Ten years on, the shadow of the Iraq War looms large over all the party leaders

Inside Westminster: One reason Ed Miliband defeated his brother for the Labour leadership was his revelation he had opposed the Iraq War

Share
Related Topics

The Commons debate on Syria has created a headache for all three main party leaders. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg face the same dilemma as they wrestle with a desire to “do something” after last week’s chemical weapons attack, while reassuring the public they are not “doing a Blair”.

They agree that Syria is different but know that any intervention is doomed to be seen through the prism of Tony Blair’s disastrous decision to join the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. They also know that, largely as a result of the Iraq War, voters will be sceptical when politicians promise that any action in Syria will be limited, proportionate and legal and will not suck Britain into another quagmire.

Mr Cameron voted for the Iraq War, in his own words, “grudgingly, unhappily, unenthusiastically”, but he praised Mr Blair’s performance in the crucial Commons debate on the eve of war as “masterful”. He even sent constituents who opposed the war copies of the then Prime Minister’s speech.

Tomorrow afternoon will be Mr Cameron’s equivalent of that Blair speech. Although he is not seeking approval for sending in troops, that does not lower the stakes. Many of the bright, independent-minded bunch of 147 Conservative MPs who entered Parliament in 2010 remain to be convinced about the need for any intervention in Syria. As one put it: “We need to see the proof that the Assad regime was responsible. It is not our war. It’s a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy’ after Iraq.”

Some Tories believe the Prime Minister could lose the Commons vote, which would leave him humiliated, weak and unable to join US-led military strikes. Mr Cameron had hoped to win Labour’s backing, just as Mr Blair relied on Tory MPs to survive a rebellion by 139 Labour MPs on Iraq. But the Prime Minister’s task got much harder tonight when Labour toughened its stance and threatened to vote against the Government.

Ed Miliband denied changing his tune but his apparent support for Mr Cameron 24 hours earlier played badly with some Labour MPs. One reason he defeated his brother David for the Labour leadership in 2010 was his revelation during the campaign that he had opposed the Iraq War at the time, when he was not an MP. His retrospective announcement surprised allies of David, who was an MP and voted for it.

Mr Clegg voted against the Iraq invasion, which the Liberal Democrats opposed en masse. With hindsight, it looks an easy decision but it was a brave call by Charles Kennedy, the then leader, and some Liberal Democrats had doubts at the time. Mr Cameron has worked hard to ensure a united front with Mr Clegg on Syria. Clegg allies are dismissive of the parallels with Iraq, insisting: “Doing nothing about Assad is still an active choice. It sends a signal to him that using chemical weapons is acceptable. It sets a dangerous precedent.” Aides suggest Mr Clegg would not have endorsed any open-ended action designed to topple Assad or put “boots on the ground”.

But senior Liberal Democrats including the former leader Sir Menzies Campbell have voiced reservations. One party insider said there is “serious concern” about Mr Clegg’s stance, claiming he and Mr Cameron have “got carried away” with the success of the Libya operation, just as Mr Blair’s success in Kosovo led him down the wrong path in Iraq. More than 10 years on, all roads still lead back to the Iraq War, and for all today’s leaders, there is no escaping its shadow.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral