From David Aaronovitch’s last column for the Guardian’s G2 section:
Since I decided, in January 2003, that if Iraq was invaded I would not oppose it, I have had the almost astral experience of finding myself excommunicated from the movement, sometimes by fellow journalists who I know do not possess a political bone in their entire bodies.
All of a sudden I began to experience the left from the outside. And the first thing that struck me was its capacity for smug certainty and uniformity of response. Look at the cartoonists, whose work trumps debate. You may have Blair the poodle, Blair with blood-stained hands, Blair the liar, Bush the absurd chimp, but never, ever, Galloway the consort of tyrants or Kennedy the comforter of “insurgents”. Look at the millionaire publisher Felix Dennis, who read out a poem on the Today programme in the middle of the election (a poem, incidentally, written more than a year earlier). “Why do they do it? Why do they do it? Why do they stand on their hind legs, Lying and lying and lying and lying?” This was, he explained, aimed mostly at Blair for having lied. He wasn’t challenged.
It was beyond argument. Dennis, I’d guess, had never been challenged. Not by the researcher, the producer, the editor, his pals, not by anyone. Like a lot of middle-class anti-Blairites, I don’t think he had ever heard the contrary case put. During the election people wrote to this newspaper saying that they hadn’t met a single person who was voting Labour.
And it doesn’t matter what is proved to have happened. Hutton? Butler? The attorney general’s advice? Never mind what they actually say – that intelligence did judge that Saddam possessed WMDs, that the attorney general did advise that the war was probably legal – the cartoonists tell you that Blair is a liar, the comedians tell you that Blair is a liar, so he’s a liar.
I suspect quite a few of us here know what Aaronovitch means about experiencing the left from the outside – it has been a very revealing couple of years since we were all ‘excommunicated’.
It should have been clear from the moment that Tony Benn did his infamous PR piece for Channel Four with Saddam Hussein that the old loyalties and toleration of differences on the left were going to be strained to breaking point. A man who, despite his many faults, was respected as an elder statesman of parliament even by many Tories, a supporter of a hundred good causes, sold out to Saddam.
The Guardian a newspaper which, despite all its mockable silliness, always felt like the house journal of the liberal left – where you could be sure to find support for those good causes – became, at best, indifferent to the cause of Iraqi democrats and even allowed its pages to be occupied by fans of the murderous gangs of the Iraqi far-right.
Aaronovitch was a fairly isolated voice of the pro-Iraq democracy camp in the Guardian. I found his columns a real boost and I suspect I won’t be the only reader here who thinks the Guardian is weakened by his departure.