The war in Iraq gave birth to today’s ‘trust no one’ politics

Andrew Rawnsley writes: The domestic consequences of Iraq were beyond Chilcot’s remit, but they should be in our scope when we try to explain how Britain ended up in the dark place where it stands today.

The Iraq war is a crucial element of the context that put the Labour party in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn. Anger about the war on the left has played a huge role in obscuring the achievements of New Labour’s time in office. The minimum wage. The peace settlement in Northern Ireland. The record sums invested in public services. The resources redistributed to the less privileged. Continuous economic growth for every quarter of the Blair premiership.

In many minds, the shadow of Iraq loomed so large and so black that it eclipsed many other things that progressives ought to have been proud of. In the leadership contest that followed the 2010 election defeat, the most damaging charge against David Miliband was that he had voted for the war. His brother, Ed, who was conveniently not in parliament at the time, exploited that and won the contest. Eddism then begat Corbynism.

In the leadership contest after the 2015 defeat, Jeremy Corbyn made a large feature of his opposition to the war, successfully tapping the fury that still burns so intensely among many on the left. As I write, Mr Corbyn is continuing to insist that he can carry on as leader even when four out of five of his parliamentary colleagues have publicly declared him unfit for the job. Tom Watson, the fixer of fixers, has just declared that even he cannot broker a way out of the deadlock. It is quite possible that the outcome of the struggle to unseat Mr Corbyn will also be decided by positions taken on Iraq.

It is said by those who think Angela Eagle should not be the leadership challenger that she is disqualified from the role because she voted for the invasion. A war begun more than a decade ago still has that much reverberation in Labour politics.

The long after-tremors of the Iraq war were also felt in the vote to leave the European Union. One seismic event was a trigger for another earthquake 13 years later. We know that a fierce element of the motivation of many Out voters was anger with political “elites”. That building of rage has had many drivers over recent years from the parliamentary expenses scandal to the pain of austerity. One of those sources was surely Iraq, an episode notably corroding of public faith in government because the war was sold on the basis that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist.

I have never bought the simplistic explanation that Tony Blair simply made it all up. Sir John Chilcot directs most of the blame towards MI6 for supplying intelligence that turned out to be wrong or sheer fabrication by duplicitous sources. Mr Blair’s culpability was representing that intelligence as sound when it was the opposite. Had the mistakes just been down to one over-messianic leader, as many of the other players have sought to suggest to displace culpability from themselves, it would not have been such a damaging episode in our public life. It wasn’t just the infamous dossier and it wasn’t just his personal miscalculations. Iraq was a collective failure of the political, diplomatic, intelligence and military establishments.

I don’t agree with the nihilistic ridiculing of expertise that powered the Out campaign to victory, but I sure can see why “trust no one” had such appeal to such a large audience. [Continue reading…]

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