Last week I criticised Liberal Democrat deputy leader Menzies Campbell for airbrushing Iraqis out of his view of the war. But thanks to David Boothroyd in the comments boxes here, I realise I missed out on an important aspect of Campbell’s contribution. Allow me to correct that now.
Campbell’s article in the Observer kickstarted a week in which the Lib Dems and their sympathisers and allies in the media refocused the election campaign on trying to prove Tony Blair lied. As we now all know, they utterly failed in that task.
Campbell, unlike the Tories didn’t use the ‘L word’ he preferred to put it like this:
On the doorstep, people are blunt. Parliamentary convention forbids Members of Parliament from accusing the Prime Minister in the House of Commons of lying. But there is no such restraint on the public.
Did the Prime Minister lie to us? Only he knows what he believed to be true. Only he can answer that question. Never underestimate the capacity of the politician to convince himself that he is right, even when the facts do not support the case.
Clear enough? Well he is a politician well trained in astute use of language. So lets look at the language he has used over Iraq.
Whatever you think of the way Blair handled the case for the war (and if the media and the opposition weren’t so obsessed with the futile pursuit of trying to get the ‘L’ Plate stuck on the PM they might have made some more telling criticisms) there can surely be little doubt that he was consistent. Blair’s message has been: Saddam was a threat, he failed to co-operate, he had to go.
But what about Menzies Campbell and the Liberal Democrats. How consistent have they been?
Last week Campbell wrote:
The facts are undeniable. We were taken to war on a flawed prospectus. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There was no serious and current threat, no real and present danger that could justify a war of self defence under international law or the UN Charter.
Yet when Blair was making the case about the threat that Saddam posed, when it really mattered, Menzies Campbell had a rather diffent view of WMD:
We can all agree—it has already been a measure of the debate—that Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant with no regard for the sanctity of human life, for either his own citizens or the people of other countries. We all agree that he is in flagrant breach of a series of UN resolutions, and in particular those relating to his duty to allow the inspection, and indeed participate in the destruction, of his weapons of mass destruction. We can also agree that he most certainly has chemical and biological weapons and is working towards a nuclear capability. The dossier contains confirmation of information that we either knew or most certainly should have been willing to assume.
Source Hansard, Parliamentry debate, Sept 24, 2004.
And, in the same speech, on the question of the legality or otherwise of military action, Campbell said:
It may well be true that, legally, no new Security Council resolutions are required for the resumption of inspections. It may well be true that, legally, no new resolution is required for the use of force to implement resolution 687. Indeed, the existence of that authority was the only possible legal foundation for the actions taken in December 1998. However, I have no doubt that, from a political and a diplomatic point of view, a new United Nations resolution is essential.
Yet now in the Observer, Campbell said simply: Regime change was as illegal in 2003 under Article 2 of the UN charter as it would have been in the Gulf War of 1991.
The Liberal Democrats have been the most vocal defenders of the supremacy of the United Nations during the past two years of debates, often pitching their opposition to the war as a defence of the UN.
Yet back in that parliamentry debate, Menzies Campbell said:
We must remember that the United Nations is not some third party to whom we have subcontracted our security responsibilities. It is no more and no less than the sum of its members.
Campbell’s speech in parliament opposed military action without a second resolution from the UN and he held to that position. But it is certainly instructive to note the changes in language and emphasis over the past two years from a man who believed, exactly like those he now labels liars, that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons and was working towards a nuclear capability.