Monday, October 04, 2004

Howard's Shift

So did you see it?

It must be the longest shift in position since Disraeli decided that he actually rather liked Free Trade. And it's still going on.

It seems that Michael Howard is slowly tacking to a 180 degree U-Turn on the war. It's a careful operation which is only generating medium level headlines but there is a gradual move, nuance by nuance, to put the Conservative Party as the antiwar party after the war.
Oh if they had only listened to us! A few sceptical comments before the war would have them in prime position now. Instead they made themselves irrelevant by their wholehearted support of the war. Pro war voters would vote for Blair anyway when any antiwar backlash could have been theirs for the taking. Of course if the war had been popular then the sceptical comments could be reinterpreted as pro rather than antiwar comments.

People forget but Kinnock did a similar thing with Iraq in the early nineties. Yes, he did have more strident antiwar spokesmen resigning because of his perceived softness, on the other hand his front bench hedged their bets. That time the war went well and was it an election issue despite a more sceptical opposition? This is even more remarkable when one remembers that the 1987 election had seen Kinnock "kebabbed" by the Labour Party's espousal of unilateral disarmament.

Although not directly relevant because of the more decentralised nature of the American opposition, the American example after the first Gulf war, when a succesful war president actually lost in 1992, once again showed the limits of gratitude in democracies.

However smugly saying I told you so is not much use except to the ego.
The continued British involvement in the occupation of Iraq is so plainly against the national interest that only the sort of person who thinks that Portillo would make a decent Prime Minister can't see it. It's also a vote winner, and not just among Muslims.
We have already seen a worthless government being re-elected in Germany and a moderately decent government falling in Spain. These otherwise underserved election results can be put at the door of the parties' attitude towards the Iraq war.

We similarly see an unpopular government over here on course for an election victory. Whatever pro-Americans in the Conservative Party may long for, the party will only stand a prayer in the next election if it can convincingly make the case against the war.

Now this may be derailed by a Brown accession (despite the recent threat to carry on for another term, I think it is seriously doubtful that Blair wishes to endanger his place in history and his family's welfare with that term) or a robust fightback from Atlanticists, but there is a plan to win. It is up to the Tories to decide if they want to win or just to play the game.


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