Alistair Beaton: A parable of the pitfalls of self-belief

There's a problem with sincerity - it can have lethal consequences
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The Independent Online

We all long for sincerity and honesty in our politicians. Or at least, we think we do. But when spin stops and sincerity starts, we get into very dangerous territory.

The one charge that has been levelled consistently against the Blair government is that it puts presentation before policies. This is a charge that's very hard to deny. As we all now know, every New Labour initiative is carefully market-tested before being launched. If there is no consumer demand for a new measure, then the new measure does not go through. That's how we have the bizarre spectacle of Tony Blair making orotund speeches about climate change while at the same time urging us to carry on flying. The policy wonks might quite like New Labour to go seriously green, but the market testers have told the Great Leader, "Back off, Tony. Not flying won't fly".

There is, however, one exception to the dominance of the focus group, and that's the Iraq War. Yes, there were the dodgy dossiers and the fictitious WMDs. But as soon as those rather desperate deceptions were stripped away, all that was left on view was Mr Blair's sincerity. And it is his own sincerity that remains almost his sole remaining justification for the war. The theme of removing evil dictators is heard less and less, and no wonder, because there are plenty of evil dictators with whom we are the best of friends. Instead of analysis and argument, Mr Blair now simply tells us that he did what he did because it was the right thing to do.

Let's for a moment imagine that when it comes to Iraq, Mr Blair is telling the truth. (Yes, I know, it's a difficult concept, but let's just go along with it.)

If British support for the war was essentially a prime ministerial sincerity spasm, then the idiocy of Mr Blair's decisions becomes a little bit easier to understand. I am sure there were other factors at play, including vanity. Look at those scenes at the White House with George Bush and Mr Blair striding towards the microphones, and you see a Brit who is mightily happy to think himself best friend of the most powerful man on the planet. But it is still hard to avoid the conclusion that Mr Blair supported Mr Bush as a result of some inner moral urgings. The rumour that he and Mr Bush prayed together suddenly seems compelling. If it was the voice of God telling Mr Blair to invade Iraq, then there really was no need for analysis or expert opinion.

The problem for Mr Blair, of course, is that his sincerity has got him into a great deal of trouble (as well as killing rather a lot of people). That's the problem with sincerity - it can have lethal consequences. How grimly ironic it is that on the one issue where he lacked overwhelming support in the country, Mr Blair decided raw belief was all he needed.

This bizarre inner certainty has a delusional quality about it. Mr Blair now seems to be revelling in his own unpopularity. Why else would he make a speech telling us that Britain must remain a nation of "war-fighters"? Is there anything at all in our experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq that suggests war-fighting is a good idea? Such a lack of connection between belief and evidence is the mark of a slightly warped religious mind. We are used to hearing Mr Blair lecture Muslims about the wrongness of fundamentalism, but he himself is a fundamentalist, and like all fundamentalists, his faith becomes a substitute for rigorous analysis.

Let's just hope that Mr Blair resigns before the onset of another sincerity spasm. Till then, I am more than happy to suffer a few more months of spin.

'The Trial of Tony Blair' will be broadcast at 10pm on More4 tomorrow and on Channel 4 on Thursday

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