Did the Iraq war undermine our faith in politics?

John Rentoul

nn 300x168 Did the Iraq war undermine our faith in politics?I took part in a BBC2 Newsnight special on Iraq, 10 years on, which will be broadcast tonight. Most of the programme was refreshingly sane and balanced, in that it was about what Iraq is like now and the implications for liberal interventionism elsewhere. It featured many Iraqi voices who, though they said that the country is still in a bad state, expressed optimism about the future.

The segment in which I took part was more predictable, as it was about the effect of the war on Britain and on British politics.

Charles Kennedy said that at least Iraq meant that there would have to be a “proper” vote in the House of Commons when the Government wanted to engage in military action in future. The vote on 18 March 2003, carried by 412 to 149, was apparently “a con”, and Kennedy implied that there ought to be a law against cons, although he accepted that it would be hard to know how it should be drafted. Whether the vote for military action in Libya, carried by 557 (including Kennedy) to 13, on 21 March 2011 took place under the new con-free arrangements, I do not know.

Someone in the audience made the familiar complaint that Tony Blair had “ignored” the demonstration against the war on 15 February 2003, which meant the decision was “not democratic”. I managed to get out the words “parliamentary democracy” – I don’t know if they will survive the editing – but wish I had had time to point out that all the people who voted Conservative in the 2005 general election, and all those who voted for Charles Kennedy’s party, were “ignored” when it came to forming a government, because more people had voted for Blair’s party.

Anyway, Kennedy agreed that the Iraq war had undermined our faith in politics – although he was canny enough to say that the fuss over MPs’ expenses had done so too. Which is interesting, because this Ipsos MORI series suggests that Iraq had no effect on whether people thought politicians tell the truth; and that attitudes changed only after the expenses scandal in 2009.

Would you tell me if you generally trust them [politicians] to tell the truth, or not? Not:

1983 1993 1997 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2011

75%  79%  78% 72%  74%  77% 73%  75%  71% 73% 72%  76% 73% 82%  80%

Update: Further evidence that young people have become, if anything, more engaged in politics since Iraq.

Tony Blair was also interviewed by Kirsty Wark for the programme. The full interview will be shown tomorrow night; but tonight will feature clips, including this:

It remains extremely divisive and very difficult. My point to people is this – I’ve long since given up trying to persuade people it was the right decision – in a sense what I try and persuade people of now is how complex and difficult a decision it was.

There is also a five-minute extract from it here.

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  • Kippers

    No. The fact that there were no WMD simply proves the point that it was wrong to invade while inspections were still in progress and there was no UN mandate for the invasion. However that was not the point that I was making. The point that I was making was that John Rentoul appears to be trying to suggest a link between the invasion of Iraq and a doctrine called “liberal interventionism” and I am reminding him that making life better for Iraqis and turning Iraq into a democracy was never mentioned until about a year after the invasion (when the facts had made the WMD justification as useful as a chocolate teapot).

  • mradclyffe

    El Baradi of the IAEA said there weren’t any before the war even started. Was no one else paying attention?

  • mradclyffe

    “Iraq was a threat because of the WMD that we knew it had.”
    What WMDs are you referring to exactly? I refer you to my comment above: there never were any weapons of mass destruction. Ever.

  • Kippers

    That phrase is about what Blair was claiming as a fact and claiming as the reason to invade Iraq. It comes after the bit about “….. because, it was claimed, that …..”

    It was of course a false claim. Many of us pointed out at the tme that it was a false claim, as none of the available evidence added up to an established fact. A few months later it became clear that there were no WMD so that claim had indeed been false, though it was central to the argument that we had to go to war even in the middle of inspections, without a UN mandate, and the the invasion was legal.

  • Kippers

    He said that there were no nuclear weapons and no nuclear programme. It wasn’t the job of the IAEA to say anything about chemical and biological weapons. When the IAEA said that it was almost certain that Iraq had no nuclear program, the politicians in this country said that the IAEA had got it wrong and that there was other evidence (apart from the forged documents that had been shown to the IAEA). Ten years later we still don’t know what this other evidence was!

  • JohnJustice

    Please read my comment again. Inspections were NOT “in progress” when the invasion took place. They had come to an end because Saddam had not allowed the unfettered and immediate access to the inspectors required under UN Resolution 1441 which had given him a last chance to comply with UN demands. The mandate to use force in the event of non-compliance was implicit in that resolution.

    The doctrine of liberal intervention was also implicit in the action that was taken since regime change was the only way of being certain that Iraq had no WMD and this had the bonus of bringing democracy to Iraq.

  • Sean Lynch

    I think Kennedy’s point vis-a-vis the vote being a con, was that the Iraq vote was so heavily whipped. You only have to read Chris Mullin’s View From The Foothills to see the extent of the whipping – Mullin was awarded a job which he was stripped of the same day when Blair found out he had voted against the war. For the record I’m not sure how heavily whipped the Libya vote was? Surely, in the interests of parliamentary democracy, votes of this kind should not be whipped.

  • Kippers

    Now you’re just imagining things.

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