Labour’s gutless complacency: a collective failure

by Stephen Tall on November 1, 2006

I guess it’s kind of impressive – every time you think the Labour Government can’t sink lower they plumb a new depth.

I’m hard-pressed to know in whom I hold most contempt. It could be the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett (I still find that four-word sequence ludicrously far-fetched) who argued that a review of the Government’s catastrophic failure of leadership in Iraq would send “the wrong signal”:

“our words… will be heard a very long way away. They can be heard by our troops who are already in great danger in Iraq”.

This can be termed the ‘Dick Cheney defence’ – that somehow to criticise the Government undermines our troops and is, by definition, unpatriotic. The argument might have more validity had Mrs Beckett or any of her cabinet colleagues (bar two) understood their duty to challenge the evidence on which the war was predicated before voting to send British soldiers and Iraqi civilians to their deaths.

The idea that those who voted against the war – the Lib Dems and Nationalist MPs – are the ones now putting the lives of troops in danger is monumentally crass.

But at least Mrs Beckett can claim to be bound by collective responsibility. Backbench Labour MPs who chose not to back today’s motion have no such excuse: only 12 of them thought that the largest foreign policy failure since Suez might merit a Parliamentary inquiry to find out how so many of those in government – elected politicians and unelected advisors – could have committed such a tragic misjudgement.

The rest proved themselves to be either spectacularly supine (continuing their sworn fealty to this Government) or tediously tribal (vetoing the motion not because they disagreed with it, but because they disliked those arguing for it).

Their gutless complacency deserves to reap its reward at the next election.

Presiding over all this is Tony Blair, whose hold on power splutters like a candle in a draught. There are some who continue to argue that Mr Blair is a strong Prime Minister, that ‘sticking to his guns’ on Iraq proves his leadership credentials. They are wrong, confusing strength of judgement with stubborn obstinacy. True leadership requires making the right calls, and understanding how to take people with you.

Mr Blair got the biggest decision of his premiership wrong, and now is forced to cling to the wreckage of his reputation. He supported the invasion of the one member of the ‘Axis of Evil’ without WMD or imminent nuclear capability. As a result, the global community is ham-strung in dealing with either Iran or North Korea, both of which pose a greater threat to British national security than a contained Iraq did.

Mr Blair and the Labour Government have left Britain’s international reputation in tatters and committed our troops to an unwinnable war with scant regard to an exit strategy. Our country is less safe as a direct result of their actions. There can be no more serious indictment than that.