- the gay saint of the Labour centre-left, is stepping down with dignity. Chris has been a great constituency MP, popular and hardworking, gifted with the intelligence to know when to speak and when to shut up. He led the Labour rebellion against the Iraq war.
If ever I meet an Iraqi who demands to know why our country sent an army to his country and killed 100,000 civilians, bombed and shot them, and tortured them in captivity, I can say, we tried, signed petitions, we emailed. I will say, we marched and marched again. Not all our leaders disregarded our opinions. I will show him Chris Smith's and Robin Cook's
long and eloquent speeches. Words which cannot bring back the dead.
Let it not be forgotten, as his would-be replacement as Labour MP Emily Thornberry reminded me when I met her last Friday, that historically, opportunities for parties to VOTE on going to war in the UK are somewhat rare - as rare as a blog that doesn't ramble. As rare as an honest politician. As rare as Jeremy Paxman being polite.
Emily was giving some credit to the Labour administration for allowing the debate to happen in the first place. It was Robin Cook, leader of the house, she reminded me, who ensured that Parliament got the chance to debate Iraq, a man who also stepped down from government (but not Parliament) and who like Chris, still holds the respect of the people.
Emily was very clear about her own anti-war stance, and it would seem to be a sensible thing for a prospective Labour MP to align themselves with the anti-war movement, since many Labour voters are seriously searching their conscience on that basis right now. Their party took the nation into an illegal war, and Blair, the man who we had at least trusted not to blatantly lie, like the previous mendacious Conservative administration, coseyed up to Bush, and spoke on TV about "Weapons of Mass Distraction"
He actually said on TV, "DISTRACTION".
It wasn't like Major who had vowel problems, and could never say the letter "a" properly, so that WANT became WUNT. Blair inadvertently spoke the truth - we, the people of Britain, the population of the United States, and the entire United Nations, were being distracted, systematically lied to, with "honest" politicians like Blair and Colin Powell wheeled in to sell the lie of the weapons program, so that Bush could attack a weakened leader who happened to be sitting on the second largest oil reserves in the world. From that moment on, nobody in my manor thought that poodle Blair was anything other than redundant.
8 years ago, Tony Blair was swept in on a fairly radical agenda, on the back of Tory sleaze, corruption, economic failure, and arrogance. He has been in a broad sense far more popular leader than Thatcher ever was. He rode a wave of hope and took his power from the national longing for renewal.
More money for hospitals, schools, releasing capped funds local authorities couldn't spend, building new houses, investing in inner cities. Employment conditions improved - the minimum wage, and the Human Rights Act put us in moral harmony with the rest of Europe. Devolution of government, elected municipal Mayors, reform of Parliament and our antiquated two-tier system of goverment - however well or badly it has been done, for all this they get credit.
Blair it is often said, is conservative, but he isn't Conservative. His government isn't
asset stripping, privatising, and crashing the economy like successive Tory administrations did for 18 years. We expect politicians to lie - Paxman on our behalf starts out with the assumption that ANY politician is a lying bastard. But not great big humiliating American lies, to back up a man who stole his country's election in the first place.
The question is, has Blair been weakened by this sufficiently to give Conservative leader Michael Howard a chance of reversing the decline of the right in the UK? UK Elect predict in four out of six scenarios a Labour win, and the polls all suggest that Labour is retaining a lead of between 3% and 9% over the Conservatives. But the chance of a shock is there.
In our 3 party system, the lines are being further blurred by a Liberal Democrat resurgence. Strongly anti-war, standing up more robustly for civil liberties than either Labour or Conservatives, and benefited by Charles Kennedy, a leader with a new baby, they could do really well.
It's not just the LibDems who stand to take votes from Labour. The Greens, and single-issue parties like UK Independence Party, and Respect, formed from the anti-war alliance, could unseat big party MPs. George Galloway, one-time friend of Saddam, kicked out of the Labour party for his corruscating attacks on the leadership, is taking on pro-war Labour MP Oona King in Tower Hamlets, an inner-city constituency with a large Muslim population, and there he has a real chance of winning.
In Islington South and Finsbury, the Conservatives are not in contention, and the race is between Labour's Emily Thornberry and the LibDem's Bridget Fox. Bridget herself admits that the next government is likely to be Labour, but also sees that this represents a real chance for her personally, now that Chris Smith is going.
Emily Thornberry's credentials are good on the war issue which is splitting the left, but she has a tough fight on her hands if she is to keep the seat for Labour. People in Islington South are likely to use the ballot box to let their feelings be known, and it may not be enough to point to the few honest men and women remaining in the Labour party ranks and to Gordon Brown, leader-in-waiting, curtailing his resentment for the cameras.
What result would a protest vote produce? The old accusation that Liberals split the left and let the right in by the back door Bridget Fox counters with her opinion that the right will continue to diminish. But Howard is a shrewd operator, no trick too nasty, and easy to underestimate. The Conservative Party may not be the power it once was but it knows how to win votes with the twin lures of greed and xenphobia, and is capitalising on the Blair disenchantment factor as effectively as the LibDems.
The Right runs election campaigns on fear, as the Left runs them on fantasy, and the 1997 fantasy was, Blair is honest, and he will not betray you. Blair did enjoy the trust of the nation until he blew it with the Iraq war. We cannot guess what pressures bore upon him as he decided to lie to the nation, and I am not making excuses for him here, but how easy it is now to mock his party's election slogan: FORWAR, NOT BACK.
I have witnessed voter apathy and antipathy at first hand on the doorstep, with people feeling they have a national choice which is none at all - The Warmonger, The Fascist, Or The One That Won't Get In?
Come May 5th, many voters will give this one a miss, those that don't will register a protest, and the possiblity is that the reprimand slap that Labour gets from those consciencious progressive souls that do vote could just tip the balance of UK power in favour of the right.This post is also available at Blogger News Network.