The Iraq War has left Labour and the Tories on the defensive

Share

To say that this was the week when the 2005 election campaign caught alight is perhaps an exaggeration: the failure of the main party leaders to capture the attention of the voters and provoke a genuine national discussion is a continuing, and regrettable, fact. It is nonetheless true that the campaign looks very different at the end of the week from the way it looked at the beginning - and mostly because the unspoken issue of the first two weeks can no longer be ignored.

To say that this was the week when the 2005 election campaign caught alight is perhaps an exaggeration: the failure of the main party leaders to capture the attention of the voters and provoke a genuine national discussion is a continuing, and regrettable, fact. It is nonetheless true that the campaign looks very different at the end of the week from the way it looked at the beginning - and mostly because the unspoken issue of the first two weeks can no longer be ignored.

The war in Iraq has dominated the week, along with questions about the Prime Minister's judgement. From the first authoritative report of the Attorney General's legal advice and the embittered defection of Brian Sedgemore to the release on Thursday of the complete text, the Prime Minister was forced on to the defensive. The Labour campaign, once so slick and professional, lost the initiative; all its best efforts to divert attention to education, health and the economy came to naught, as Mr Blair was pummelled over Iraq. It is now central to the outcome of this election, as it should have been all along.

The changed focus of the campaign left the Conservatives scrambling. Their decision to support the war - Mr Blair's war - under their previous leader was shown up as the liability it always was. Michael Howard's reaction to the release of the legal advice was nonetheless extraordinary. Rather than exploit its ambivalence to qualify the Tories' support for the war, Mr Howard tried to outperform the Prime Minister as a warrior, inventing "regime-change plus" to define what a Tory government would have done - sans weapons of mass destruction, sans UN resolution, sans legal support. So ill-conceived did this stance appear that successive interviewers on successive days asked him to repeat his answer in case they had misheard. With new Tory posters denouncing Mr Blair as a "liar", the message the party was sending seemed confusingly mixed.

The return of Iraq to the British political arena, on the other hand, revived the campaign of the Liberal Democrats just in time. Boosted by Mr Sedgemore's pledges of support, Charles Kennedy looked a new man. His claim that the party had always planned to raise the war in the later stages of the campaign may or may not be credible, but he presented his party's strongest suit with consistency and confidence.

Nowhere was the change in the leaders' fortunes more evident than on the special edition of BBC1's Question Time. Well-briefed, incisive and friendly with it, Mr Kennedy deserved to win over at least some of those voters hitherto concerned about his competence. Coolly formulaic, Mr Howard had lost much of the verve that had distinguished the early stages of his - largely solo - campaign. Mr Blair looked tired, though still the consummate performer. He persisted in his Luther-like stubbornness over Iraq, tried to steer discussion towards public services and fell at once into a hole of his own making over GP appointments.

Except that such everyday "trivia" have as much potential to galvanise voters as issues of high principle, such as the war in Iraq. Mr Blair's difficulty is that on both levels he now looks out of touch with large segments of the electorate. Will he recover his campaigning magic? Will Mr Howard's gamble on the personal invective pay off? Will Mr Kennedy and his Liberal Democrats be rewarded for their opposition to the war, or will their civil liberties agenda prove a liability? We look forward to next week's final instalment of this unusual and volatile campaign.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The victory of the NO campaign was confirmed at 6.08am on Friday morning  

Scottish referendum: Partisan fallout, Gordon Brown's comeback and Elizabeth, the Queen of unity

Jane Merrick
The central concept of Death Row Dinners is an interesting way  to make us think more about our food  

Out there: A death row diner, the other musicians taking a leaf out of U2's (i)book and rolling up my CV for a smoking hot job opportunity

Simmy Richman
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam