People who wouldn’t dream of denying the Holocaust or Climate Change are denying the war in Iraq

Fifteen years ago my country participated in an illegal invasion which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, orphaned countless numbers of children, created millions of refugees, and wholly undermined and discredited international institutions and the global rule of law. On the basis of very many conversations with compatriots over the years, I believe that the sense of disillusionment with parliamentary democracy which it generated also contributed to the fateful decision of my fellow citizens to leave the EU.

Yet, in 2018, I see people who regard themselves as progressives denying that the war had anything other than minor consequences. Defenders of one of the war’s main architects seem keen to dismiss it as little more than a detail of history, a minor stain on Blair’s otherwise spotless record. I have even seen one person claim that those who opposed the war were delighted that it took place as it served to discredit Blair. We are regularly accused of having an unhealthy, irrational and bizarre fixation, of ignoring the Labour governments’ record on all other issues in order to pursue a personal and petty vendetta.

I’m used to British people denying their own history, playing down the horrors of the slave trade, the opium wars, the brutal repression of colonial populations and so on. Doing so is generally a preserve of the right. Over the last few years it’s been disheartening to see how ubiquitous empire, climate and even holocaust denial have become on the now less-remote fringes of British politics. It’s an ideology according to which the suffering of others is not worthy of consideration or concern. The progressive traditions in British society – both liberal and Labour – are supposed to stand for something better.

Blair’s position on Brexit is, I believe, a sensible, even laudable one. Britain has been led to the edge of a cliff and is showing every sign of hurling itself off. However, there are very solid reasons why he is not widely trusted, and thus his role in creating the circumstances that led us to Brexit cannot be ignored. They partly lie in a refusal to address our history. Farage et al dismiss the blood-soaked legacy of the British Empire, based on an ideology that says the experiences of foreigners is a minor price to have paid for far greater glories. Insisting, as I have seen many do online, that the consequences of much more recent violent adventurism by the British State in our name are of little concern and that Blair’s reputation must be evaluated independently of them, implies not only a failure to acknowledge certain inconvenient truths about how Blair is – despite his undoubted success in other areas – viewed throughout British society. It also represents a deeply obnoxious and very British refusal to face up to our historical responsibilities. It betrays a set of values which aren’t actually all that remote from those of the unapologetic neo-imperialists who have, by concocting a venomous slow-cooked stew of deep-seated xenophobia mixed with legitimate resentment, suspicion and frustration, led us to Brexit. And as for those who argue that the Iraq War was ‘a very long time ago’ and has no relevance today, one can only assume they have never lost a child nor learnt a single thing about history. 

#GE2017 suggests that the Blairite analysis of society is fundamentally mistaken


There’s a consensus on the Blairite left that the dividing line in global politics is one of mobility versus fixed identities, between those who value free movement and free markets as against those who are attached to specific places, to national boundaries and the Welfare State.

Zygmunt Bauman gave some credence to this argument by arguing that the difference between those with freedom to move and those without is the most fundamental one of the 21st century, and the distinction is the basis of David Goodhart’s book ‘The Road to Somewhere‘, in which he divides British society between the ‘anywheres’ and ‘somewheres’.

The problem for ‘progressives’ is how on earth to bridge this gap. ‘Blue Labour’ (to which Goodhart was central), with its dog whistle racism and ‘muscular liberalism’ was one attempt to do so. The result of the Brexit referendum seemed to confirm it. John Harris’ cogent analysis of the Brexit vote, based on his having visited former mining communities in South Wales, also appeared to give it some support. Resentment against privileged socially liberal elites seemed to be a major factor in the result.

This contradicts my own situation, in that I fully support both the Welfare State and freedom of movement. In theory, as a permamigrant, I fall into the camp of ‘anywheres’, but my experience and impulses tell me the picture is more complex. I blanch at the category of ‘globalist’, proponents of which seek to make out that economic and social liberalism are inseparable. There’s also a sense in which Goodhart’s model plays into the hands of presumably-soon-to-be-ex-PM Theresa May, with her repugnant notion of ‘citizens of nowhere’. My interview with Momus suggested that there is a fundamental disjuncture, an unresolvable conundrum between defending free movement on the one hand and appealing to economically disenfranchised voters on the other.

The widespread expectation that Corbyn’s Labour would be crushed in the North and in Wales was based on this assumption.  The actual result shows that the picture is actually more complicated and more hopeful. As Faisal Islam tweeted last night, those who voted to leave the EU don’t fall into the category of ‘Brexiteers’, and there is evidence that more ‘Remainers’ (supposedly ‘anywheres’) voted Labour rather than Liberal Democrat or for pro-Remain Tories*. It seems that it is in fact possible to build a coalition between ‘social liberals’ – who are by no means all supporters of ‘free markets’ – and those who value the welfare state, the NHS, etc. Or, as in my case and that of the very many young people who voted, they may be the same people. Another factor in this result is that Corbyn’s Labour has been subtly non-committal around the issue of immigration, and partly as a result seems to have attracted large numbers of working class UKIP voters in addition to people who are socially progressive but opposed to Neoliberalism. Also, even the most uncritical supporter of the EU can see that a Brexit negotiated by Corbyn would be far better than one than negotiated (or not) by May under pressure from the Sun and the Mail.

This result thus exposes the Blairite analysis as superficial and misguided. It may be that the more important distinction is one of economic class rather than social aspirations, between those who need institutions such as the NHS and those who (think they) don’t. Global issues such as climate change and the danger represented by Trump are not comprehensible in terms of a localist-globalist analysis. That paints a much more hopeful picture, as regardless of the hysterical manipulation of the tabloids there are many more of us than there are of them. That realisation was presumably why hopefully-not-much-longer-to-be-alive Rupert Murdoch was so gratifyingly upset by the exit poll – his Mugabe-like stranglehold over British politics has weakened. Good. Fuck ‘im.

*There is of course no way on earth that someone could continue to regard themselves as socially liberal and support a government which includes the DUP. Or a Catholic, for that matter.

Is Tony Blair the right person to lead the anti-Brexit campaign?


Tony Blair gave an excellent speech last week in which he laid out clearly the reasons why Brexit will be an absolute catastrophe for the British economy and called for people to rise up to stop it happening.

This has led members of several online pro-Remain groups to accept and promote him as leader of the campaign. They have argued that despite his lack of popularity on the left, he was a popular Prime Minister who is associated with a happier and more stable time in national life and is also able to make a coherent and convincing case that Britain should not jump off the cliff into economic oblivion, as Theresa May is proposing.

Here’s an alternative point of view. It’s not an opinion I share; I think that on this issue Blair is right and that Brexit will be an absolute disaster (although not as much as a catastrophe for the UK as his war was for Iraq). Nevertheless this is the narrative that will dominate the debate should Blair continue to play a prominent role in the anti-Brexit campaign:

In 2003 we, the British people, made our will absolutely clear. We marched in our millions against Blair’s proposal that we participate in an illegal war in Iraq. We made abundantly clear that we saw through the dodgy dossier and the machinations of the government spin doctors. We rose up throughout the country to say very clearly: no. We don’t believe you and we don’t want your war.

In 2016 we, the British people, took part in a referendum over our continued membership of the European Union. The outcome was tight, but clear: the will of the British people is that Britain must leave the EU. 

In both cases an out-of-touch and arrogant political elite with no respect for democracy has sought to deny the will of the British people. The first time they were successful. As a consequence, the Middle East was plunged into an abyss of violence which led directly to the refugee crisis and the rise of Isis. We sacrificed the lives of thousands of our own soldiers. We saw bombs on the London tube and bullets on the streets of Paris and Brussels. All because our leaders refused to listen to our voice.

Now Tony Blair, whose lies led us to this point, tells us we should rise up. Against whom? Against ourselves. Against our own will, as expressed peacefully at the ballot box. We are told warned of disaster by a man who we know for certain we cannot, must not trust ever again.

This is a sovereign and democratic country. We have to respect the will of the people, and that means we should have nothing but contempt for leaders who flout it and do not lead the country but instead seek continually to mislead it.

As I say, I don’t share this perspective. Should Blair continue to be associated with the pro-EU forces, however, and if his arguments start to have an impact, it will be the line pushed by Nigel Farage, who has spoken out several times against Blair’s war, and the central point hammered home by the Tory Party and their newspapers. After all, we have a wilfully amnesiac media which will happily let those members of the current Government who supported the war off the hook. The current impasse with regard to Brexit, in which no one who understands it is seriously in favour – and I would put Theresa May in that category, notwithstanding her inopportune political ambitions – is thus partly a consequence of the war in Iraq. Many who voted to leave will have had that historic insult to democracy foremost in their minds.

The above argument must also be a factor in Jeremy Corbyn’s conservative strategy with regard to Brexit. He knows that Labour is connected in the public mind with a lack of concern for the national mood, and therefore has made no attempt to shift it. His lack of leadership acumen has been made very apparent. He could, last June, have rejected the terms and conduct of the referendum in the first place and attempted to use his principled leadership – recalling explicitly his opposition to the war  – to lead the country in a different direction. It’s also shameful that he’s not open to the kinds of suggestions made by Caroline Lucas (that progressive forces should push for a radically different kind of Brexit that prioritises our values). It would be very ironic if one consequence of Corbyn’s failure to provide leadership with regard to Brexit would be his replacement by someone who represents everything that he (supposedly) opposes. And if we know one thing about Blair and the Blairites, it’s that they will seize any opportunity to regain power over The Labour Party.

Instead of letting Blair forward his own agenda, then, those opposed to Britain leaving the EU would be much better advised to look to figures like Caroline Lucas and Nicola Sturgeon to lead the way. Tony Blair must not play any significant role in the campaign. Those of us who both oppose Brexit and marched against the Iraq War cannot allow the Tories and Ukip to get away with using one grievous and obnoxious insult to democracy as a reason for supporting another.