Watching the final hours of the Blair years yesterday, one could not help but be struck by the two sides of Tony Blair. It was, perhaps, fitting that the last word in the house went to Ian Paisley. For, it would have seemed incredible for much of my life that anyone could persuade Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to work together for the future peace and prosperity of Northern Ireland. But that is what the ‘patient, thorough, thoughtful, diplomatic’ Blair pulled off – and despite my opinions of Blair in so many areas, we should never lose sight of what an incredible achievement that was. It will be, and deserves to be remembered as part of Blair’s legacy.
It makes a bitter, ironic contrast with his handling of the ‘special relationship’ with the US Presidency. Blair was clearly enthralled by George W Bush, a hawkish neo-conservative who should have been politically as far from New Labour as it was possible to be. Thus followed the spectacle of a moderate left of centre British government marching to war on the coat-tails of Bush’s right-wing crusade to change the face of the Middle East. Unable to secure UN mandate, or the backing of our other allies in the EU, he resorted to a tissue of half-truths and deceptions to gain the backing of his parliament. Make no mistake, the history books of the future will have this monumental misjudgment right up there with Suez.
Now Blair is to be an envoy to the Middle East. On the basis of the first example above, one would think – if anyone can get these people talking – he can. But on the basis of the second, one doubts if the Arab world will ever be able to do business with him. I hope I’m wrong.
When I was about ten, my I found myself standing outside in a car park on a cold day soaking wet and wearing nothing but swimming trunks. The location was Wyndley Leisure Centre, and we were outside because of a ‘bomb scare’. My first job was in Birmingham city centre, and bomb scares were a routine part of life in the city that had seen the terrible pub bombings.
As I became politically aware, I wanted to understand what motivated people to rain such mayhem on the British population – and read about the history of the ‘troubles’. I concluded that while it was difficulty for an Englishman to truly understand the depth of feeling on both sides, it would only every be resolved by the ballot box and by both sides being able to have a dialogue. Churchill’s famous quote about ‘jaw-jaw’ being better than ‘war-war’ comes to mind. But for many years, the idea of dialogue seemed a forlorn hope – each side holding such deeply entrenched bitterness which just got worse with each sectarian outrage.
So how great is the news today that the DUP and Sinn Fein will finally be working together to bring long-lasting peace to the Province. Unthinkable as it may have seemed for so long, dialogue has won out over violence. I hope that we have finally consigned the troubles to the history books – and that the ordinary people whose lives have been so blighted in the past can look forward to happy, peaceful lives.
As we ponder Blair’s legacy, I have heard his supporters point to the Northern Ireland peace process as one of his achievements. I take this with some salt, as the process was begun by John Major – and only an insane Prime Minister of any party would not have carried it forward.
But if Northern Ireland has proved that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, what on earth was he thinking when he invaded Iraq?
The Tories are getting themselves all in a lather about tax cuts. David Cameron is (wisely) refusing to commit the party to tax cuts as he seeks to drag the Tories kicking and screaming to electability. But the rank and file are not happy. Reading the Tory forums is an interesting exercise in discovering what real grass roots Tories think. They think that the one defining Tory policy that will win them the next election is tax cuts. They’re wrong, of course. If they were right Michael Howard would be comfortably esconced at number 10 right now!
As I live in the heart of Tory land, I have to suffer Tory controlled local government. Their election leaflets always refer to controlling council tax, and suggest that if they weren’t running the councils, then council tax would go up. Trouble is, they are struggling right now. Our local paper, the Bucks Free Press has featured a number of articles recently where our local councils have had to axe spending (usually blaming central government funding cuts as the excuse).
I hope the electorate as a whole have begun to see through this. The Thatcher years (where taxes weren’t cut that much in real terms anyway) were characterised by austerity and decay in public services. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the more the Tebbits and Redwoods of this world bleat about tax cuts, the more out of touch they look.
What is apparent, however, is that throwing taxpayers money around isn’t a magic cure. Gordon Brown has poured record amounts of money into the NHS – and yet the NHS is still in crisis. It is incredible that Labour have managed to squander such a fantastic opportunity to revitalise our public services. They have enjoyed a healthy economy and record tax revenues. I would love to know how much money we might have saved had we not embarked on this ill-judged ‘war on terror’ in Iraq. As the country slides into an ever deeping state of near civil war with no end in sight, the financial cost must run into billions.
With tax payers’ money, it’s not so much about how much you spend as how you spend it.
Everyone remembers where they were on September 11th, 5 years ago. The era of 24 hour televised news means that many, myself included, saw the second impact live. That was the moment you knew that the world had changed forever, because before that, it still might have been an awful accident. Instead, my blood ran cold at the thought that someone could be so evil that they would deliberately crash a plane full of civilians into a building full of civilians. Twice. Then it was four planes (for some reason, everyone talks about the Twin Towers and forgets to mention that there were four planes and two targets).
Such unspeakable acts can only be viewed as cold-blooded mass murder. There is no justification. There were no martyrs – only murderers. The question on everyone’s lips – ‘how do we (the Free West) react to such an attack?’. How do we achieve justice for the families of the victims, and prevent such an atrocity from ever happening again?
Five years later, we have to be adjudged as having failed on both counts. Osama Bin Laden, and his sergeants, are still at large. Not only has he evaded capture, but he is still able to exhort his followers around the world to plan and perpetrate mindless terrorist acts aimed at innocent civilians. His followers have brought murder to London and Madrid – and other despicable plots have been foiled too. We certainly cannot yet claim to feel safe from further attacks.
Our civil liberties have been curbed in the name of the ‘War on Terror’. The United States admits that suspects have been locked up without trial in Guantanamo Bay, and in other locations outside the US. But surely the hardest part to explain to anyone is this: the largest amount of money and manpower in our ‘War on Terror’ has been expended on invading and occupying a country which has no link with Osama Bin Laden and no connection to the 9/11 attacks. So much manpower and hardware has been devoted to Iraq, that our forces in Afghanistan (where most people believe Bin Laden is hiding) are stretched nearly to breaking point. This must be one of the most monumental tactical errors in the history of armed conflict.
Historians will struggle in years to come to explain the incompetence of our leaders.
Robert Kilroy-Silk quits UKIP because they won’t let him play with the big toys, err become leader
Robert Kilroy-Silk decides if he starts his own party, they’ll have to let him be leader – so he starts ‘Veritas’
My abiding memory is of Jamie Oliver sitting down with Charles Clarke to the disgusting processed junk that our kids eat (and seem to like)
I missed April – it disappeared in a blur of delivering leaflets, door-knocking and the general insanity of a general election
Reg Keys speech at the Sedgefield count, and the look on Blair’s face
Life can never be the same – no more Richard Whitely!
The best and worst that mankind can do in the space of a week. I hope that the man who tried to change the world with guitars will be remembered for far longer than the men who tried to change it by committing murder against innocent commuters
Oh yes, and the perma-tanned one quits again (it’s my party and I’ll quit if want to – so there)
I mourn the loss of two deeply principled and deeply honourable Labour politicians. They could do with a few more like Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam
Lib Dem conference back Charles Kennedy wholeheartedly. Some in our party still haven’t got the message. Meanwhile Labour stamp on free speech, ejecting an octogenarian for shouting ‘rubbish’
Once again, the Tories reject Ken Clarke. The other parties heave a collective sigh of relief
A great month for democracy, as Blair is defeated on 90 days detention without trial
Tories prove imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, electing a Blair clone as leader who starts talking about ‘New Conservatives’ and claiming to be liberal.
Meanwhile having swapped jobs, my new office in Hemel Hempstead falls victim to the Buncefield explosion – only the miracle of it taking place on a Sunday morning prevented a human tragedy. A full investigation into safety at UK oil facilities must be launched early in the new year