Him and us
The spinners have spun, the plagiarists plagiarised: we are still opposed to Blair's war.
Kenneth O' Morgan
Saturday March 1, 2003
Normally in a war crisis, government and people converge as they did in 1914 and 1939. This time, they have grown further apart. Perhaps three-quarters of the British people do not support a war. At least 30% have said they will not support a war under any circumstances, even with a second UN resolution. The government says the facts need to be explained and then people will form correct views. Well, the message has been elucidated; the spinners have spun; the plagiarists have plagiarised; and the people are more hostile than ever. Why is that? Have we suddenly turned uniformly into Trotskyists and pacifists? People find the government's case unconvincing; they simply do not believe it.
In the first place, it is evident that people are not persuaded that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the UK - perhaps not immediately a threat to anywhere. After all, he was successfully contained by international force for 12 years prior to this crisis. It was only after September 11 - indeed, some time after that - that the US turned its attention, in a way that future historians will find mysterious and interesting to penetrate, from al-Qaida to Iraq, which, after all, had been there all along.
The public recognises that Saddam Hussein is an unpleasant man and that his regime is cruel. They do not regard the case for his having weapons of mass destruction - certainly not nuclear weapons - as currently proven. Saddam has some unpleasant weapons - of course he has, we gave him some of them; the US gave him others. The US was responsible for selling Iraq anthrax, West Nile virus and botuliniol toxin in the 1980s, the salesman being Mr Donald Rumsfeld.
In spite of that, the reports by Hans Blix have so far been temperate. Things are by no means satisfactory, but they are moderately encouraging. He talks of positive progress and it is surely reasonable to ask for inspection to be undertaken properly and to reach its appointed time, rather than to resort to the extreme response of war.
Second, people are not convinced of any link between Iraq and international terrorism. The evidence is derisory. They fear that the threat of terrorism will be greatly increased by an attack on Iraq, as may be tension between different ethnic communities in the UK.
Third, people deeply suspect the motives of the US. That is not just anti-Americanism; we are not anti-American. But there is great hostility to and distrust of an extreme rightwing administration. People distrust the unilateralism of American foreign and external policy in relation to the environment, armaments, the international criminal court and many other issues.
There is mass popular distrust about the American concern with oil and the hypocrisy of not acting against an aggressive Israeli regime with an extremely rightwing government that consistently defies the UN's edicts and denies fundamental human rights to Palestinians. There is disbelief that the US, rather late in the day, has decided that this is a crusade for human rights. What human rights, when the Kurds, for example, are specifically omitted? Why are they omitted? Because it would upset the Turks and a large number of Kurds live in Turkey, which is a valuable base.
It is also recognised that the US has for decades propped up and continues to prop up some of the most atrocious regimes in the world, which have flouted human rights - at present, Uzbekistan, which provides virtually no human rights, but is a convenient base.
The British people believe in the UN. Admirably, our prime minister also believes in the UN. We suspect that the Americans do not - at any rate, to nothing like the same degree. Our Commonwealth background makes us attuned to dialogue and international discourse, whereas the history, background and outlook of the US are different.
People see the US apparently overruling or ignoring UN resolutions and probably not wanting to use the UN at all, had it not been pressurised into it by Tony Blair. They believe the US, having already decided on war, regards the Blix inspection as an irrelevant interlude. They see the Americans trying to impose their definition of regime change unilaterally and in defiance of the principles of international law. They see a US committed to following its own interests, whatever the rest of the world thinks. I fear that is the other side of America's so-called isolationism; it is an interventionist consequence of isolationism. It frightens people.
Finally, the British people fear war because they think that it will be barbarous and will lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq. They think it will be far worse than the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein and will result in a humanitarian catastrophe. They feel that war should be the last resort and that we are a long way short of the last resort.
In addition to popular concerns about Iraq, there are more specialist concerns. Economists are anxious about the long-term damage to the world economy. Military experts are worried about the absence of clearly defined strategic objectives and ask about the purpose of the projected war. International analysts fear extreme instability for many decades in the Middle East.
Others worry about the gulf emerging between us and our allies in France and Germany and the effect it will have on the European ideal. We are being alienated from France and cosying up to President Berlusconi, with whom this country has little common interest.
As a historian, I worry about the crude use of history, particularly our old friend the 1930s. Time and again we hear that this crisis is the 1930s come again - what nonsense. Saddam is not another Hitler. Where is his Mein Kampf? Where is his dream of universal conquest? George Bush is certainly no Churchill; it would be a calumny on the reputation of that great man to suggest it. It is a facile argument, and it disturbs me that Downing Street produces it, all the more because I taught one or two of them. My efforts were clearly in vain.
We should anatomise public opinion. Every element that brought New Labour to power is hostile to war. At least 70% of women are hostile to war under almost any circumstances. Young people are deeply alienated, as are the trade unions. In Scotland, only 13% of people would support a war. God help the Labour party in the elections in May. It will be a bonus for the SNP and perhaps, in my own nation, for Plaid Cymru. All faiths are opposed to the war. The bishops have spoken out with courage and vision - they do not see it as a just war. There is also the powerful opposition of the Pope.
The opposition to war was reflected on February 15 in a great and moving protest, comparable to the chartists or the suffragettes. The extent of that protest shows how the crisis can destabilise our country. Nearer home, it is destabilising the Labour party. I have been a member of the party since 1955. I was a member of the Labour league of youth before Tony Blair was born. It grieves me to see the haemorrhaging of good members from our party.
Tony Blair is a brave man who prides himself on being another Churchill. He must be wary of being another Ramsay MacDonald. This is said to be a listening government; one that listens to the people. They should listen - not to transatlantic ideologues but to the wisdom, humanity and decency of the British people.
This article is based on Lord Morgan's speech in the debate on Iraq in the House of Lords on Wednesday. He is a fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, and his many books include biographies of Keir Hardie, Lloyd George and James Callaghan, and a history of the Attlee government.