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

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Music Teacher

£120 - £180 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Newham Position: Music Start dat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Sutton Position: Science teacher S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A residential tower block in an area of Southwark with a high concentration of social housing  

We desperately need to solve our housing crisis, but rent controls are not the answer

Mira Bar Hillel
Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras  

Syriza's victory in Greece might not be the radical revolution you were hoping for

James Bloodworth
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee