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

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Deepa Naik, Trenton Oldfield and their daughter. The family face being split up if Oldfield is deported back to his native Australia  

This is what activist and Boat Race disrupter Trenton Oldfield did next...

Trenton Oldfield
A study has revealed that 80 per cent of us underestimate the calorie content of a glass of white wine  

Sure, giving up alcohol will help you lose weight, but it also makes you desperately dull

Siobhan Norton
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes