Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Blair's Pious Rhetoric Is Not Going to Placate the Traditionalists in the Labour Party

Magazine article The Spectator

Mr Blair's Pious Rhetoric Is Not Going to Placate the Traditionalists in the Labour Party

Article excerpt

In every conservative breast beats an instinctive sympathy for lost causes. It is this that directs one's attention to, and almost makes one shed a tear for, the Labour party. For this once great institution, the means by which for almost a century the working class found its voice in politics, finds itself about to be mugged yet again by the impostor who has taken control of it. 'Impostor' may seem a provocative word to use about Tony Blair, but it accurately describes how he is seen by millions of traditional Labour supporters, for whom he is no better than a Tory stooge. He has succeeded in politics not merely by treating them with contempt, but by being seen to treat them with contempt; and there is every sign that he is about to repeat the manoeuvre.

For on the question of Iraq, Mr Blair faces a choice of either siding with the Americans or with the anti-American, anticolonialist and pacifist instincts of his own party. In making this decision, he needs to reach only one judgment: will the Americans win? Will they rout Saddam Hussein? And, though there is always a degree of uncertainty about any war, the strong likelihood is that they will. The fighting will be as one-sided as in the Gulf war, and this time the Iraqi tyrant will perish. One of the great Arab grievances against Washington, namely that it had Saddam within its grasp yet allowed him to go on massacring his own people, will have been removed, and so will one of the gravest threats to Israel, perhaps opening the way to an American-imposed peace. But whether or not wider and more durable blessings flow, there will be dancing for an hour or two in the streets of Baghdad, and the opening of Saddam's torture chambers will make it impossible to imagine that it was wrong to overthrow him. To ask Mr Blair to refuse his share of the credit for this victory would be like expecting Winniethe-Pooh to turn down a pot of honey.

Labour opponents of the war do not see events unfolding like that. For them, an American and even a British disaster would be a very wonderful thing. They are in the uncomfortable position of people with a vested interest in bad news. Denis Healey - not a particularly left-wing figure -- assured us that the Gulf war would be a disaster. More recently, the Taleban let down their allies in the Labour party by fleeing Kabul under cover of night and allowing John Simpson to take the city in time for the Today programme. But hope springs eternal in the Labour pessimist's breast. Perhaps this time Mr Blair and his American friends will get it all wrong.

Even among the Blairites there is a fitting degree of nervousness that their brilliant careers could founder amid the desert sands. Some of them try to convince themselves, on the basis of hints dropped during their last visit to the American Embassy, that no `full-scale' invasion of Iraq is in prospect. Let us assume, however, that the Americans go in on whatever scale is needed to finish the job, with the result that Mr Blair is seen once more to have backed a winner. Then even the ranks of Iain Duncan Smith will scarce forbear to cheer, and Mr Blair's belief that he can take his own party for granted will seem to have been vindicated in the most striking way.

This will be a dangerous lesson for him, for his habit of taking people for granted is one of his most objectionable characteristics. …

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