I got a lot of earache today along (now) familliar lines: How can I still vote Labour after their participation in the Iraq war?
Like most limp-wristed Guardian-reading wusses, I opposed the war at the time. I still think that it was not the right thing to do. I even went on the big march against it just before the invasion began.
My view at the time was that Blair was going to back the US on this for a number of reasons. In no particular order...
1. Numerous unspecified ulterior motives (oil, etc)
2. Labour has a strong faction that is keen on ‘liberal intervention’ - using our armies to replace BAD MEN with GOOD PEOPLE wherever possible. A belligerent US makes this possible in Iraq’s case and he saw the US position on Iraq as an opportunity
3. The US was going to do it anyway - Blair believed that they would either do it unilaterally or do it with a moderating influence that only we Brits can supply.
4. A cynic would suggest that Blair saw an opportunity to gain brownie points by backing the world’s first ‘hyperpower’
Taking these in order, I don’t know whether I buy the ulterior motive argument or not. I doubt if many commentators have the kind of vantage point to give an authoritative answer and I’m always suspicious of people who claim to know the truth on this one. They are usually either right-wing conspiracy theorists, or lumpen-trots and general anti-capitalistas. I’m sure there were very powerful ulterior motives behind the UK’s position - but I think that everyone would be quite suprised if we were ever told what they were in terms that we could understand.
I partly agree with the ‘liberal interventionist’ line. A lot of Labour lefties supported the action in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Bosnia was betrayed by an absence of this instinct and it could be argued that supporting the US over Iraq may even provide a bit of leverage to get their undoubted firepower lined up more quickly next time an obvious case for intervention emerges. (This is probably a bit idealistic, but bear with me here...).
My problem is the desirability of US unilateralism. There appears to be a part of the British Establishment's DNA that insists upon a bridging role for the UK. There must be a reason that we have to comply with most demands that the US make upon us. It is clear that there are very few people in the UK who have a good enough vantage point to fully understand what these reasons are but it is obvious that these reasons exist and that they are very compelling. And complex. And sensitive.
I don’t think that any of us have had those reasons explained to us properly, but no-one should believe that Prime Ministers are allowed the luxury of principle instead of pragmatism on issues like this. Those that do are easily spotted. They are those precious souls who are forever declaring themselves ‘disillusioned’ with politics.
The ‘brownie points’ issue, therefore, must have some substance. I didn’t agree with the war because I don’t understand the relationship of the UK government with the US. But I don’t feel betrayed - or deceived. And in this election, there isn’t a realistic way that this position will impact on the way I vote.
We should all cast our vote with the big picture in mind. We have to opportinity next Thursday to bring about the final collapse of the Conservative Party, and with it the rightwards gravitation pull that it has on the Labour Party.
A whopping Labour majority will help to bring that glorious day closer.