Tony Blair wilfully deceived Parliament, rather that he honestly believed the flawed intelligence that had been given to him, and despite many people marching in protest against the war, polls showed that at the time, public opinion was overwhelmingly in support of military action. All of which goes to show how easy it is for us a nation to be led up the garden path, unless we ensure that all the appropriate checks and balances are in place. This is all salient, because once again we find ourselves as a nation at a crossroads, and once again ‘firm leadership’ is called for as the Conservative Party elects a new leader and Prime Minister. In homage to Margaret Thatcher, Teresa May and Andrea Leadsom are already being touted as the new ‘iron maidens’ for our generation but they will need to be careful that in their desire to provide firm and positive leadership in the light of the nation’s decision to leave the EU, that they do so collegiately and with the full support of their cabinet, colleagues and party members or else they too in future years could find the swathe of public opinion against them. Firm leadership is not always about getting one’s own way, but taking sound advice and acting in the best interest of others.
It’s interesting that there is a sober lesson to be the learnt from the pages of the Bible, because at one point the people of Israel were so unhappy with their current system of leadership, that instead of the historic train of prophets ruling over them, they demanded a king so that they might be like all the “other nations” having a king to govern them and go out before them and fight their battles (1 Samuel 8). The prophet Samuel saw this as a rejection of God’s voice and authority administered via the prophets and warned them about all the disadvantages of having a king and the possible corruption that came with it, but the people wouldn’t listen. So Samuel prayed to God about it who graciously let the people have their way. The lesson is that sometimes God grants us the very thing that we wish for, but then not only do we have to take responsibility for our actions but we sometimes also have to live with the consequences.
And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God. Micah 6.8