‘War Crime’ allegations against Tony Blair causing ongoing problems for Labour

A problem that Labour continues to have, and one that it would love to wish away, is the issue of Tony Blair. Labour activists will tell you that it is not an issue on the doorstep or that we should be looking forward. I sympathise with those Labourites who marched against the war and desperately want this issue to be forgotten.

Unfortunately, Tony Blair and Iraq will just not go away. There are calls from the idiot wing of the Blairites that he should be brought back to help Labour’s prospects for 2015. (I imagine the Greens and Lib Dems would love the human manifestation of this grotesque war to return).

Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to share a platform with him at a conference in Johannesburg on Friday, and in today’s Observer the Nobel Peace Prize winner has called for Blair and George W Bush to be put on trial at The Hague.

He writes in today’s Observer: “The then leaders of the United States [Mr Bush] and Great Britain [Mr Blair] fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

“To say that the fact that Saddam massacred hundreds of thousands of his citizens is irrelevant to the morality of removing him is bizarre.”

He added: “The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.”

Referring to the death toll as a result of military action in Iraq since 2003 he said: “On these grounds, alone, in a consistent world, those responsible should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in The Hague.”

Tony Blair has responded angrily, repeating his usual line that Iraq and the world is better off without Saddam Hussain. The problem with that position is that it is a public interest defence, it doesn’t go to the heart of the allegation. It is a plea of mitigation but it does not respond to the basic allegation that the war itself was illegal.

Blair and Iraq remain a spectre that haunts Labour’s efforts to rehabilitate itself in the run-up to 2015. Tony Blair remains a member of the Labour Party. It ill-becomes a party that it has amongst its ranks a man who many in and out of the Party regards as someone who has questions to answer about war crimes.

While Labour refuses to act against Blair, or while its activists remain in denial about the legacy of Iraq, there remain electoral consequences in Brighton and Hove. It was a factor that saw Caroline Lucas pip Nancy Platts at the post in 2010 (in spite of Nancy’s unblemished record as an anti-war activist

And it goes further for Labour. There was the entire Cabinet who supported the war, and there are the ranks of back benchers who voted for this war. They did so because of the hope of preferment or because they were simply obeying orders from the Whips. Remember, there was an honourable member of the Cabinet who resigned on principle  over the war and there were a hundred or so Labour back benchers who also voted against it (in spite of threats and bullying).

A lingering doubt remains: how would a future Labour Government respond if the ‘intelligence’ demanded action against the next international villain? With Blair there, or thereabouts, I retain more than a sense of unease

17 Responses

  1. “There was the entire Cabinet who supported the war, and there are the ranks of back benchers who voted for this war. They did so because of the hope of preferment or because they were simply obeying orders from the Whips.”

    Asked them all, have you? Can’t you entertain the possibility that, just as those who voted against, there may have been many who voted in favour of the invasion for honourable reasons? The arrogance of anti-Iraq war activism is its advocates’ moral pomposity – their inability to credit those who disagree with them with equally valid reasoning and moral convictions underpinning their positions.

    As to Blair ‘the war criminal’ – am I alone in finding this line increasingly tedious? Surely there are sufficient numbers of ambitious, headline-hungry lawyers in the world that were there even the smallest possibility of a successful prosecution TB would have been languishing in a Dutch cell for quite some time already.

    The fact is that there is no possibility of a successful prosecution – not because the ICC is in thrall to the military-industrial complex or whatever other rot may be trotted out as explanation or excuse (remember the US is not even a signatory) – rather it is because outside of the fevered imaginings of those laughably labelled ‘the far left’ there is no case to answer.

    Ms. Lucas may huff and puff against war-mongery (all the while sharing platforms with misogynistic theocratic fascists) as much as she wishes – it keeps her in the headlines after all – but I suspect she would not be anywhere near as welcome in the streets of Bahgdad, Freetown or Kosovo as Tony Blair is said to be. The logical endpoint of her (and most of the entire Stop The War coalition’s) line of reasoning is that ‘Western Imperialists’ would never do anything to help others aspire to the same levels of freedom and prosperity that they themselves enjoy.

    • I’m sure you’re right that not all those who voted for the war did so for venal reasons, but you don’t seem to be on top charitable form yourself, what with calling anti war campaigners pompous and arrogant and being unable to credit Caroline Lucas with any deeper motivation than wanting the media spotlight.

      What you dont seem able to stomach is that those opposed to the Iraq war were right – about wmds, the consequences of intervention – and you can leave Kosovo out of the frame, as it has nothing to do with it.

      All in all your post provided a perfect illustration of the bpb’s point.

  2. There is also the notion that, in order to rid a man who had slaughtered his own people and gassed them, we saw fit to launch a war that slaughtered vastly greater numbers far more indiscriminately and saw their lands poisoned with depleted uranium, causing untold numbers of deformed babies and aborted pregnancies, so that we could then take command of their oil and destabilise the same neighbouring Iranian regime that Saddam himself fought.

    When the people who defend and even laud this then talk of morality, it makes me wonder what eyes they see the world through. Does morality not also require a single standard for all, or is morality just reduced to a big-sounding word to hide behind?

  3. I agree that Blair and Iraq remain issues for Labour. But the big problems for Labour surely are the domestic legacy of Blairism, not its complicity in the disaster of Iraq.

    Electorally, the issues of the economy, the NHS, unemployment, education and housing are surely more important for Labour. But here the Blair legacy remains poisonous. The fact remains that so many of the most (in my view) obnoxious things that the Coalition has done – austerity economics, the effective privatisation of the NHS, academies, increased tuition fees, the evisceration of the powers of local government (especially in relation to planning and public space), the denigration of the public sector, the mad belief that private provision can deal with Britain’s housing crisis, workfare, benefit cuts and the demonisation of the unemployed and disabled as workshy – all were core policies of New Labour. And, as far as one can tell, Blairites within Labour are still arguing for their retention; one reason, perhaps, why Ed Balls is so keen to ensure that Labour remains a pro-austerity, pro-cuts party.

    The architects of New Labour made sure that their branding made a clear break with what the Party had been in the past. The current Labour leadership seems unable or unwilling to do that. Until Labour disowns the Blair years and starts arguing robustly and unequivocally for an alternative – along the way nailing the economically-illiterate lie that austerity is needed to counter Labour’s profligacy – how will it regain the five million votes it lost between 1997 and 2010?

    And, here in Brighton and Hove, how will it deal with the fact that the only Parliamentarian who is taking a clear stand against the politics of austerity and privatisation is … Caroline Lucas?

  4. Oh, Bravo BPB! Well said.

    The West lost credibility it can never regain when Blair and Bush did their dirty lying deeds. The Labour Party that fails to spit him out and spit on him is, as you rightly identify, untrustworthy.

    Your post also confirms my angsting position in the previous post: politicians work for the party, not for the common good, not for moral principles.. And Mr. Sewell in his comment above just confirms how very bad the problem remains.

    Was it a politician who coined the phrase “Never apologise; never explain”?

  5. You missed one further reason why Blair sticks in the public craw and galls. He is a hated man because he has used his past as the war criminal we considere him to be (that he is proud of having been it seems), to enrich himself to an outrageous extent (by talking about it) that is devoid of humanity, humility and beyond greedy. He and his wife symbolise the very excesses and inequalities that the Labour Party used to abhor. They wallow in personal wealth and pursue self-aggrandisement in a way that is embarrassing to watch.

  6. Let’s deliver this message to him on the next yacht he stays on.

  7. Labour, for all the good they did do, are damned because they flunked their two big tests. in foriegn policy, they failed to keep Britain out of a murderous war which predictably inspired the home-grown attacks in London. They ruined the credibili of the UN and played fast and loose with international law in order to keep on the right side of the US. This wasn’t a given, as Wilson showed over Vietnam.

    Domestically, the economic policy was a Faustian pact with neoliberalism that it wouldn’t disrupt their world view, wouldn’t get serious about reducing inequality, and continued the same game in which people took ever declining shares in national income vis-a-vis and compensated by illusory equity in property.

    Both were epoch defining policy choices, and Labour showed timidity and lack of genuine confidence in the notion that change was truly possible, with amelioration the most that could be envisaged. Nothing they have done as a party since suggests that they’d do differently in office again; making some requested noises of apology is little guide to future misbehavior, as any parent knows.

  8. One further comment on the OP … is it really realistic to expect Labour to expel Blair? I can’t think of an occasion when a party in Britain has ever kicked out a former leader. It would lead to massive blood letting, an exodus of his hardcore fans, and precisely the kind of division that the BPB generally decries.

    It is fair to expect a bit of self-awareness and humility from Blair and his loyalists, though. The best thing they can do for the sake of the party is to slink off and hide for a while. They were very big on loyalty to the leadership when they were in charge, after all.

    • I thought all his hardcore fans were in America….SURELY not any in the Labour party itself? Or even the New Labour party. Name and shame ’em!

      • Well, there’s Lord Sainsbury and ‘Progress’. Blair’s fans may be few in number but they have lots of money.

        As to grass roots feeling I don’t really know … this has caused me to reflect just how few current Labour members I know personally. A few years ago there would have been dozens, which is an illustrative point in itself.

  9. No it isn’t an issue on the doorsteps. In fact, with the exception of the 2003 local elections, I have never had a single resident raise the issue directly with me – except for one exception earlier this year when an Iraqi born taxi driver, who knew I was a Labour Councillor, told me how much he appreciated the British Government and Tony Blair for ridding his country of Saddam. Quite obviously there are very strong and deeply held views on this issue. Those who reluctantly supported regime change and those who opposed it have equally legitimate views and we should be adult enough to agree to disagree with each other. However, what really disappoints me is the abuse myself and others who reluctantly supported the invasion continue to receive from those opposed. My own views were heavily influenced when I was one of the individuals who set up a Citizens Advice Bureau in Haringey in the late 90s (which I chaired). Sitting in on advice sessions with Iraqis who showed the scars from the torture they received at the hands of Saddam’s secret police, many of them women, or speaking via an interpreter to someone whose entire family had been murdered does tend to influence one’s views regarding regime change. Let’s not beat around the bush here: Saddam was an evil bastard and Iraq, despite its difficulties, is better of without him. I have a nephew who served in both Afganistan and Iraq who has also told me some absolute shocking horror stories about what actually happened to civilians under Saddam which the British media failed to adequately report. If there had been fuller reporting of these atrocities, then I think the anti-war lobby would be more qualified in their comments about the rights and wrongs of the invasion.

  10. All readers should be gald not to have to face the crises that come with holding power.Some of these are life/death decisions and it goes with the territory. Tony Blair was propelled into support by Bush, whose intelligence must have been deemed superior. Once the decision was taken in principle British sources ‘found’ supporting evidence.

    Although George Galloway was deferential to Saddam, most found him a tyrant with the blood of the Kurds and others on his hands- a criminal if ever there was one.

    The future intentions of Saddam might have been reasonably seen to lead to weapons of mass destruction that in the hands of an unpredictable megalomaniac could have led to destruction of Israel and an engulfing wider nuclear conflict.Though I suspect the true reason is Bush seniors humiliation in not getting rid of Saddam earlier.

    Blair was proved wrong in hindsight but at the time probably believed he acted for the best for all concerned.Where was the malice aforethought such as that which propelled Milosevic into Kosovo? So no, no war criminal just a well intentioned stooge.

  11. So – just a quick reminder when we might be starting to flirt with Labour again of why they should never be trusted. BPB – you remind me of a friend who cannot have a good word said about the Liberals/Liberal Democrats because they ‘force-fed the Suffragettes’.

    The difficulty is that both sides of the argument have questions to answer, and these are complex, and often considered with the benefit of hindsight. Was the war legal? A moot point; even if it was illegal was it justified? Again, open to debate, but there was no UN resolution in support of Kosovo, and it would be difficult now, admitedly with hindsight, to see that intervention as negative on balance.

    Was Blair acting honestly in relation to WMD. If he genuinely believed they existed, and just about everyone else did, including Hans Blix and the French government, then it cannot be said that we went to war on the basis of a lie. If he knew that they did not exist, and used that pretext for war then that is clearly wrong, but does not remove other potential justifications for the war – eg the removal of a fascist dictator – something the left should perhaps try to do rather more often.

    There is also a difference between the decision to go to war and the subsequent events. There was a clear lack of planning as to how to implement a democracy in Iraq, and those who opposed the war, as well as those who supported it, must ask themselves what impact their positions have had on this.

    If the governments of China, France and Russia had acted in unison with the US, and Britain what would the outcome have been? Certainly a briefer war, and possibly none at all if Saddam had seen the world united against him. Conversley, if we had sided with them, what would the position be now? Could Saddam be contained, as had been demonstrated with the no-fly zones, which effectively allowed the Kurds a high degree of security and self determination? Are people now saying we should have opposed that, or is it only the ground offensive, which was supported by the secular left in Iraq, let’s not forget.

    For those with a couple of hours to spare I would recomend a viewing of the debate between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway which is on Youtube. Both making strong arguments for and against the war – and a fair amount of personal abuse thrown in. On balance, I’m with Hitchens, but its not as clear cut as that and there needs to be a more nuanced discussion regarding Iraq which does not seek to polarise people’s positions, to some extent at least so that we can trot out this line when we seek political advantage over the Labour Party.

    Labour’s political opponants, as demonstrated by this blog, need to maintain the black and white approach to this in order to garner votes for themselves, rather than consider how to deliver the best possible outcomes for the people involved.

    • I understand that Kelly, up to a very late point, was convinced there were WMDs. Do you also reckon George Bush was responsible for 9/11 by any chance?


  12. There was no way Blair honestly believed there were WMD. What was Dr. Kelly doing over there? What was he telling the govt (that they did not wish to hear). And Kelly died.

    • But Kelly thought there were WMD, he just thought the 45 minute claim was wrong. He wrote ‘Iraq has spent the last 30 years building up an arsenal of WMD. Although the current threat presented by Iraq militarily is modest in terms of both conventional and unconventional weapons, it has never given up It’s intent to develop and stockpile such weapons for military and terrorist use.

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