Mr Howard's opportunism should not distract from the wider scandal of the Iraq war

Share
Related Topics

The pro-war coalition is falling apart. Michael Howard now claims that had he known last March that the evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was unreliable he would not have voted for the Commons motion in favour of invasion. This smacks of political opportunism, but the Tory leader is justified in pointing out that everything has changed now we know that the Iraq intelligence presented by the Government was so flawed.

The pro-war coalition is falling apart. Michael Howard now claims that had he known last March that the evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was unreliable he would not have voted for the Commons motion in favour of invasion. This smacks of political opportunism, but the Tory leader is justified in pointing out that everything has changed now we know that the Iraq intelligence presented by the Government was so flawed.

The Prime Minister has an easy riposte for Mr Howard should the Opposition leader reiterate his change of mind in the Commons debate on the war tomorrow. Mr Howard's description of the deposition of Saddam Hussein as "necessary", "just" and "arguably overdue" in a speech only four months ago will be thrown back in his face, just as it was last Wednesday after Lord Butler's report was unveiled. The Tory leader has to explain why his party never voiced any scruples about the case against Saddam before and why it acted as the most enthusiastic cheerleader for Mr Blair's invasion, ensuring it won parliamentary support.

Of all the self-inflicted wounds inflicted on the Tory party by its former leader Iain Duncan Smith, the unquestioning backing for the invasion of Iraq has proven the most damaging. Iraq is a millstone around the Prime Minister's neck, shattering the sense of trust that the public once had in Mr Blair. No matter how he tries to shift attention back to public services, no matter how many five-year plans he unveils, he simply cannot draw a line under the issue. Last week's by-elections in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill demonstrated that there is little mood of forgiveness among the electorate.

But the Tories are powerless to exploit this glaring weak spot. Instead, Mr Howard finds himself desperately trying to attack the Prime Minister on Iraq from the pitifully small space his predecessor has left him. He claims he would not have supported the Commons motion that referred to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction but that he would have voted for a differently worded motion proposing to depose the Iraqi leader. This contorted position is unconvincing because, as Mr Howard well knows, the only legitimate casus belli under international law was the presence of WMD.

Although Mr Howard has ended his party's civil wars, some Conservatives may be looking wistfully in the direction of colleagues who opposed the war. Kenneth Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind (set to return to the Commons in the safe seat of Kensington and Chelsea) both questioned the rush to war and took issue with the Prime Minister's justifications for an attack.

But the Conservative leader may have some cause for hope. The US Senate Intelligence Committee uncovered failings by the CIA very similar to those identified by the Butler report in the case of MI6. The Senate committee's unambiguously tough report has enabled the Democrats, most of whom voted in favour of the Iraq war in Congress, to intensify their opposition to President Bush's Iraq adventure. If this approach helps the Democrats to win November's presidential election, Mr Howard would be foolish not to adopt it against Mr Blair. Yesterday's strong criticisms about the use of intelligence from the former UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, further ratchet up the pressure.

It is politically credible for the opposition on both sides of the Atlantic to claim that they were misled about the threat posed by Iraq, just as much as the general public, by two governments recklessly eager to invade. Mr Howard will be emboldened if Labour Party backbenchers also adopt this line in the Commons debate tomorrow.

The charge of opportunism that the Government has levelled against Mr Howard rings true over Iraq. But there is a bigger issue for the electorate to contemplate: the zealotry of the Prime Minister in the build-up to war, which increasingly looks like adding up to something substantially worse than the usual opportunism of politicians on the make.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Market Administrator (1st line Support, Bloomberg, Broker)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Market Administrator (1st line Support, Trade Fl...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Server, Reuters)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Data Support Analyst (Linux, Solaris, Windows Se...

Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, Exchange)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Helpdesk Support Engineer (Windows, MS Office, E...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition