Labour infighting

The invasion of Iraq was a turning point for the Labour Government and for its supporters. For some Labour members it is a symbol of all that was wrong with Tony Blair as PM and Labour politician. We should not be fighting amongst ourselves. We should not first criticise the last Labour government, but the Tories’ ideological devastation of government’s acts for the good of the people, and ideological campaign against international co-operation. So the question for this Corbynist pacifist is, can you defend the Iraq War? Yes.

Trying to set aside hindsight, I argue R2P, the Responsibility to Protect, could be an argument for the invasion. Saddam Hussein’s regime was uniquely vile. His campaign against the Kurds has been recognised as the Anfal Genocide, which included the Halabja chemical attack. There was also the British alliance with the US, which advanced British interests. There is less justification from the US point of view- Saudis based in Afghanistan attack the US, so the US invades Iraq. I wonder how accurate a portrait of Bush Benjamin Hayes in Homeland series 8 is.

As a pacifist I would rather Britain had taken a principled stand against invasion, in the UN Security Council. Neo-colonial wars do no-one any good. And I recognise the idealism as well as realpolitik behind British involvement. Hindsight can show decisions were wrong which were made in good faith. Even the Dodgy Dossier, selecting what intelligence to reveal by whether it supported the case for war, rather than by how reliable it was, is justifiable. Experts tell the truth, and politicians decide, then politicians persuade.

So let us now praise good government: Attlee’s welfare state, Wilson’s liberalisation including the Abortion Act and the Sexual Offences Act, Callaghan as a “strong and efficient administrator” weathering economic difficulties, Blair’s Sure Start Centres and work to reduce child poverty, and Brown’s strong action mitigating the 2008 recession, among many other things. And let us remember the Tories- Suez, “selling off the family silver” for far less than its value, the great distraction from Britain’s real interests that is the Brexit debate, and now the botched response to Covid resulting in possibly more deaths here than anywhere else in Europe, and all the money Rees-Mogg and others are making from Covid market disruption. And always the cuts and mismanagement of public services, and failure to deal with climate crisis. Johnson’s view of public money- the Garden Bridge when Mayor, now HS2- is, spaff it everywhere except where it will do any good.

We have to stick together. We have to get behind Keir Starmer. It would have been better if we had got behind Jeremy Corbyn, rather than having the botched challenge to his leadership in 2016. Much of what Mr Starmer pledges is out of Corbyn’s policy: Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system. I am proud of the call for migrants’ rights. Corbyn and the membership moved the party leftwards.

That is why people on the right of the party calling for party unity now should be heard. Yes they were the schismatics undermining the leadership, allied to those leaving the party last year, but the policies they now support are close to the policies from the manifesto. Now Corbyn is out, and Rebecca Long-Bailey is shadow Education secretary rather than Leader of the Opposition, some on the “We Support Rebecca Long-Bailey” facebook group are saying they are leaving the party. At membership level, canvassing is far more important than going to meetings. Reading those self-righteous posts, I was struck by the nastiness of some on the Left, wanting to be saints of their own tiny sect rather than members of a governing party.

I would rather Britain had not invaded Iraq, but I am not going to use the war as a purity test. Many in Parliament now, even in the Cabinet or Shadow-Cabinet, were not there in 2003. Move on, and don’t do down Labour governments. Photo by Ruth Gaston.

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