Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We won't forgive and forget Iraq

Ed Balls and the Miliband duo, and Cameron too, seem to believe their past stains will wash off easily and that they can present themselves to the nation all fresh and pristine
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The Independent Online

Not so fast Ed Balls. And you too, Ed Miliband. To these clever Oxbridge chaps, citizens are bozos, credulous and callow, easy to turn this way and that. Part of the New Labour circus, they were in the troupe of illusionists who made and unmade reality. The tent fell in and they have crawled out, dusty, chastened, of course pledging more honesty and candour as they vie for the leadership of their party.

Balls says he accepts the Iraq invasion was a costly mistake. Too little, too late for the dead, maimed, gas-poisoned Iraqi victims of our savage adventure, too presumptuous. The affable Ed Miliband wants to "talk about the gap between the rich and the poor", an issue nowhere in his line of sight when his government was collectively "relaxed about the filthy rich". He just found his conscience from somewhere in the bottom of his discarded, soiled values. Now he says he realises there was a "catastrophic loss of trust over Iraq". And old father Kinnock anoints him.

Brother David was already up, bright and early and away, ahead of the other contenders. No more pin-striped solemnity – he is now in blue denim, smiling innocently, inviting in our trust. I like him a lot personally, but cannot ever forgive his ruthless political expediency. Having voted strongly for the war in Iraq, he now claims we '"wouldn't have invaded Iraq had we known then what we know now. Obviously no such decision would have been made if we'd known Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction". His master Blair told Chilcot the invasion would have gone ahead whatever the evidence of weapons. A short pause here, should any of you need time to throw up.

Next, DM enthusiastically supported the most illiberal anti-terrorism measures and was against any investigation into the Iraq war (Note: William Hague's voting record on identity cards and investigation into the war shows him to be more liberal). The Blairite minister denied our complicity in torture and rendition, fought the courts when they demanded more transparency and was forced to apologise to the House of Commons for some of this treacherous obfuscation. Though a critic of the Israeli assault on the Lebanon, once he became the Foreign Secretary he wordlessly acquiesced to the disproportionate violence used by the Israeli government against Palestinians, and sought to protect those responsible from international justice.

All three top runners seem to believe their past stains will wash off easily with modern detergents and they can present themselves to the nation all fresh and pristine. But political memory, like personal memory, lingers for a very long time, can swell and fester, inspire or incite generations, change the course of history.

Writing in The Social Research Journal (spring 2008), in which various essayists explore the subject, political scientist Professor W James Booth wrote: "Democracy itself remains, and deeply so, a community of memory. That is, its identity and its sense of its own coherence as a responsible agent across time rest squarely on the work of collective memory. Looking at the protean and volatile character of the politics of memory, we are reminded that in our world (or perhaps it always and everywhere was so), memory is intertwined with power, interest, and resistance precisely because it is so vital and fundamental to what we are as citizens." And that in turn, argues Booth, determines social and community commitment to justice.

The new Tories too are go-forwarders, impatient with people who will not let go of the past. Their election strategy was to erase the damaging images of Thatcherism, but for countless voters, including this one, that proved impossible. I am sure Cameron would have got his thumping majority if only his smart team could have found a way of inducing amnesia about that hateful period. One female blogger, for example, remembered being taken as a child to a demo outside Downing Street when P W Botha, at the height of his power, was visiting Thatcher. It helped her to understand "the regime did not exist in isolation. I have never voted Tory because they supported apartheid". Recall of long bygone policies directed that vote. And many more.

Tories were rousing champions of the war in Iraq and so share the blame with Blair and Brown. Their long, close ties with Lord Ashcroft still irk and worry Britons. Not mentioning the problem will not make it go away. And the appointment of Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as Minister of State for Security is surely the most wicked exemplar of political interring in unmarked sites. This Dame was the security adviser to Douglas Hurd when he was Foreign Secretary. They watched while Serbians massacred innocent Bosnian Muslims, claiming that it ensured a "level playing field".

They then joined NatWest Markets which made a fortune when Milosevic gave the company rights to privatise Telecom Serbia. Since then Neville-Jones has repeatedly suggested actions to fight terrorism that would please Donald Rumsfeld. When four British residents held uncharged for years at Guantanamo Bay were due to be released, she expressed grave concerns that they would return to the UK. By appointing her, Cameron shows he doesn't care about the collective punishment heaped on Muslim men around the world. He will rue the unwise choice. I am shocked that Clegg and Co, who stood up for human rights, have accepted the appointment. They are also now tarnished as a result.

In international politics, too, memories roam and fuel conduct. Take the very moving film about a white farming family in Zimbabwe this week. What was the back-story, the historical decisions and power grabs that created the civil enmities? We Ugandan Asians were cruelly dispossessed by Idi Amin in Uganda, but we too must ask why so many Africans ended up hating us – our racism and economic greed consumed them and they then behaved abominably. And the British need to acknowledge their role in the making of leviathans like Mugabe and Amin.

Hastily buried history avenges itself. And will on Balls and the Miliband duo and Cameron, too. They must reflect on what happened, apologise for the unstable world they helped make, past political chicanery. Without that that there can be no redemption, no moving on. Even in these times of blissful coalition governance we will not, cannot forget.