29 February 2004

No Mr Blair, Iraq will not just go away

He needs to stop treating us like children, telling us to shut up and go to bed because in the morning Father Christmas will deliver a special present: a lovely big box with all the evidence of Iraq's WMD you could ever have wished for! And then all of Britain can play happy families again and Blair's long nightmare will be over.

Blair wanted this weekend in Inverness, and indeed Labour's gathering in Manchester next month, to be the springboard to a return to domestic politics. But that will remain blocked until he answers the question of whether or not Britain bugged the Security Council of the United Nations, bugged its secretary general, Kofi Annan, and bugged weapons inspectors and their chiefs. It no longer seems a matter of who we bugged, more a case of who we - and our US partners - didn't bug. And rather than admit these are serious matters requiring the convention of silence to be laid aside in favour of honest declarations, we are instead treated to the hideous spectacle of Blair pretending in his Inverness speech that there is nothing to answer, no problem.

The PM will, however, know he is trapped. He will know it is not enough to dismiss all of this as merely the work of an imagined alliance of Labour personnel happier to be in opposition than in government. His closest political chum, Peter Mandelson, started the current Downing Street paranoia programme against the Return of the Tory Bogeymen two weeks ago and Blair's Inverness address was almost word-for-word Mandelson. Again he treats us like children: vote Labour or prepare for the Tory bogeyman. What a basis for the right to a third term in office.

Why will we not shut up about the war? Because underlying everything in British politics is that we expect to be able to trust our leaders, and not be misled on the reasons for going to war. The majority opinion in Britain was against going to war, yet Blair said: "Trust me on Iraq". It was par excellence Blair's war, Blair's decision to back George W Bush, Blair's decision to make the casus belli Saddam's WMD and his 45-minute threat to British interests and troops. And it remains Blair's mistake. And until there is some admission that he got it wrong, some admission of political fallibility, the unanswered questions on Iraq will keep coming, perhaps all the way to the polling booths at the next general election. Blair and his people claim "ordinary people" are not interested in all this Iraq/WMD stuff. Maybe so, but they also do not like it when they are comprehensively misled or worse, lied to. Then they do care, and unless Blair wakes up to this, he will be punished at the next election. And he alone, no not the Tories, will be to blame for that outcome.

Should be required reading for the Man of Steel...

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