Credit where credit’s due, I suppose. Gordon Brown did at least call the Chilcot Inquiry. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, a diversionary tactic in the wake of a pasting in the European and Local Elections of June 2009, and an attempted leadership coup by Hazel Blears and James Purnell (last year’s Hoon & Hewitt).
It is a mark of Gordon Brown’s continuing allergy to any kind of good luck that, in doing the right thing and establishing the inquiry, all he will really do is succeed in bringing Iraq back to the forefront of voters’ minds with a General Election only a matter of weeks away – particularly since he will now be the star turn of the inquiry alongside his predecessor, Tony Blair.
The 2005 Election was, in many parts of the country, largely defined by the Iraq War. Five years ago Labour was able to withstand this. The vagaries of Britain’s bizarre electoral system and the continuing dysfunction in a Conservative Party led by Michael Howard meant that Blair was able to ‘win’ the election on 36% of a 61% turnout. 2010 will be a quite different kettle of fish, not least because, for over a year now, the opinion polls have barely shifted from the 40/30/20 split that just about favours the Tories.
Of course, the Tories shouldn’t be let off the hook over Iraq – they happily voted alongside the government when the decision was taken to invade. Would a Conservative government have gone to war alongside the Americans? Of course it would, and the Tories’ sabre-rattling tendency was very much in evidence during the build-up to the war. In office their unquestioning Atlanticism would certainly have delivered the same result, and if anything George W Bush would have found in the Conservatives a whole government of kindred spirits rather than simply a rogue Prime Minister who slavishly did his bidding.
The only consistent and meaningful opposition to the war came from Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats, but the electoral system offers no reward for simply being right. Labour looks incapable of any meaningful revival anyway, and it would seem that all the Tories need to do is sit tight and repeat the refrain “we were lied to” every time the subject of the war is raised. Sadly, given the near-total lack of media scrutiny of the Conservative policy agenda, they’ll probably get away with it.
When the dust has settled from the Chilcot Inquiry it shouldn’t be forgotten that Iraq was Labour’s War. Yes, Tony Blair will rightly take the bulk of the flak, but the Labour Party had the numbers and the personalities to call the whole thing off. Instead the vast bulk of the parliamentary Labour Party dutifully filed through the ‘Aye” lobby, Robin Cook’s was the only Cabinet resignation and Gordon Brown, at the time still regarded as Britain’s most powerful post-war Chancellor, happily signed the cheques.