Friday, June 06, 2003
Free Life Commentary
Issue Number 106
Thursday, 5 June 2003
This article and many replies to it will be published in the next issue of Free Life Magazine:

How Much Longer Must We Endure Tony Blair?
By Sean Gabb

Gloating over the misfortunes of another is best avoided - except, of course, if that other happens to be Tony Blair. It seems for now that he is in deep and inescapable trouble over the war with Iraq. As I hoped, the coalition of interests that supported him in going to war has dissolved. The glow of patriotism that attended the war has also faded. If Mr Blair ever imagined that capturing Basra would do for him what retaking the Falkland Islands did for Margaret Thatcher, he must now be sadly disappointed.

His apparent problem is the inability to find the “weapons of mass destruction” that he used to justify our going to war. He swore blind before the fighting began that these existed, and none has been found. It is not enough to hold up a few shell cases that might have contained chemical weapons, or to point at a few vans that might have been used for producing biological weapons. We were not told that the Iraqis had once used such weapons on the field of battle, and that this was a beastly thing, or that they might want to use them again locally. We were told that their government had weapons capable of being deployed over long distances against civilian targets. And unless we are to reduce it to nonsense, that is what the phrase “weapons of mass destruction” must mean. None has been found. None of the captured officials and scientists has yet said other than that there were no weapons. Certainly, none was ever used. The Iraqis had good warning that their country was to be invaded, and the routes that the invasion would take. It is hard to imagine that they would not at least have positioned all the weapons they had, even if they had no time to use them. But nothing has been found.

Not surprisingly, Mr Blair is now accused of having lied to us. Had the coalition that supported him in the war remained in being, this might not be so important. Mr Bush is open to the same accusations, but has not so far suffered the same damage. The problem for Mr Blair is that many of those who supported him in the war did so for their own reasons, and had no general reason for liking him. Some wanted the overthrow of a bloody tyranny - arguing that we had the duty to do this because we had the power to do it. Some wanted the destruction of one of Israel’s most implacable enemies. Some wanted to see a breach with the European Union by moving Britain more firmly into an American orbit. Some wanted all of these and perhaps other things beside. These now have what they wanted, and the means to their end has now served his purpose. Their reasons for loathing him before the crisis have re-emerged, and he is dispensable.

If I hated the man less than I do, I might object to the gross hypocrisy of many of my friends. But I do not object. I had coffee with one of them yesterday afternoon. A man of great intelligence, and professionally skilled in the detection of falsehood, he supported the war without believing for a moment in the weapons of mass destruction. But he lit up and took a drag on one of his horrid cigars and rehearsed with a cynical grin his new position on the war.

“I believed Tony Blair” he said. “What else was I to do? He stood up in the House of Commons and assured Parliament and the British people that Saddam Hussein was a clear and present danger to us all. He said he had solid evidence for this provided by the security services. British Prime Ministers do not lie - at least not openly and with so little equivocation. I had to believe him, and I thought people like you were blinded by simple hatred. I now realise that I was wrong. Mr Blair lied to us. He lied us into a war that might have gone very much worse than it did. He lied us into this, and now he is lying us into a European federal state”.

This is the line also taken by the Conservative Party and by the conservative media. And what better start for the renewed debate over European integration than to paint its most committed and most powerful supporter as a liar on an issue where no doubt can exist - and on an issue where most supporters of integration opposed him? It opens him to simultaneous attack from both sides. It also allows the Conservatives to demolish his case for the European Constitution while avoiding what to them would be the unwelcome resort of discussing actual withdrawal from the European Union. Of those now calling for a public inquiry into the intelligence reports I doubt if a tenth ever believed them to be true. Their indignation is an excuse, though it is undoubtedly a very good one.

So our politics have made yet another of their strange shifts in this age of disintegrating party loyalties. And I am for now content. Both before and during the war, I hoped Mr Blair would gain no advantage from his vain and murderous policy. I hoped that he would soon be driven from office, and that his evident desire to be remembered as a great Prime Minister would be utterly frustrated.

It is too early to say that what I hoped is really coming to pass. Perhaps he will survive this crisis. But surviving is not the same as flourishing, and I cannot see how his reputation will recover. From now until he eventually does leave office, he will be a perceptibly weakened leader. He will never again have his way so easily. I shall celebrate with a long and indecent and perhaps unreadable gloat if he resigns tomorrow. Better still, though, might be another year for him in office. That would give him time enough to know what was fear and bitterness and the paranoia of one who knows he is conspired against and can do nothing about it - and would give him time enough to appreciate exactly how he will be remembered in the histories of the future.

Yes - I am for now content.
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Sean Gabb, author of the above article, declares that it may be reproduced in any form, on condition that it is reproduced in full, accurately and without any distortions of meaning; and on condition that if he would under normal circumstances have been paid a fee, he shall be paid the full going rate for the work, whenever it is reproduced.


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