A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Jackie Ashley's theory

Jackie Ashley puts forward a theory yesterday that the Iraq War "destroyed progressive politics in Britain for a generation" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/31/new-labour-iraq-destroyed-progressive).

This would have some credibility were it not for one very big, unfortunate fact. There has already been a General Election since the Iraq War, and at a time in 2005 when the war was a far more resonant and current issue. The man who led us into the war, Tony Blair, also led Labour into that General Election. Far from the 2005 General Election destroying Labour or progressive politics, it resulted in an unprecedented third victory for Blair and New Labour, with a result that was in terms of seats the fifth best in the hundred plus-year history of the Labour Party. Not just that but it left Labour holding such unlikely bastions as Hastings & Rye, Hove and South Dorset, none of which Harold Wilson or Clem Attlee had been able to take in their heyday.

The biggest obstacle to progressive politics getting over the trauma of the Iraq War is the determination of some of Blair's critics to personalise their disagreement over a policy decision - yes a contentious, life-or-death decision but still a policy decision; their refusal to accept that people who supported the war did so in good faith, believing what they were doing was morally right (oh, and legal); and their insistence on re-fighting the political battles of 2003 rather than looking at the question of where Iraq is now as a country and what needs to happen there next. I can understand some people's passionate opposition to the war. I cannot understand why they can't move on and get over it (will they still be defining their politics by opposition to a 2003 war in twenty years, or thirty?), or why they choose this one aspect of Blair's premiership to define him by. It is very odd that people on the left can feel more angry about Blair, and felt more excited and joyful about getting rid of him than they felt anger about Saddam or excitement and joy about his removal from power.


Anonymous tim f said...

Surprised you haven't blogged on the front page of today's Times, Luke.

2:27 pm, February 01, 2010

Blogger Hughes Views said...

Except on the comments and letters pages of the Guardian and Indy, I sense that Iraq is far less of an issue than it was in 2005.

What the obsessives can't come to terms with, it seems to me, is that the British public voted in 2005 overwhelmingly for parties that had supported the war.

Being an anti-war obsessive is not a bad thing to be, especially if you're young. Wars are always terrible things, innocent civilians always get killed, injured and have their lives ruined. The same dreadful sorts of things happen to service people - most of whom are just as innocent - and their families.

But it's foolish to become the sort of obsessive who lets their obsession cloud their judgement about everything and anything else and who overlooks the possibility than, in this complex and sometimes cruel world, the least-worst option is the best on offer...

3:49 pm, February 01, 2010

Blogger Diane Abbott MP said...

I do not agreee with Jackie Ashley on everything. (Her unstinting admiration for David Milliband for instance) But Luke should not be so quick to jeer. We did win all the seats that Luke says in 2005. But it was on the basis of just 35.2% of the UK vote. The lowest percentage of the vote ever for a winning party. It was also a very low turnout 61.3%. There are many reasons for our vote crumbling in 2005. Iraq must be the top of the list. Unlike Luke, I was on the big anti-war march before the outbreak of war. It was the biggest march ever in the capital.And most of the people were not left activists, but ordinary people shocked at the prospect of war. Tony Blair took us to war ignoring public opinion letalone opnion in the Labour party. (yes I know Luke, the opinion polls were in favour once our troops were in the field - but right up until the outbreak of war the polls were showing public opinion against)Nothing has done more to damage progressive politics.

6:15 pm, February 01, 2010

Anonymous Stan Rosenthal said...

Once again I'm in total agreement with you, Luke.

I think a big factor in the left not letting go of this issue is the ongoing media obsession with getting Blair over Iraq, culminating in its disgracefully biased coverage of the Iraq inquiry.

It was this that prompted me to place that Ban Blair-baiting ad in this week's New Statesman. Anyone else who shares my view should google our petition and register their disgust by signing it.

We're now up to over 550 signatures including Lord George Foulkes, Tom Harris MP, Oliver Kamm, John Rentoul, John Burton and Paul Trippett from Sedgefield and Jessica Asato Acting Director of Progress. Nick Cohen pulled out of adding his signature but has expressed his support.

This link http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/ban-blair-baiting.html takes you straight through to it.

6:44 pm, February 01, 2010

Anonymous Gerald said...

Why have we had two Iraq War enquiries, yet there was only one for the Falklands War? The Chilcot Inquiry is a bloody waste of public money, motivated for no other reason than to generate as many negative headlines as possible for Labour in the run up to the next election.

7:10 pm, February 01, 2010

Blogger Neil80 said...


I made a similar point on one of your posts a couple of days ago. Yes the war did have an impact on progressive politics.

Any major government action takes political capital not to mention ministerial time. There is in effect only so much governments can do in a set period.

The war, Blair's baby took up a huge chunk of political capital and occupied Blair's attention for much of its PMship so this undoubtably had a negative impact on the domestic agenda.

You also underestimate the effect of the war on Labour's core support. Politics is a curious world and effects are not always obvious. Look at the effect of the expenses scandal - the Tories were more outrageous but who took the biggest flack - the government, why? - simply because they're the government and an outgoing breleagured administration makes a better target.

Like I said the other day too - look at history very, very few governments/leaders come out of a war better-off in the long-term. You focus too much on the fact that you have survived the medium term

9:08 pm, February 01, 2010

Anonymous Up yours Abbott said...

Diane Abbott on ignoring public opinion! She's an expert on that. How about she tells us why Hackney schools aren't good enough for her son so she sends him to an £18,000 per year private school
Champagne Socialist to the rotten core

9:15 pm, February 01, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Diane Abbott doesn't seem to realise that her job as an MP is to do what is bet for the country not what is most popular at any given time.

10:41 pm, February 01, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

But now we know it was all a lie and therefore illegal...what now. What is Labour going to do about it and what are they going to do about Afganistan.

Not very progressive so far..

11:54 pm, February 01, 2010

Blogger Diane Abbott MP said...

Anonymous. My point was not that B lair was wrong to take us to war with Iraq because it was unpopular. I was replying to Luke's specific point that Blair's action had no affect on progressive politics. On the contrary, it was one of the factors that helped erode our vote in 2005. So, although we won the seats that Luke set out, we won with the lowest share of the popular vote of any winning party ever. In fact we won in 2005 with scarcely more votes than had consigned Neil Kinnock to defeat in 1992. Any honest Labour MP will tell you (privately) of the disillusioning effect of Blair's war on their activists. And furthermore many well meaning middle-of-the-road MPs voted reluctantly for the war on the (not entirely unreasonable) premise that Blair was Prime Minister and must know stuff that they did not know. They themselves were deeply disillusioned to discover afterwards that he did not know a single substantive thing that they did not know and had exploited their loyalty to get their vote.
But my objection to the Irag war was not that it was unpopular. Fighting racism has never been universally popular, but I have always supported that. I was against the war because none of the dossiers that the governement produced supported their case for war (I actually took the trouble to read them). The war was wrong and illegal. And misconceived and illegal wars are never in any country's interest.

1:57 pm, February 02, 2010

Anonymous Stan Rosenthal said...

Leaving a brutal dictator to tyrannise his people and flout UN resolutions would have been even more wrong and lacking in legality.

5:24 pm, February 02, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only over 1 million Iraqi civilians killed many more millions lives shattered and the messy war in Afghanistan its worse than bloody Vietnam and Labour got us in this mess!

How can you differentiate between Labour and the Tories?

At least the Falklands was a short war compared to what we have now real long term conflicts.

10:36 pm, February 02, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Wrong, Luke

The 2005 election was won by Labour for 2 reasons

1. FPTP which gave them far more seats than they should have won

2. Dracula. I really didn't want to vote Labour, but I did because I couldn't stand the thought of Howard as PM. I don't like Cameron, but I don;t loather and fear him enough to want to vote Labour when so much tells me I shouldn't

Like it or not loads of Labour voters didn't and still don;t think the Iraq war was right. many of them voted LD last time or abstained. This time, they will not be coming back, and many other voters have now rejected Labour. Moreover, some Tories who abstained previously have returned to the fold.

Blair's performance, whilst consistent, just indicated yet more reasons why Labour need to be in opposition for at least a term, and must take a definitive change of direction. I think that it is clear that people do not think that the war was justified and feel they were lied to. They are now in a majority.

12:16 am, February 04, 2010

Anonymous Stan Rosenthal said...

" I think that it is clear that people do not think that the war was justified and feel they were lied to. They are now in a majority"

So were the hanging brigade. Doesn't make it right.

And it's no good Labour supporters trying to distance themselves from the war. It won't wash with the public because the media will be out to get Brown and the government on this issue.

The only way forward is to fight our corner on the basis of the FACTS emerging from the Iraq inquiry as opposed to the spin being put on what's being said, by the anti-war lobby and their friends in the press and broadcasting.

9:36 pm, February 04, 2010

Anonymous Stephen said...

Diane Abbott doesn't seem to realise that her job as an MP is to do what is bet for the country not what is most popular at any given time

I thought that a MP's job was to represent her constituents.

10:29 am, February 05, 2010

Anonymous Stephen said...

And it's no good Labour supporters trying to distance themselves from the war. It won't wash with the public because the media will be out to get Brown and the government on this issue

And quite rightly so. Brown was the paymaster for the Iraq War and he bears as much responsibility for it as Blair. If the inquiry helps to sink his administration, well that is only just and proper.

10:30 am, February 05, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Stan: I disagreed with the war then, and I do now. And I will not support Labour this time unless they admit to their errors

1:01 pm, February 05, 2010


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