Leading article: Mr Cameron and Mr Brown share a problem


The Conservative Party remains in a state of paralysis over Iraq. The Tory leader, David Cameron, yesterday described the leaked footage of Saddam Hussein's execution as "pretty grisly". That is putting it mildly. The execution turned into a brutal farce and could have terrible ramifications for this already blood-drenched country. Yesterday two car bombs exploded in the Mansour district of Baghdad, killing 13 people and wounding at least 25 more. As widely predicted, Saddam's execution has done nothing to lessen the killing. It has merely given the Sunni minority one more reason to detest the occupation and the Shia-led government.

At times, Mr Cameron seems to defend government policy on Iraq almost as loyally as the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett. Yesterday he was asserting, "I still believe it was right to get rid of Saddam", and stressing the need to "build up the Iraqi army so its writ can run through the country". This is an uncanny echo of the Government's own line when one of its representatives is questioned on the unfolding horror in Iraq.

True, Mr Cameron castigates poor decisions made in the wake of the 2003 invasion, such as disbanding the army and the toleration of widespread looting. But he shows no real desire to throw the spotlight on the Prime Minister's responsibility for the nightmare. With Iraq increasingly looking like the biggest foreign policy blunder by a British government in half a century, that is an extraordinarily supine approach from the Leader of the Opposition.

He is not the only one failing to fulfil his responsibility on Iraq. Sources close to Gordon Brown reportedly claim that Labour is "in a rut" over Iraq and that the situation there is hampering the pursuit of other worthy foreign policy goals. That is all true, but why do we hear nothing from the man himself on one of the most urgent crises of our times. Do we not have a right to expect a little more from our Prime Minister in waiting?

Of course, Mr Cameron and Mr Brown have the same problem. Both voted in favour of the original invasion, along with their respective parties. To be seen to offer anything less than general support now for Tony Blair over Iraq would open them to charges of hypocrisy and opportunism.

They should be more courageous. The catastrophe in Iraq has changed the terms of trade in British politics. What the country demands now is a leader who can show he has learnt from Mr Blair's folly, just as Harold Macmillan showed he had learned from Anthony Eden's humbling over Suez. At the moment, neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Brown is holding out the prospect of that kind of leadership.

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