Yesterday I caught the venerable Sir Peter Tapsell with the first question to the Prime Minister:
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware of the growing sentiment that, as the publication of the Chilcot report has been so long delayed, the ancient but still existing power of Back Benchers to commence the procedure of impeachment should now be activated to bring Mr Tony Blair to account for allegedly misleading the House on the necessity of the invasion of Iraq in 2003?
Anyone with half-a-brain instantly knew this was trite and tripe. On the record, Sir Peter Tapsell voted “Aye” three times for the Iraq excursion: twice on Divisions 96 and 97 (26 February 2003) and again in Division 118 on 18th March 2003.
Now, I know the whole impeachment nonsense is just that, and no more, because I recall what Peter Hain, as Leader of the House, responding to a Plaid Cymru MP, uttered ex-cathedra on 9th September 2004:
The House of Commons has already voted overwhelmingly to back the Government’s position on Iraq. That was the House’s clear decision. For the first time, the Government brought to the House a motion on a decision to go to war, and gave it an opportunity to authorise it or not. That decision was made, but the hon. Gentleman is seeking to circumvent it.
I am advised by the Clerk of the House that impeachment effectively died with the advent of full responsible parliamentary government, perhaps to be dated from the second Reform Act of 1867, and a motion of no confidence would be the appropriate modern equivalent. The Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege in 1999 concluded that:
“The circumstances in which impeachment has taken place are now so remote from the present that the procedure may be considered obsolete.”
However, the phantasms of ermine may hover before Sir Peter’s eyes, as he looks forward to a long retirement in the Other Place. For, surely, that is his due reward for long service and for boring us witless these many, many years.
No: I merely tweeted a note of frustration:
In so doing, I beat the estimable John Rentoul (whom, with Dr. Jan van Strabismus of Utrecht, God preserve) to the same point by just three seconds.
Now, rather unfairly, Mr Rentoul gives me credit I do not properly deserve:
I could remind Sir Peter that the parliamentary procedure has been in effect obsolete since 1867. (Thanks to Malcolm Redfellow.)
I could say that it is hardly to Sir Peter’s credit, or Heffer’s, or Boris Johnson’s (Boris, incidentally, who gave a stirring speech in the House on the eve of military action castigating Blair for wasting time at the UN) that they should go along with a Plaid Cymru publicity stunt.
I could point out that all these puffed-up legalisms – war criminal, The Hague, malfeasance in public office, war of aggression, high crimes and misdemeanours – are fancy ways of saying, “I didn’t agree with the war.”
But I’ve done it a hundred times before, and what is the point?
I think what Mr Rentoul really meant there was “I don’t agree with the war, now.”
Or, as the proverb so succinctly puts it:
Success has many fathers. Failure is an orphan.