In our first, Reader’s View, regular Harry’s Place commenter Richard, says it is time for a hard-headed decision on the future of Tony Blair. “Even if you believe him to have been right all along it is time to at least question if he is not now a liability.”
In the past year there have been a growing number of people in the Labour Party and elsewhere who have begun to ask the question whether Blair remains an asset to the Labour Party or has become an electoral liability. This speculation is not coming from ‘the usual suspects’ but in many cases from those who recognise all that he has achieved and are even instinctively loathe to contemplate his removal.
However they have come to the grim realisation that electoral politics is now becoming important in this country again and the fact that, with the added issue that his ‘reform’ programme is in trouble for many number of diverse reasons, no one man is more important than the future of the party as a whole.
The way the war debate has developed over the past few weeks should, in my opinion, give serious cause for the same questions to be asked by those who advocated and continue to support the Iraq war (and even those who do not even see fault in any of Blair’s conduct of it and the surrounding issues).
The first point to be made is that it has become clear that support for the war and support for Blair are becoming closer and closer correlated among large sections of society. I expressed my frustrations at this in a thread the other day, when I complained that it was becoming impossible to raise concerns, as a war supporter, about Blair without being portrayed from both sides as either ‘anti-war’ or, once your position on the war is realised, as ‘opportunistic’, with the whole thing descending into the usual slanging match – sadly the thread mentioned demonstrated this admirably. This is extending out from the narrow issues concerning Iraq and poisoning the whole political process – for example it has become a mantra expressed across whole sections of pro-war (pro-Blair?) opinion that the near defeat of the top-up fees bill had as much to do with anti-war, and by extension anti-Blair, sentiment as any criticisms of the bill itself.
This is important precisely because it is in general not true. If Blair supporter continue to tell people that they are only taking their political positions because of the war then they will ultimately tire of objecting to this misapprehension and accept it. If the only way to oppose Blair is to come to the view that the war was wrong then ‘anti-war’ they will become. It takes no great leap to do this since the war is in the past (and anyway there is a fair chance that they opposed the war at some point previously – large majorities of the country allegedly did).
War supporters should come to the recognition that, in this context, support for the war has probably peaked. Bar some miraculous discovery of WMD stockpiles in the Iraqi desert the public are probably in possession of all the relevant facts and arguments they want and are not going to dramatically change their minds. The only variable left is trust in Blair (as opposed to trust in the Government as a whole which I believe could be recovered if Blair went, such is the legacy of his Presidential style [incidentally a powerful justification for Presidential as opposed to collegiate government; it is much easier for parties to recover public trust like the Tories did after Thatcher, but failed to after Major similarly with Labour after Callaghan but that is another debate]).
It is hard to see, conversely, how trust in Blair is going to recover to any great extent (combating threats as he is from so many different angles) so support for the war can expect a general downward trend due to reasons outlined above.
It is not yet too late. Polls show that support for the war is still running considerably higher than support for Blair. He can probably still be removed from the equation without it fatally inflicting damage on the cause as a whole, especially as the main alternatives to him at the moment consist of pro-war, pro-American leaders – in fact they would probably give the pro-warriors a boost by returning some of the lost trust to some extent – they would be able to separate the issues of why we went to war to the validity of the war itself, something polls show the public are eager to do.
Blair was once (and still is in many respects) the war’s most powerful advocate and certainly had a crucial voice in persuading much of America if not ever having quite the same effect here. But that is not what is most important any more – there are very few arguments left to be made that have not been made ad nauseam before. Even if you believe him to have been right all along it is time to at least question if he is not now a liability.
Democracy has no space for sentiment and gratitude (cf. the Liberals in 1918 and even more so Churchill and the Conservatives in 1945). Pro-warriors should not let sentiment and gratitude blind them either.