Mr Blair should suffer the electoral consequences of his calamitous war

Share
Related Topics

Today's elections are the biggest and most important since the general election in 2001. Every UK seat in the European Parliament is being contested, together with a significant section of English local council wards and the powerful mayoralty in London. Normally a large range of factors would determine the outcome of such diverse elections, ranging from the Government's overall record to the views of local candidates on cycle lanes and rubbish collection.

Today's elections are the biggest and most important since the general election in 2001. Every UK seat in the European Parliament is being contested, together with a significant section of English local council wards and the powerful mayoralty in London. Normally a large range of factors would determine the outcome of such diverse elections, ranging from the Government's overall record to the views of local candidates on cycle lanes and rubbish collection.

But today's poll takes place in the shadow of the war against Iraq. Inevitably, the outcome will be seen in part as a verdict on Tony Blair's decision to support the conflict and the chaos that has ensued, both in Iraq and in our relationship with other nations. Europe is the other issue that has dominated the campaigning in recent weeks, not least because of an apparent surge in support for the one-note United Kingdom Independence Party.

In these unusual political circumstances, there is an overwhelming case to send out two distinct messages. Above all, there is a chance to demonstrate that there are electoral consequences for a Prime Minister who led Britain into an unnecessary and calamitous war. Of course, these elections are not directly about the war, but they offer voters their first opportunity to register their distaste for Mr Blair's actions. And he deserves to pay a political price. It is important also that pro-Europeans register their support for any party that dares to challenge the xenophobic, simplistic policies advocated by some in these elections.

On both counts, the Conservatives deserve a drubbing. If they had opposed the war from the outset, they would probably be well ahead in the polls. Instead, the leadership was more gung-ho than Tony Blair, and, despite Michael Howard's recent attempts to distance himself from the Prime Minister on this issue, the Tories remain wedded to this neo-conservative cause.

On Europe, Mr Howard's claim that Britain can remain a member of the European Union while rejecting virtually all the initiatives supported by other member states is not remotely practical. He has fallen between two stools, pleasing neither hardline Eurosceptics nor pro-Europeans. Mr Howard had hoped these elections would provide a springboard towards the general election; instead, they are likely only to remind him how far he and his party have to travel to convince voters that they are an alternative government with credible policies.

It is to be hoped, however, that their mistakes don't give too much help to UKIP and the British National Party, whose bigoted and uninformed prejudices are so distasteful.

The cost of war

Tony Blair has an incomparably more constructive approach towards Europe compared to his two Conservative predecessors and Michael Howard's current position - although this is not saying very much and, in truth, he has achieved little. More broadly, he can point to a strong economy, some minor improvements to the public services and some progressive, if under-publicised, reforms. These are achievements that will deserve more attention in a general election campaign. But for now, for many voters, these successes pale beside the actions of a Prime Minister who sent British troops into battle on a false premise.

With a passionate advocacy, Mr Blair took his nation to war asserting that Iraq posed an imminent threat. Since then, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, and it has emerged that much of the intelligence used to justify the conflict was wrong. Now the Prime Minister claims that we all knew that Saddam possessed weapons because he used them on his own people. But before the war Mr Blair was making an entirely different claim: that Saddam had developed new and more lethal weapons that put us all into danger.

The conflict was also supposed to be part of the war against terrorism, and yet it has served only to heighten the terrorists' threat, failed to lead us any closer to a resolution of the Israel-Palestine situation, and has damaged Britain's reputation around the world. This has been Britain's most disastrous foreign policy decision since Suez. A strong vote for Labour would be taken as a signal that Mr Blair had emerged politically unscathed from his war. That should not, and probably will not, happen.

So how should voters show their loathing of this war to Mr Blair? The Greens are an important political voice in Britain, raising many issues that would otherwise go unheard, both locally and nationally. They also opposed the war. But they are a small political force and support for them would split the anti-war vote. Respect is a motley collection of extremists trying to exploit Mr Blair's discomfort; they are not serious contenders, nor do they deserve to be.

A courageous stand

This leaves the Liberal Democrats. Charles Kennedy took a courageous decision in deciding to oppose the war, while his foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell, has been the most forensic and powerful critic on the opposition benches. It is also a party that has shown conviction on the euro and never hidden its desire for Britain to play a more committed role in the European project. Mr Kennedy has, additionally, been a lonely voice speaking up for the rights of immigrants and asylum-seekers, whether from the newer member states of the EU or from other parts of the globe.

The Liberal Democrats have, unfortunately, fought a rather lacklustre campaign, especially in London, where their candidate Simon Hughes has been elbowed aside by the Tories. And, demonstrating the complexity of today's elections, Ken Livingstone, once again a Labour candidate, was opposed to the war, had the courage to introduce the congestion charge and is one of the most persuasive advocates of Britain's membership of the single currency. Support for Livingstone could not be seen as an endorsement of Mr Blair's foreign policy. Likewise, in less high-profile contests elsewhere, there are principled candidates standing for election for a range of parties, personally opposed to the war and supportive of Britain's active membership of the EU.

The key issues

Given the nature of these elections, it is possible that there will be no overall winners except, perhaps, on the fringes. The two-party system we have known for more than a century is under pressure from an increasingly sophisticated electorate that is comfortable with making choices. But in the main, voters should act in the knowledge that the higher the Labour vote, the more Mr Blair would be able to claim that the war was only an issue that obsesses the Westminster village. And they should bear in mind that on the two key issues - the war in Iraq and Britain's place in Europe - the Liberal Democrats have demonstrated their courage, their conviction and their principles, an all-too-rare event in British politics.

These are important elections today. But this is not a general election. Voters should take the opportunity to demonstrate to Mr Blair their contempt for his foreign adventurism, for his willingness to provide cover for President George Bush's administration, and for his extraordinary naivety on the international stage. A Prime Minister who led his country into such an ill-thought out and unjustified war, with such damaging consequences, deserves to feel the heat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: union bosses mobilise to try to prevent a Labour government

John Rentoul
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine