Adrian Hamilton: The Iraq effect is far from over in British politics

Share

One of the most depressing – and, I think, misguided – comments on Ming Campbell's fall was that his stance on Iraq was looking less and less relevant now that the subject was slipping off the political agenda. Perhaps it is in terms of the parliamentary debate. Perhaps it is true that the politicians in Westminster would rather write off the whole thing as a chapter of misjudgements which can now be closed as the main players leave the stage and the troops come home, allowing today's MPs to forget the whole unhappy incident.

But that is not how those who opposed the war feel. Not by a long chalk. For a great many people – several million probably – the decision to wage war was a profoundly immoral act, which cannot be brushed under the carpet now that we're retreating. Nor can the politicians who voted for invasion be simply allowed to forget what they did, not at least without some public acknowledgement of their part in a decision which they took so lightly then and still don't seem to comprehend in its full enormity now.

This is not just about blame, although there has been a glaring absence of the kind of purging of those responsible that might make it possible to restore the body politic. It is also about the whole approach to foreign policy in these confused and bloody times. If Ming Campbell can be found wanting in his handling of foreign issues, it is that he never quite took on board the anger over Iraq. Nor was he able to build on it to present a really forceful alternative Lib Dem policy on foreign affairs.

On Afghanistan, the party has been strong in voicing doubts, but on the nuclear deterrent, Iran, the question of sanctions, and even over Europe, the party has appeared just woolly, preferring to make consumer-friendly noises on, say, Darfur or Burma rather than develop hard and distinctive policies.

Yet there is room for an alternative voice, and a real need for one. The Government can't provide it. For all the talk of a fresh start, a loosening of ties with the US, a more nuanced policy in the Middle East, the reality of the Brown administration is that it cannot break free from the past. It is doomed to continue on the Blair path at least until the US gets a new president. And even a change in Washington won't make that big a difference, particularly if Hillary Clinton gets in.

Yes, Brown can accelerate the exit from Iraq. But he can't break free of the "special relationship", as his visit to Washington last summer showed, and he's chosen to dig in even more deeply in Afghanistan, partly in compensation for defeat in Iraq. Over Middle East peace, as over Iran, he is stuck with a European policy that has been dragged along by a White House seeking punishment of Tehran and isolation of Hamas and Hizbollah. On Europe, the Prime Minister is even more beleaguered, wriggling to get out of a commitment to holding a referendum in a way that has made him seem undemocratic in the eyes of his own country and antagonistic in the eyes of the Continent.

The Tories are no different. They may huff and puff over the mistakes in Iraq, but, like Labour, they have committed themselves to ever greater commitment to the Afghan mission. Like Brown they are committed to a replacement for Trident. And over Europe they have only been saved from exposing their own divisions by the obscene gyrations of the Government.

Into this gap the Lib Dems should be steaming with all flags flying. We don't need to follow Iraq with an equally blind entanglement in Afghanistan. There is an alternative to a policy of escalating confrontation with Iran. There is no requirement to isolate and demonise Hamas, or Hizbollah. We don't need to follow a contortionist, cowardly approach to Europe nor a vague, ill-defined policy towards the reformation of international institutions from the UN to Nato, the World Bank and the IMF.

The disappointment of the Lib Dems is that they are already half way there. They have a locus on Iraq and therefore on Afghanistan. They are by tradition and belief the most pro-European of the UK parties. They know that should develop alternative policies on Trident, Iran and the Middle East. But somehow they have so far been unable to translate this into a policy which takes them on from their history of opposing the Iraq invasion.

You can blame this on Ming Campbell for being too fair and nice, on the party for shying away so often from the implications of its own beliefs, on politics for being so wary of tackling the hard issues of the world. What you can't blame it on is a public readiness to forgive and forget the Iraq invasion. That there isn't.

a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
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
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas