‘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

Greens continue to prosper where Labour fears to tread

Bravely, four weeks after the event, when he knew which way the tide was running, and taking his lead from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Ed Miliband has come our, unequivocally in favour of the protest campers outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. Well, almost.

Writing in today’s Observer he carefully distances himself from the “long list of diverse and often impractical proposals” of the protesters.

At least he recognises that the Occupy London protest and similar protests around the country and the world as “danger signals” that only “the most reckless will ignore”.

Miliband writes: “the challenges that they reflect a crisis of concern for millions of people about the biggest issue of our time: the gap between their values and the way our country is run ….. I am determined that mainstream politics, and the Labour Party in particular, speaks to that crisis and rises to the challenge”.

Perhaps the first challenge Ed can rise to is to reframe “the way our country is run” to “capitalism”. He should name what we all know. What we are experiencing is the greatest crisis of capitalism EVER. The 99% believe one thing, the 1% – bankers and their supporters in the media and political elite – another. Instead Ed trots out cliche after cliche, carefully choosing his words so not to offend the 1%.

His second challenge is to support the day of action on November 30th. This will be the nearest thing the UK will have to a general strike, pathetic and limited though it is. Imagine if Miliband provided what is known as LEADERSHIP and called for an actual general strike on that day.

But Miliband won’t support this or any other industrial action. No Labour leader ever has. Nationally Miliband’s fence-sitting won’t matter. The unions will have to support Labour. TINA – there is no alternative.

But in Brighton and Hove there is. Green Party leader, Caroline Lucas, was one of the first to visit the Occupy London camp, Ben Duncan emerged from his sick bed to visit the Brighton camp (a sad little gathering, it must be said). Mike Weatherley has been quick to condemn the Brighton camp.

Labour locally has remained quiet. Like their ‘leader’, they are waiting to see where the people are going so that they can lead them. (Can anyone source the quote from the French leader who said “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them”).

People in Brighton and Hove have a genuine choice. They can support the People’s Mike (Mike Weatherley who would wish to personally evict the campers at St Paul’s), or they can wait and see what ‘decisive’ action Labour takes, or they can support Caroline Lucas and the Greens who are demonstrating which side they are on.

Rumour has it that the trade unions in Brighton are becoming disenchanted with Labour and are privately looking to work more closely with the Greens. It might be expediency given the forthcoming budget. But it might just be that the Greens continue to prosper where Labour fears to tread.

George Dore and le Toothbrush, and the continuing decline of the Lib Dems

Intrigue surrounds George Dore’s move from Moulsecoomb and Bevendean to Preston Park, and that of her beloved, le Toothbrush (Mike Mafarlane) from Queens Park to Regency Ward. Dan Wilson asks: “Why change wards now? Totally bizarre.” Dan’s twin brother, Warren Morgan, observes: “Tories seem to be abandoning Kemptown wards as fast as they are selected. Does not bode well for Mr Kirby.”

The Tory Tipster thinks that the problem lies in the heart of the Kemptown Conservative Association: “And another one bites the dust!!! First Mike Mac then George Dore – something is very wrong in Brighton Kemptown when their most talented candidates are jumping ship! I take on board your comments about Maria Caulfield but at the risk of sounding ungentlemanly, she is now very much past her best and now looks rather tired and sagging. Thank goodness the Hove Association has the good sense to have so many bright young candidates on the ballot paper!”

Linda F asks “Why would Ms Dore finish lower in Preston Park than M&B, if she appeals more to the PP middle class voter? I think she is just the right candidate for the aspirational younger families living in PP. She just needs to make sure her voters come out on the day. This switch is an interesting development anyway.” Well, Linda, Preston Park is a Green / Labour marginal and disillusioned Lib Dems are hardly going to move rightwards but will split their votes between the Greens and Labour. The share of the votes of the left parties will definitely increase in Preston Park. The question that I cannot answer is who will benefit most from the collapse of the Lib Dem vote.

But the Ghost of Nobby Clarke thinks that the Tories should not be written off in Preston Park: “Don’t underestimate the very impressive George Dore in Preston Park. She might just surprise a few people. After all some of us still remember excellent former Tory councillors there such as Doreen Radford and Vic Marchant.”

But what is emerging tonight is how low the Lib Dems have sunk. I wrote yesterday that “It appears that (the Lib Dem) decline continues with some pace. For the first time in living memory, the Yellow Ones are unable to field a full list of candidates. In an area like Brighton and Hove it shows that this party is now a bit part player, not to be taken too seriously (have I ever?) and should be regarded along side other marginal groups such as the Socialist Party and UKIP.” Not for a moment did I suspect that the LibDems could only field 8 (yes that was EIGHT) candidates across Brighton and Hove. According to the Lib Dem website, otherwise known as The Life and Times of Paul Elgood, the Lib Dems are fielding candidates in Regency, Brunswick and Adelaide, Central Hove and South Portslade wards.

I have been criticised in the past for being too harsh on the Lib Dems and that my prediction of their imminent demise was premature. I had never anticipated that they would field just 8 (yes, I repeat, just EIGHT) candidates! With the deadline for nominations closing at 12 noon tomorrow (Monday 4th April), there is still time for the Lib Dems to find a further 46 candidates. But they could, at this late stage, be no more than paper candidates, unwilling and unable to mount a city-wide campaign.

Finally, I was thumbing through some back editions of the Midhurst and Petworth Observer, as one does on a lazy Sunday afternoon. In the edition for Friday, 5 June 2009, I came across the election result for the Billingshurst division of West Sussex County Council. Trailing in third place, behind David Duke of UKIP and the Conservative Amanda Jupp who won the seat, was Larissa Rowe standing for Liberal Democrats. Could this be the same Larissa Rowe who is standing for the Lib Dems in Regency (where le Toothbrush is standing for the Tories)? And could this be an omen that will see the Lib Dems beaten into 5th place by UKIP in a seat that, until recently, returned a Lib Dem councillor? Watch this space for a positive response from UKIP’s own Mr Cumugeon (Paul Perrin).

Caroline Lucas – Observer Ethical Politician of the Year

Congratulations once again to Caroline Lucas who has been named, for the third time, as the Observer’s Ethical Politician of the Year.

In the  article in today’s Observer, she says on media coverage: “We’re normally chasing journalists so to suddenly have them chasing us was a very satisfying reversal”.

This reversal of fortune is refreshing given the media’s obsession with the personality politics of the Westminster village. Even if  she is reluctantly co-opted into the media obsession, she will no doubt make good use of this exposure to promote ethical issues and promote the Green Party.

But with her elevation, there is a danger, and this was one of the main accusations thrown at her by Labour in the general election: that as Leader of the Greens and its sole MP, her time and attention will be split between national and local priorities.  I have every sympathy with her given she will be faced with demands that will be almost impossible to meet.

She can minimise this by surrounding herself by highly efficient staff and supporters.  It is important that she (probably through her assistants) ensure that her constituents get a human (not automated) response to enquiries.

Locally, the new MP who has ben most impressive has been Mike Weatherley who has a team of young, enthusiastic and personable staff.  The biggest danger for Caroline Lucs and the Greens would be arrogance.  They are the biggest show in town at the moment.  Their job is to make sure that their constituents, individually, feel that they are.

What is the point of the Lib Dems?

So David Laws has gone – the shortest Cabinet career in living memory.  Lib Dem supporters are lamenting his passing and paying some rather ludicrous tributes to him.  The most ludicrous of all was that of Lord Paddy Ashdown who described him as “Mr Integrity”. 

Mr Laws took an “holier than though” stance during the height of the expenses scandal, only to be brought low himself because of his claims. And now he tries to say it was about protecting his anonymity.  Ben Summerskill of Stonewall, writing in today’s Observer, said that this isn’t about homophobia, more “second home-ophobia”.  He goes on “…. Laws moment in the spotlight wasn’t because of a welcome difference from other MPs, but  because of a tragic similarity”.

The problem with the Lib Dems is that they have often taken a ‘plague on both your houses’ approach, not least by Nick Clegg during the Leaders’ Debate.  But the Lib Dems under Clegg have moved rightward, and the natural coming together with the Conservatives was made all the more possible by the Lib Tories like Clegg and Laws.  Laws is a natural Tory but is said not to have joined them because of his disgust over Section 28.

It now begs the question, what is the point of the Lib Dems.  They have become little more than the recipients of Tory votes with a conscience.  But even that is lost because of the likes of Laws whose appointment gave comfort to more hard-line Tories who had a distaste for the Lib Dems.

This blog called for tactical voting in the general election, to keep the Tories out.  How wrong I was.  I had always thought I would vote Lib Dem in Lewes and Eastbourne had I lived there.  No longer.  Norman Baker and Stephen Lloyd have forfeited the right to anti-Tory votes.  My advice in the future will be to rather vote for a real Tory than one cloaked in false conscience.

The Lib Dems split the anti-Tory vote in Brighton Kemptown and Hove, allowing the Tories to win.  The sad and ineffective bunch of Lib Dem councillors in Hove (if two can be called a bunch) should just join the Tories.  Their supporters should join the party that most represents their views, Labour or the Greens.  There is no point in voting Lib Dem.  There’s no point in the Lib Dems existing.

Could Simon Kirby, Charlotte Vere and Mike Weatherley clarify their position on Gay rights and will they condemn the comments of Chris Grayling?

Woke up to find a wonderful story in today’s Observer that Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling has got his knickers in a twist over Gay rights.  This is bound to play well in Brighton and should damage the campaigns of the three Tory candidates in Brighton and Hove, Simon Kirby, Charlotte Vere and Mike Weatherley.

Chris Grayling himself has a positive record on gay rights, but this latest gaff, reported in this morning’s Observer, will be the first of many by the Tories as they desparately scramble for votes by trying to be all things to all parties.

Perhaps Simon Kirby, Charlotte Vere and Mike Weatherley could clarify their position on Gay rights.