Labour’s Iraq problem

Last night on Question Time we were asked to explain why both Ed Balls and Ed Milliband are now critical of the Iraq war. The answer is obvious. They both wish to lead the Labour party. Many Labour MPs and Trade Union members always had their reservations about assisting in “Bush’s war”. Other Labour MPs and members are tired of having to defend it, now we know there were no weapons of mass destruction and no 45 minute threat to these islands.

Alastair Campbell defended himself and Tony Blair doggedly.He claimed they acted in good faith, and only found out later that the intelligence was wrong. He did not think the Labour party has anything to apologise for. Piers Morgan thought the actions of the two Eds cynical and unbecoming.

It was fascinating to watch this row on the left. There can be no doubt that the Iraq war was the most decisive and defining action of the Blair Premiership, just as the explosive money printing, devaluation and debt build up was the defining action of the Brown Premiership. Both have to be explained to the British public by the heirs to Blair and Brown. Maybe an apology as well as a convincing explanation of why they made these mistakes would also be wise.


  1. Mike Stallard
    May 28, 2010

    I haven't enjoyed a Question Time so much for months. It is so good that commonsense now rules instead of Labour lies and Spin and Extravagance. When you said that bit about it all being Labour's fault that we are in this mess, I actually cheered! Well done indeed!

  2. JimF
    May 28, 2010

    Yes given their proximity to Labour Central Command this adds grist to the mill of cynicism about politicians. Are they really saying what they think or what the voters want to hear?

  3. Tony E
    May 28, 2010

    I was disappointed that one issue over Iraq was not raised – the reason that the house was 'forced' to support the war in a vote.

    My understanding of the timing was that the troops were already in position by the time the vote was held, meaning that to vote against would have left the troops high and dry in the desert. Guarantees had already been given to the US, strategies already drawn, hardware positioned. It would have been treacherous to our allies to vote against at that stage with the stretegic handicap that would have created for the US troops.

    The means that vote was effectively rigged to provide a result in the 'aye' lobby, but that never seems to be raised as an issue. Am I entirely mistaken in this belief?

  4. Rollo Clifford
    May 28, 2010

    Oh When when will 'they' learn that to put a cambell in the spotlight of a good man and true is to make him wither in the forensic glare and end up more discredited in the eyes of the greatbritish public. BBC cuts to come?

  5. Quietzapple
    May 28, 2010

    HM excellent Labour Government didn't say there was a 45 minute threat to these islands, though I don't fancy Saddam's chemical weaponry poured into London's water supply for example.

    Nor did the trial of Chemical Ali hinge on his not having paid for his TV licence. And Saddam admitted he would have persisted in his WMD programmes had he not been prevented from doing so.

    John Redwood rewrites history still more luridly and inaccurately than either of the Eds in their apologia.

    Now the seemingly ludicrous behaviour of No 10 in trying to ban Alastair Campbell from the appalling BBC Question Time programme, which I hardly ever watch, will be heralded as the point that the post Gilligan Tory subornation of the BBC was reversed.

    We may see, but through a glass, darkly.

  6. paul fitzgerald
    May 28, 2010

    What are your views on the way the BBC started the QT programme.I thought it was shocking,liebore didn't have an MP on either but the beeb didn't lay into them the same way..
    Please will you tell Mr Hunt that we are getting sick of the biased BBC and wish it to be pay for view and not a tax for everyone.
    As for question time you were the best panalist by far,but Dumblebore didn't allow your views to flow like he did for ali cambell, and as for the last word at the end of the show by Ali it was really bad,good reply though by you.Dumblebore didn't like it…
    The Beeb will try and keep a lid on what 13 yrs of liebore government so keep telling it like it is at every interview,then KELLY didn't die in vain….Good luck

  7. Shailesh Parekh
    May 28, 2010

    The Labour party has to apologize for many more disasters than the ones discussed on last nights programme. Immigration was not mentioned at all. You may have noticed that the Conservative Party did not do well in areas that have high migrant settlement. The welfare state has become a way of life – from a safety net to a fishing net. The value of work has been severely undermined by the last government not to mention British identity. John, can you tell me how many people actually work for the state and how many work for the private sector? Is it equal? You said on BBC Straight Talk that 6 million depend on the state ( of those who are of employable age). But i thought it is 8 million. Why is it that we are letting Labour get away with the lie about the number of people who are unemployed in this recession compared to the one of the 90's. They have shamelessly massaged the figures and used public money to make this claim. For example kids are being paid to stay at school between the ages of 16 and 18, some people are on earlier retirement etc. We should stop talking about the the number of unemployed and concentrate on the number of economically inactive.
    Going forward, do you not think it would be a good idea to give new business startups far more generous tax breaks? I would like to see a business rates holiday for new businesses. It would help a lot. Is not possible to tie in capital gains taxes with better capital allowances for new investment? I am interested in your views.

  8. gac
    May 28, 2010

    I thought that you were never going to be asked a question until Dimbleby remembered belatedly that you were on the panel also.

    As somebody who hates listening to people who have no problem lying to me I find this constant exposure to Alistair Cambell nauseating; I understand why no Minister was offered up to both the Dimbleby anti-Tory harangue and the Cambell attack.

    Still – we are talking BBC here!

  9. Norman
    May 28, 2010

    If we get the deficit under control and the private sector growing again in five years time we'll be treated to the sight of the Labour leader telling us how Gordon Brown's borrow & spend Keynesian plan was wrong but now they've learned the lessons, &tc.

    Only problem will be what to call the party. They've used up 'New' to banish the shambles they made of the 70's but will need something to try and dissociate themselves from the shambles of the 00's.

    You can say what you want about the Conservative policies (and the left take every chance to do so with vitriol) of the 1980's but there is nothing in them for any conservative minded person to be ashamed of.

  10. Brian Tomkinson
    May 28, 2010

    I noted that you were the only MP on Question Time last night. There is now a lot of humbug written and spoken about the government failing to put up a cabinet minister in the week of the Queen's Speech. The BBC might like to explain why they did not invite a Labour frontbench MP if this is such a momentous week. Unfortunately, they chose to invite Campbell and Morgan, who in their inimitable hectoring ways, tried to drown out the contributions from the other panel members by talking over them, a process in which they were aided by David Dimbleby's poor chairmanship.

  11. Kevin Peat
    May 28, 2010

    Both Blair and Brown seen to think that they have divine rights.

    I think that both issues are serious enough to go beyond apology or explanation.

  12. Kevin
    May 28, 2010

    Well done for engaging in a sensible debate despite the childish rantings of those on your left.

    I was glad you made your comments at the end of the show since politely asking the moderator to let you speak meant you got a fraction of the air time you deserved.

    Why didn't Labour put a member of the shadow cabinet forwards? Surely if they did the BBC would have accepted it?
    What does it say when the best the BBC can do in Question time is get just elected official on the show?

    Now is the time to push for giving Parliament back its powers and trying to change things so that the lack of debate about the Iraq war will never be repeated.

  13. Chris H.
    May 28, 2010

    An excellent performance on QT last night, John – your constituents are fortunate to have you representing them.

    I do wonder, as I suspect many others in the British electorate do, what on earth Alastair Campbell was doing there. He represents no one, and his main skillset seems to be in deceit through spin and misrepresentation (which he demonstrated on several occasions while David Dimbleby studiously pretended to be writing) so it can't have been for an honest opinion or insight.

  14. Richard
    May 28, 2010

    Good performance on Question Time. I thought the chairmanship of David Dimbleby was very unsatisfactory though. Campbell must have had 2-3x as much airtime as you + the last word on most questions. As always the audience was left-leaning – do the left pack these audiences? Its time the Conservative Party mustered local supporters to attend these events. Any Questions a week ago had clearly been packed by supporters of the far-left Green MP Caroline Lucas, who was on that panel. This shouldn't be ignored, these programmes are influential.

    1. Mark
      May 29, 2010

      The BBC pick both the panel and the audience – and then pick the questions. The show is pre-recorded, and edited for broadcast.

  15. Lola
    May 28, 2010

    Question. On programmes like QT how do you set out, succinctly, an accurate analysis of the causes of the economic catastrophe? Every considered analysis clearly identifies (international) government policy and regulatory failures (as in wrong touch and excessive) as the root cause of the financial failures. But, operators like Campbell and clowns like Piers Morgan use ad hominem attacks and well, lies, to prevent an honest debate.

    I am utterly appalled by Campbell and Morgan. They seem incapable of a genuine debate. They always descend into emotion and personal attacks. Is this the political legacy of Blair/Brown? If it is how do we ever move the debate forward.

  16. Citizen Responsible
    May 28, 2010

    Good to see JR on the panel of QT last night. Alistair Campbell was his usual bullying self. I find his inability to let anyone else speak without interrupting them annoying. Labour are willing the coalition government to fall apart regardless of the consequences to the economy. However on the QT panel, the coalition representation worked well.

  17. Milton
    May 28, 2010

    Iraq had been the “bad guy” of the Middle East since the first gulf war.

    Sanctions were imposed on it

    There were no fly zones to the north and south of the country

    It was subject to the attentions of the CIA, MI6, Mossad and other agencies presumably using

    Electronics eavesdropping

    Satellite surveillance

    Spies and informers in the regime

    I, at the time, believed the government when they said that Iraq presented a threat. It seemed inconceivable that all of these agencies had got it so wrong. (If they had got this wrong then what use were they?)There was talk of biological threats.

    Mr Blair said, pre invasion, that there were things he knew that he “couldn’t divulge” (Love to know what they were)

    I think history will judge it as this; GW Bush wanted to make a statement on the lines of…this will happen to your regime if you mess with America and he expected to be greeted as a liberator.

    Mr Blair saw his chance to be a player on the world stage by embracing GW and would be the prominent leader in Europe. His support for the war got him into severe difficulties with his own party, but the only way out was to press ahead.

    Looking back I think that Ian Duncan Smith may have misjudged things by agreeing to support the invasion on flimsy evidence, if indeed that’s what he was presented with.

  18. StevenL
    May 28, 2010

    The Iraq war was a US foreign policy experiement. Whether it went well or not will probably still be the subject of debate in 30 years time.

    I sometimes think the "explosive money printing, devaluation and debt build up" was also some kind of bizarre US-led monetary warfare experiment.

    Labour just did whatever the Americans did, or told them to do, unless the EU were telling them to do something else which probably left them in a bit of a pickle. They only banned smoking because WHO told them to.

    They were pretty spineless and short of original thinking when you think about it.

  19. James Morrison
    May 28, 2010

    It was good to see you on QT last night, and whilst I haven't finished watching it all yet, you were certainly showing some passion on there – which is more than we usually got from the previous government's drones, and exactly what we (or I at least) want to see from our politicians.

    Alistair Campbell is really a very nasty piece of work who had far too much power in the New Labour project – so much so that Peter Hitchens used to address him as "Prime Minister" in press conferences. So it was great to see him on the receiving end of a barage from at least 3 of the other 4 panelists.

    I couldn't decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that the Con/Dems wouldn't send a cabinet minister to the show unless Campbell was dropped. I didn't get the gist of why this was – is it simply because he is an odious piece of pond-life, or was there more to it?

  20. Ex Liverpool rioter
    May 28, 2010

    Indeed John
    Just sorry you couldn't see the War(s) for what they are.

    BTW I see "DC" is telling the BOE to control inflation with rates!

    (Return to higher rates, Of YES please).

    1. StevenL
      May 29, 2010

      Read up on the "special liquidity scheme" – another load of dog turd labour left behind.

  21. nonny mouse
    May 28, 2010

    When challenged they fall back onto the argument that even though there were no WMD at least they managed a regime change. As I understand it, this would have been illegal as a reason for going to war, so they were basically admitting a war crime to cover up misleading parliament and the country.

    The biggest thing they should appologise for was the lack of a plan for after the war had been won. Their mismanagement of the peace cost many more lives than the initial war.

    1. forthurst
      May 28, 2010

      The "lack of a plan" was the plan.

      It was reassuring to hear Dimbleby confirming that only the BBC decide who will speak on the QT panel. Ir was a pity though that he did not also confirm that the BBC plant questioners and audience members who are symathetic to their world view.

  22. Gaz
    May 28, 2010

    The whole thing was a setup, i couldnt watch more then a few minutes of it. The likes of Piers Morgan and Alistair Campbell attacking you like a pack of dogs was to much to watch.

    You have said yourself on this blog, you know the game that the BBC play. You were only asked to come on the show because they wanted to antagonise the coalition with planted questions about CGT.

    I understand why the government didnt put someone up, but it was still a bad move for them.

    If the government want to take the bbc down a peg or two, they need to do it in the background, do it through funding freezes and enforced impartiality.

    Never attack the BBC head on, because out there, this organisation which is often a vile propaganda wing of the Labour party, is respected and considered impartial.

  23. pipesmoker
    May 28, 2010

    Delighted to see you on Question Time John, a breath of fresh air.

    A simpleton like me saw through Blair in the run up to the war, Campbell fools no one but himself?

  24. forthurst
    May 28, 2010

    On Question Time, I was pleased to hear John Redwood's sincere and heartfelt contrition for his vote in support of the Iraq war. Had he known that Michael Howard, had met the 'ubiquitous Mr Perle' (Chris Patton's description) during his time here apparently to promote the Iraq war, a meeting disclosed in a TV news bulletin, and that he had met Richard Perle previously at a debate in New York on the 13th February 2003 in which in the Spartacus blog, it was reported, "Michael Howard, among others, emphasized that France and Germany do not speak for Europe on Iraq policy and that eighteen European states had publicly expressed their support for US policy. He also unreservedly praised Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair for his principled (and politically costly) stand in support of the US position on Iraq, while noting that it not in his own political interests to do so," he might have had a more circumspect view of just where his party's foreign policy was coming from. (It should be remembered that Michael Howard was Shadow Chancellor, not Shadow Foreign Secretary at the time.)

    Since I recall it also having been reported that David Milliband had spent leasure time in Israel with a relative who inhabited an illegal West Bank settlement, I can quite see how the Mandy Rice-Davis retort would apply in this case.

  25. Golden Swiro
    May 28, 2010

    I think it is lazy politics. It is much easier for the Eds to explain why they are against it than why they are for it. I think they still have to explain why they weren't more critical of the war at the time and why they have waited until now to come clean about their opinions. Is the Labour Party not prepared to have an open and frank discussion about an issue as important as the Iraq War? And if so, is this likely to change in the future?

    My personal opinion is that what is done is done. It is no good being against the Iraq War after the event. At the time I believed on balance that we were doing the right thing and I think that the people of Iraq are benefiting from the War.

  26. Anne Gibson
    May 28, 2010

    You done well on QT. Restrained and professional. You didn't take his bait. Question Time for the past 10 years has really gone downhill. It is trading on it's past glory when there was serious conversation by intelligent people. The audience is notably left-wing with many no doubt from Labour youth.

  27. David
    May 28, 2010

    Agree and the interesting thing for me was that Campbell used the phrase "post 9/11" in justifying the war on QT, just as did Richard Perle did this morning on "Today".

    The US population is still (amazingly) mostly convinced there was some significant link between Iraq & 9/11.

    Campbell knows better. He was being duplicitous-still! The man has no shame. It is a great pity the Tories do not have clean hands over this or you could have been even harder on him.
    "How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print."

    May 29, 2010

    We also watched QT and in the main agree with the above comments. Alistair Campbell has become a parody of himself and is incapable of rational debate. Whilst in a sense it's good policy for cabinet members to refuse to be on the same panel we hope that David Laws non-attendance has no connection with tonight's news on his expenses and domestic arrangements.
    Such a pity if this sidetracks his strong start at the Treasury (although his stand-in last night is fully capable of 'coming off the bench' again Mr Cameron!)

    As for Iraq we continue to be amazed that nobody openly seems to discuss the fruits of Mr Blair's (past career-ed) even now we know his earnings come mainly in US dollars to the tune of a (very large number of them-ed)!
    Surely this is worthy of debate and scrutiny without falling foul of libel lawyers.
    That topic might even leave (words left out) Mr Campbell speechless….

  29. Andrew Gately
    May 29, 2010

    Well done on your appearance on Question Time.

    It was an interesting show and obviously difficult with the rent a gob pair of Morgan and Campbell dominating the show.

    However when you were finally allowed to get a word in, you came across as very intelligent and a champion of the common good.

    I think even Morgan and Campbell appreciated this and probably the only negative was it showed how silly that Osbourne/Cameron/Cable policies actually are.

    Unfortunately CGT appears to have been sacrificed for the coalition by Cameron and Osbourne to appease Cable.

    I am now in no doubt that Cable will be first to go from the govt. (basically cause he is not very bright) but unfortunately there is a lot of people including the media who think the sun shines out his you know what.

    Nationalising Northern Rock was very stupid and the tactics used to steal Northern Rock shares from shareholders were an embarrassment and goes against the sense of fair play that makes up a large part of what it means to be British.

      May 29, 2010

      ANDREW…To give DC the benefit of the doubt we wonder whether it suits him to have a vociferous but respected backbench to argue the merits of traditional Conservative values and policies.
      He might then have to raise his hands to his coalition partners and say that for the overall good of the government some compromise is necessary? They are all politicians after all!

      Regarding St Vince we're coming to the same conclusion.

      On 12th May we blogged here.."And never to underestimate the influence of personal self-interest it’s clear that Messrs Cable & Campbell M are far likelier in the twilights of their political careers to land the posts of Chancellor and Foreign Secretary. Ummm…"

      only to retract our inclusion of Mr Cable a couple of days later.

      Our gut feeling since has been that we were probably right first time and we wonder if his diffidence is reflected by his standing aside as Lib-Dem deputy leader to make way for a 'leftie' in the shape of Simon Hughes to argue from the traditional Lib-Dem stance? Many regular contributors here have always felt Vince to be flakey when it came to grown-up economics and the bookies may not be wrong in their predictions.

      As we said last night (see above) in the face of David Laws current difficulty DC has a first-rate substitute on the bench ready to fill either the Chief Secretary's or Business Secretary's position – preferably the latter perhaps given his hard-headed but always constructive comments here.

  30. backofanenvelope
    May 29, 2010

    The front page of the Telegraph this morning shows what the BBC was up to. They would have liked to ambush David Laws.

  31. Diane
    May 29, 2010

    What about the BBC (helping? ed – unsubstantiated allegation made ) the Labour Party? About as independant and unbiassed as Campbell is!

    If this is not a misuse of Licence fee, what is?

    1. Keith McBurney
      May 31, 2010

      Diane, excuse my ignorance, but please provide a link to substantiate your seemingly rhetorical query about the BBC making donations to the Labour Party.

  32. labour supporter
    May 29, 2010

    Oh please do you really think Labour's finished? We will unite and stand, Mr Cameron did not replay 97 and it looks like he never will. When the labour party starts worrying about John Redwood's problems is the day that we all have a con,lib,lab karaoke competition. Better not ask John to go first.

  33. Rich
    June 1, 2010

    I normally like Dimbleby, but recently I've thought he's been dreadful at controlling the debate.

    Not sure if it is a coincidence, but ever since the "BNP episode" of Question Time, the audiences have been crammed with Labour sympathisers. From personal experience, I know they do allow some party activists in the audience, but it has got out of hand. Some of it depends on the location ("London audiences" tend to be more ethnically/culturally "diverse" and "pro-Labour") but I wonder how much of it is due to the BBC trying to be politically correct and pander to leftist sentiment to make up for allowing the BNP on?

    I normally see far too much shouting and jeering of speakers who dare express something parts of the audience don't agree with (or rude, ridiculous nad ignorant interruptions from the likes of Medhi Hasan the week before), but Campbell appeared to be given as much time as he wanted to make excuses for the Iraq War. I thought the spat with Morgan was interesting, but ultimately irrelevant, as I'd suggest one of the reasons Morgan and the Mirror opposed the war was to carve a niche and grab the headlines (and indeed make them up as he did in 2004). For those two to be given 10 minutes to have a 2-way conversation was a waste of time as we didn't learn anything we didn't already know:- Campbell stands by the war, despite the overwhleming evidence suggesting it was an unwise decision and Morgan appeared more bothered about getting a good audience reaction.

    The only thing I'd say for Campbell is at least he is consistent. Labour can tear itself apart over Iraq all it likes, but for Balls and Milliband to all start saying they actually opposed the war is hypocrisy and cynical leadership maneouvering, nothing more.

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