Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Short's Measure

British Spin asks why Clare Short is agin a war in Iraq when she was so hot for one on Serbia. For those of us who were derided as the next best thing to Nazis for our opposition to the war on Serbia, Short's apparent about face has been puzzling, to say the least. Indeed Alice Mahon, the grand dame of Labour peaceniks was positively scathing on the subject of Clare Short before the furore began, saying that she "expected nothing" of Short and never had. Now that's a woman who still remembers Short's comments.

I would suggest these reasons for Short's seeming volte face:

First there's the idea that Short isn't going to get any further under Blair and so she's looking for a place in the history books. Either she's the figurehead of a rebellion or she goes further under a Brown premiership. The same reason Blair's taking us into the Euro, not a selfish desire for power but not made in pure public spirit either.

Then there's the strange currents of the "Anglosphere". Labour has long had close links with the Democrats, going back to at least Kennedy - probably further. Two generations of links make for a lot of partisanship. So while they see Democrats as allies, they do not feel a strong enough bond with America as a whole to stick with it through thick and thin. So when they see a redneck evangelical Christian Republican in the White House they feel not only indifference, but loathing. Many, many activists in the Labour Party seem to have reacted in a way to the Iraq war that they would not have if Gore were in charge. Clare Short is only the most senior of them.

Of course one should not forget her Irish republican family background. She treats her republicanism in the same way as her Catholicism, formally renounced and privately critical (although more critical of priests than terrorists) but with an attachment that outsiders would find indecent. So the link between the Palestinians and the Ulster Catholics is strong in Ms Short's mind, as is the parrallel with the Kosovo Albanians - hence opponents were near to Nazis.

Finally there's the fondness for Saddam. Not Saddam himself, but the ideal of Arab secularism. Most left wingers (indeed many right wingers) are secularists of a rather crude bent. While right wing secularists may wish to de-deify the Arabs by imposing Westernism through American arms and McDonalds, left wingers worship indigineous Arab secularists such as Sadat and Arafat. Saddam may be less popular, but he is still recognisably from the secular arab nationalist mould, no matter how many mosques he's building at the moment. Of course secularism is failing, as it will in every society (atheism is to society as crack abuse is to individuals, it may spread quickly but you won't keep society functioning at any meaningful level). However, while the secularists are around a substantial proportion of leftwing opinion (George Galloway is probably the best example of this) will be cheering for them.

There may be other reasons for Clare Short's inconsistency, but these are probably the main ones. In various forms they may supply the reason for the inconsistency of the majority of the Labour soft left on this war and the Kosovo one.


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