Adrian Hamilton: Don't let Libya distract us from what Blair did

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The Independent Online

A terrible thought has struck me. Could the excitement over the war in Libya serve to make Tony Blair look less awful and deprive the Chilcot inquiry of what little sting it may have when it finally publishes later this year?

Of course the Government, and the many MPs who supported military intervention, argue that this time is different, that they have learnt the lessons of Iraq, sought proper UN sanction and eschewed action on the ground.

But that's not the point. We're back to all the high moral stances and jingoism of "humanitarian intervention". My fear is that, after all this, the appetite for finally pinioning Tony Blair as the man who wrongly took us to war in Iraq and sold all principle and dignity in grovelling to Colonel Gaddafi will be dissipated.

Not that the Chilcot inquiry has that intention. Just the opposite. It is a classic establishment exercise in playing a potentially explosive ball into the long grass of prolonged hearings, conformist members and restricted terms of reference.

While carefully avoiding the blame game, however, the inquiry might still be expected to make some pretty scathing conclusions about the manner in which the Iraq invasion was sold to the public, the quality of advice given and the manner in which the occupation was planned.

Now it will all seem a bit of a throwback. Worse, judging from the Libyan enterprise, none of the lessons of the last war have been learned or are likely to be. Behind the present bluster we seem to be as caught out by events, as ignorant of the Arab world, as confused about where we go next and as incapable of managing military ventures out of our own resources as ever we were. One hopes that this occasion turns out better but, should it not, you can bet that we will never face up to the issue of responsibility.

The council is bullying me into being virtuous

April doesn't just bring in a new tax year but, this time round, a succession of missives from the local council demanding new practices with rubbish collection, and threatening dire action and fines if we don't obey.

Bins MUST be put in front of the property, not just inside the entrance, and not before 8pm the previous evening. Lids must be shut with nothing poking up above. White paper goes in one bin, but brown paper in another. Plastic bottles will be recycled but NOT THEIR LIDS.

In the run-up to this night of the new discipline, the local council in Somerset has been going through our rubbish, putting anything misplaced back in the bin again. At our local tip I was made to clamber into the container to retrieve a piece of terracotta vase I'd thrown into "non recyclable". "You're lucky," said the totter in charge. "If this were next month you'd be paying a thousand quid."

All this has given rise to the usual outrage from the popular press as examples of the nanny state, etc. But it's not that which worries me so much as the attitude of mind it betrays. You would have thought getting people to recycle was a worthy communal object in which the participant might be encouraged to feel virtuous. Not a bit of it. We're made to feel recalcitrant delinquents who have to be harassed and fined into virtue. David Cameron's Big Society doesn't stand a chance if local councils have anything to do with it.

There are much better uses for a referendum

I hope referendums in general don't become the casualty of next month's ill-timed vote on AV. It may have seemed a good idea at the time, when the political air was full of the clamour for an end to huge Commons majorities and the third party seemed to need a better break. Now it looks like the wrong question at the wrong time.

That shouldn't mean they're regarded as a bad idea in principle, however. British politicians and commentators hate them, of course – partly out of fear of the results. There's an assumption that they should be restricted to major constitutional questions.

The opposite is the case. Their real value in reconnecting voters with government is at a more local level – on issues of taxation, development and services. How much better it would have been, for example, if London ratepayers had been asked if they were willing to pay an extra charge for the Olympic Games instead of it being added to their bills.