Why the right is not beating the patriotic drum for war

WHEN THE distinguished broadcaster Peter Snow remarked during the Falklands war that while it couldn't be proved that the British Government was lying about the progress of the war, it certainly could be proved that the Argentinians were, there was a massive outcry. The second and more substantive part of his sentence was simply ignored as The Sun and the rest of the cheerleading press got stuck into him for rank treachery. The merest suggestion that the BBC might carry criticisms of the war effort, or question the truthfulness of its presentation, was considered by the Thatcherite sections of the press - ie most of it - as capitally unpatriotic.

We should be deeply thankful that this isn't happening now. The fact that there is vigorous debate about the war - it can't be said too often - is what helps to contrast the media and political process here with that in Serbia, where dissent has been either suborned in the name of patriotism or, in the case of the independent radio stations and press, suppressed.

In fact the contrast between then and now could hardly be more striking. Of course then, as now, elements of the left were publicly opposed to the war, and therefore, by extension, to the strongly supportive line taken by Michael Foot as leader of the Labour Party. What has changed, however, is the vigour and freedom with which politicians, distinguished and recently retired military men, and pundits who would describe themselves as anything but pacifists, believe it their national duty to savage not only the conduct but, in many cases, also the basic premiss on which the war in the Balkans is being conducted.

The question is why opinion in general and establishment opinion in particular is so openly divided in a way it wasn't during the Falklands war. Because the Falklands operation was militarily successful, and credited with sealing Margaret Thatcher's election victory in 1983, it seems in hindsight to have been impossible to challenge. But it wasn't like that at the time. There were prominent members of the government who would have preferred the negotiated route proffered through the UN.

Nor did it then seem unquestionably the case that it was worth risking the lives of British soldiers to maintain our historically much-disputed sovereignty over some islands on the other side of the world, just because the inhabitants were culturally and linguistically English (and not because they had any reason to expect the kind of "ethnic cleansing" that is happening in Kosovo). I can remember a British diplomat telling me after the war was over that he had resolved to resign on grounds of conscience if the number of deaths of British servicemen had exceeded the number of Falkland islanders.

No, the explanation cannot be located in the justice or obviousness of the cause. An alternative suggestion, as it happens, is hinted at obliquely in the article written by Tony Blair which appears in today's issue of Newsweek. In passing, the Prime Minister remarks that the "usual barrage of criticism" is coming - "sometimes" from "people who... find it hard to come to terms with the fact that there is a new generation of leaders ... who hail from the progressive side of politics but who are prepared to be as firm as any of our predecessors right or left in seeing this through".

This is a large - and controversial - claim: that it is because the governments pursuing the war are from the centre left, or as Mr Blair puts it "the progressive side of politics", that they are being so strongly criticised. It is certainly striking that the weightiest participants - the US, Britain, and, at least in respect of its Prime Minister and government rather than its President, France - have (just) left-of-centre administrations. So does Germany, the participant most remarkable for its firmness - if only because of its long and self-imposed abstention from military conflict.

Controversial Blair's claim may be; baseless it surely isn't. It is striking that the most savage British critics, particularly in the press, have tended to be on the right, including the usually jingoistic Daily Mail as well as some who can usually be relied upon, like the Spectator's Bruce Anderson, to be loyal to the Tory leadership, more or less whoever it is. Moreover, while William Hague has firmly declared his backing for the Government, his senior spokesmen have not exactly been touring the studios in the past fortnight beating the drum for the British war effort. Nor, necessarily, should they. It's just that the critics of the war, sullen or overt, would be much more vilified if they were on the left attacking a right-wing government.

It is legitimate for all the armchair infantry generals to insist on a ground war (Mr Blair repeats in his article that while this is not a "plan" all options are continually reviewed), though they should accept that, ground troops or not, bombing was always a necessary preliminary, just as it was in the Gulf. Moreover the Government's honourable critics, such as Lord Carrington or the war historian and MP Alan Clark, would certainly be criticising the Nato action whether the Government were Labour or Tory. But in others it is easy to detect a feeling that while it may be OK for a Labour government now and then to invent an NHS or do something about unemployment, they just aren't up to big, grown-up, military interventions. Some of this criticism stems from a wilful failure to accept that democratic governments of the left, as well as of the right, are capable of doing what all governments have to do from time to time.

There are several reasons for this hostility. One is that the concept of a just war, despite a pedigree that takes it back to Aquinas, is more difficult to accept on the right, which tends to believe that wars should be either defensive or nakedly self-interested. Another is a less attractive but stubbornly instinctive belief that ignores Labour's role in the wartime coalition and persists in believing that Tories are patriots in a way that Labour politicians just can't be.

Curiously, for all that she was a divisive, tribal figure in office, I doubt that the victor of the Falklands, Lady Thatcher holds this view. In an article in The Daily Telegraph last week, her long-time foreign affairs private secretary Sir Charles Powell drew an interesting contrast between the wide and firm coalition of support that backed the government not only in the Falklands but in the Gulf, and the widespread criticisms now. He said that the Americans also had over-optimistic expectations in the Gulf of how swiftly an air war would dislodge Saddam Hussein. And he pointed out eloquently that 19 democracies are now acting in unison in pursuit of the "fundamentally decent" aim of persuading Milosevic to pull out of Kosovo, and that if their will is not "eroded from inside", they will prevail.

Sir Charles's old boss has not so far pronounced publicly on the war. If she were to do so, it might just discomfit some of her disciples who are now wringing their hands.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture