Once more on Iraq.
Iraq is in the news once more. The Chilcot report is in the headlines – for the wrong reasons.
It is hard not to view the delay to publication of the report as an establishment tactic to keep the ball in the long grass for as long as possible. It is time that it was published.
But the Labour Party also has unfinished business in connection with the war. Jeremy Corbyn has sought to address this today.
It has been argued that the Iraq war happened long ago and has little bearing on present day politics. Others have said that the electorate supported a Blair government even after the military intervention in Iraq.
Yet that war continues to cast a shadow over the whole of British politics as the controversy about the delays to the Chilcot report shows. The whole of the political class, as well as the media were in favour of the war.
Those of us who voted repeatedly against the proposal were left in a minority and were often the subject of vilification.
It was only later that the awful truth began to emerge. That there were no weapons of mass destruction. And in spite of robust statements at the time that the war was not about regime change, when the sickening fact emerged that we went to war on a false prospectus, our leaders began to justify their actions by saying that they had ridden the world of a dictator.
To this day we do. It know the whole truth about the path to war, but there is a settled opinion that the country was not told the truth and that our troops were put in harm’s way with little justification.
The collapse of trust in British politics occurred in part because of what was said and done in the run up to war. There were many other factors too. But Iraq remains a key moment. Of course, the Labour Leadership especially was seen as responsible and it is therefore of particular importance that we settle our view once and for all.
Ed Miliband was aware that this was an issue and he made the following comments when he was elected as Leader:
“Iraq was an issue which divided our party and our country. Many sincerely believed that the world faced a real threat. I criticise nobody faced with making the toughest decisions and I honour our troops who fought and died there. But I do believe that we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain to war and we need to be honest about that.”
Ed’s statement was clear. It was an honourable effort to retain unity and at the same time draw a line under the whole Iraq venture.
But there were two problems with it. First, few people heard it because the media were besotted with the discussion of the trivia of two brothers contesting the leadership.
There was a second problem with Eds formulation, however. How could it really be that the war was a “wrong” and yet he would criticise non one for their decision. Questions of war and peace cannot be dismissed in this way.
This is why Jeremy is correct today to return to this matter. He has said that if he becomes leader he will apologise on behalf of the party for the war and for the “deception” involved in the decision. He will also say that we should never again go to war in such circumstances.
This formulation is the correct on. Jeremy says Labour must apologise and goes further in saying that deception was involved in the process. Of course there will be a full national debate about Iraq if and when Chilcot publishes his report. But Jeremy’s words are correct and long overdue.
Jon Trickett MP