How much more distressing, disastrous and downright embarrassing can the consequences of Britain's ill-fated involvement in Iraq become? The brutal murder of the British hostage, Kenneth Bigley, at the hands of his captors provides new, ghastly images of the perils to which every Westerner in Iraq, and everyone seen as assisting the US and British occupiers, is now exposed. Coming hard on the heels of the Iraq Survey Group report showing that Saddam Hussein did not have the arsenal of banned weapons that provided the Prime Minister's justification for the war, it demonstrates once again how ill conceived and how reckless the enterprise has been.
It also guarantees that the damage to Mr Blair personally from the Iraq adventure, to his government and to politics in this country, is far from over. We can expect pointed questions about the late Mr Bigley, about the security situation in Iraq and about the ISG report, when Parliament reconvenes on Monday. Our elected representatives should not hold back. The country has still not received the answers, still less the apologies, it deserves.
The extent of the damage to Mr Blair and his ministers was made clear, yet again, by the audience in BBC's Question Time on Thursday. Time and again, Patricia Hewitt, the Government's representative, was called to account for the Government's decision to go to war. Sharp and persistent questioners made clear that they found Mr Blair's semi-apology for incorrect intelligence at the Labour conference as insulting as it was inadequate. Ever more frustrated, the hapless Ms Hewitt finally produced a "sorry" in the name of "all of us who were involved in making an incredibly difficult decision". But her words came over as a last-resort defence, uttered with little conviction and without prime ministerial authority. The sceptics of Poole, which is hardly renowned as a hotbed of revolutionary, anti-establishment feeling, still await the real thing. As do we all.
But it is not just the credibility of the Government that has been severely undermined by Iraq. The abiding theme of every party conference this season has been trust: the voters' lack of trust in politicians in the wake of the war, and how politicians might try to rebuild it. As leaders of the two major parties who had personally both supported the war, Mr Blair and Michael Howard sought a remedy in small ambitions and pledges of good faith. Mr Howard specifically undertook to make no promises, if he became prime minister, that he could not keep. The poll commissioned by The Independent, and reported in today's paper, indicates that the vast majority of voters, and even a majority in his own party, disbelieved him.
Such a level of distrust in politicians on the part of the voters does not make for a healthy political climate. It speaks of a disconnect that does not sit well with democracy. From the exhilaration of the crowds who hailed the dawn of New Labour in 1997 to the despair of Kenneth Bigley as he begged for his life is a vast emotional distance. It is evidence, too, that in seven years this country has not been led in the right direction.Reuse content