The leadership contest for New Labour is heating up and the major candidates are battling it out to present themselves as a genuine break from the past. The problem is, the most visible candidate, David Miliband, is stuck on one particular issue that threatens to define his candidacy at the expense of everything else he stands for.
The vote to go to war in Iraq was supported by Miliband, who now believes it was a mistake and wants voters to ‘move on’ from the decision because he has been ‘punished enough’. Fringe contender Andy Burnham has stood by his decision to support the war, and the other two more politically viable candidates are now claiming they believed the war was the wrong thing to do. But given Ed Balls and Ed Miliband were not in parliament at the time and did not make their view known to anyone, it doesn’t really mean much.
The only candidate to have genuinely opposed the war is Diane Abbot, but as another long shot to win the contest, Labour is only really left with a trio with highly dubious credentials on a defining example of their judgment. Gary Younge of the Guardian pinpoints why this particular issue is so important:
That many of us who opposed the war and still oppose the occupation find this problematic is no surprise. It was the most defining personal political choice of the decade and, ethically speaking, not a remotely tough call. The fact that it was illegal adds judicial finality to a moment of moral clarity; but even within the law, it would have been wrong. The ramifications were not only predictable but predicted. Hundreds of thousands murdered, even more displaced, the unleashing of sectarian violence. Getting that wrong speaks to a major, murderous error of judgment.
In my opinion, politicians who had access to all the information who supported the Iraq war were one of two things: Either dangerously stupid, or spineless liars. While the public can be forgiven for believing the carefully orchastrated fear campaign led by Tony Blair and George Bush, those in the know have no excuse.
I managed to figure out that Saddam Hussein could not possibly be a threat to the West when I found out that 1. Kuwait did not regard Iraq as a threat to anyone (and Saddam had invaded them 10 years earlier). 2. Their annual military budget was about as much as the US spends in half a day, and 3. There was no evidence that they had WMDs.
It didn’t take a lot of time to research the issue, but for anyone with a mild interest in history and a desire to seek facts before sending our soldiers to die could have done it in relatively short time. I don’t begrudge my friends (and family) who believed the government hype, because fear is a powerful tool of coercion. But I do question their judgment and would never take their opinion as seriously again should another potential war arise. And as for the politicians who had access to all the information humanly possible and still voted on the war, I believe they should either be banned from political life forever on the grounds of extreme incompetence, or in prison.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.