Authors Gavin Dingwall and Tim Hillier considers the very modern phenomena of apportioning blame in light of the recent news that the Chilcot Inquiry will not be publishing just yet and drawing on examples from their recently published in their book Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats: Allocating blame in the criminal justice process.
The recent non-news story that the findings of the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot would not be reported any time soon has produced considerable media murmuring.
There is a certain satisfaction to be had in realising that the establishment of the Iraq Inquiry hadn’t all been just a dream. There is considerable bewilderment that the Inquiry will still be continuing six years after it was established. There is also the interesting side issue of how the Inquiry will compare with the Iraq War cost-wise.
Running through it all however there is a leitmotif: Blame.
When Gordon Brown announced the establishment of the Inquiry on 15 June 2009 he may have talked about identifying lessons to be learned but the Inquiry was always going to be about apportioning blame. Gordon Brown’s statement on 15 June 2009 gave no indication that he thought the whole Iraq experience had been a success. In the words of 1066 and All That it had been “a bad thing” and therefore it must have been somebody’s fault. The delayed publication of the findings of the Inquiry now raises another layer of blame: who is responsible for the delay.
This focus on blame is not surprising in the modern epoch. The Iraq Inquiry itself is a particularly modern response to events. We still await the establishment of a government inquiry into the Suez invasion of 1956 or into events surrounding the deposing of the elected Iranian prime minister in 1951.
The Franks Committee which inquired into events leading to the Falklands Conflict in 1982 were very keen to establish that they were not seeking to apportion blame. Although the Franks Report had its share of critics we did not see the sometimes frenzied enthusiasm to blame that we see now.
There is a contrast to be made between the reaction to the inner city riots of the early 1980s with the reaction to the urban disturbances in 2011. Whereas with the former there was an acknowledgment that at least some responsibility for the burned out cars rested with the wider society: with all of us; in 2011 the language was much more ‘them’ and ‘us’: we might discuss who precisely is to blame but we are clear it is ‘them’ who are to blame and not ‘us’.
It is difficult to pinpoint accurately when the turn to blamestorming occurred. It perhaps coincides with Thatcher’s denial of such a thing as society. During an interview with the Prime Minister in September 1987, Douglas Key, after congratulating the Prime Minister on securing a third term in office, suggested that increased prosperity for some had seen an increase in crime, an increase in divorces, an increase in violence and an increase in greed.
He hinted that the Conservative government might have some responsibility for this. Thatcher’s response was robust. She indicated that too many people thought problems of crime, violence were the responsibility of society: “. . .they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing!” (Interview for Woman’s Own accessed 22 January 2015).
Certainly through the 1980s and into the 1990s we saw a growth in a desire to allocate blame to certain named individuals and a greater desire for blame. When certain events occur, for example, the death of Baby P or the killing of cartoonists in Paris, it is not sufficient merely to blame those directly responsible. The quantity of blame released is greater than that and it needs to be rapidly assigned or there is the danger that we may all be affected by it. We might all have a responsibility. That doesn’t accord with the spirit of the age. Far better we blamestorm and encourage the blamemongers to identify the scapegoats so the rest of us can sleep easy.
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Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats: Allocating blame in the criminal justice process published on 29 January and copies can be purchased at a 20% discount from the Policy Press website – here.
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