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MP attacks Blair from the grave

ALAN MacDERMID July 29 2004

THE web of half-truths that embroiled Tony Blair in crisis over the Iraq war was predicted by a former Labour minister before he died two years ago.

The warning by Jeremy Bray, former MP for Motherwell and Wishaw and a devastating critique of New Labour's record has emerged from beyond the grave to haunt the prime minister.

In a book he completed two hours before his death, now published personally by his widow, Elizabeth, Dr Bray says: "Blair's use of a lawyer's casuistry in arguing a case for the prosecution or defence is likely to land him in trouble if he is in a tight corner."

Dr Bray, who had been referring to Mr Blair's handling of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, adds: "Playing politics with science issues like this does not augur well at a time when we may be facing the use of chemical or biological weapons by terrorists."

He says: "Unfortunately, even with the previous experience of BSE, the Blair government proved itself incapable of getting to grips with its own food and agriculture-related disaster. Politics the desire to hold and win an early election was given precedence. The price to the taxpayer was huge has he learned anything?"

He also accuses two Scottish Labour icons, Donald Dewar and John Smith, of undermining the economic case for saving the Ravenscraig steelworks. Dr Bray objected when Mr Dewar, fighting the Garscadden by-election in 1978, put only the social case for retention. Mr Smith, then trade secretary, intervened and forced Dr Bray and Tommy Brennan, the Ravenscraig convener, to capitulate.

Dr Bray's verdict on New Labour uncomfortable reading for Mr Blair and his colleagues stems from the government's failure to accord science and technology the importance he thinks they merit.

The last chapter of Dr Bray's book was completed two hours before he died, in May, 2002. Earlier that day he had asked his wife to edit the final draft, and they had tea in the garden as he added the final touches.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants has been ticking like a timebomb for two years while Mrs Bray edited it and tried without success to find a publisher.

Mrs Bray remarks in a footnote: "Jeremy did not live to see the government's publication of the September 2002 dossier with its allegations about Saddam's ability to launch weapons of mass destruction at 45 minutes' notice."

Later he says: "I confess I am uncomfortable with the style of politics adopted by New Labour in Britain. It does science, and the truth, no favours. The substitution of manipulable focus groups for House of Commons policy debate and select committee inquiry neglects the accumulated wisdom and cultural resources of the British constitution."

Dr Bray is generally kind to the earlier generation of his political colleagues, but he recalls a clash with Donald Dewar and John Smith in 1978, when Mr Dewar was fighting the Garscadden by-election and a shadow hung over Ravenscraig steel works in his own constituency.

"From 1974 I made the case for Ravenscraig as a technologically advanced, viable industry. However, in 1978 Donald Dewar put only the social case against closure. I objected. John Smith got Donald Dewar, Tommy Brennan and myself together and gave me a dressing-down in true West of Scotland style. I realised I could not expect [my colleagues] to make economic judgments."

As PPS to George Brown, first secretary of state and minister for economic affairs, he recalls: "It had its hair-raising moments in the 1964 government, in the mini-run on sterling. George spent the first morning of the run lacing his tea from a bottle of whisky demanding of the Bank of England how many millions they had lost in the past half-hour, and blasting Dr Blessing of the Bundesbank on the phone for selling his sterling holdings."