[This guest slot contribution has been submitted by Matthew Partridge who had been a strong and consistent defender of Tony Blair’s actions in Iraq and raises an issue that we have not covered on the site for some time – whether Labour will suffer ongoing damage from the war. I disagree with almost everything that Matthew writes and think that his conclusions about the electoral impact are wrong. After some deliberation I’ve decided to publish it because it is a point of view that’s worthy of being aired – MS]
What do we think of Matthew Partridge’s argument?
One of the clichÃ©s about public affairs is that, â€˜a week is a long time in politicsâ€™. Indeed, much of the governmentâ€™s present â€œproblemsâ€ are due to events beyond itâ€™s control. However, the wheel of fortune has now swung back dramatically in the governmentâ€™s favor with the death of the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Iraqi people are still faced with many problems, not least the fact that Iran and Syria are still attempting to use terror to destroy the nascent democracy. However, an optimistic reading is that this situation can be seen as roughly analogous to the death of the Peruvian terrorist leader Abimael GuzmÃ¡n in 1992.
In this case an insurgency which came close to destroying a democratic state collapsed on the arrest of its leader. If this truly is the case then this could mark a watershed in Iraqi life and an acceleration towards a stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq.
So, where does this leave the leaders of the three main parties? It seems pretty clear that such a scenario could deliver an immediate political boost to the government and the premiership of Tony Blair. It could even mean the difference between Tony Blair stepping down in the winter of next year or the spring of 2008.
Although it is relatively certain that regime change in Iraq will eventually be seen to be a major achievement by historians, how this translates into votes is less clear. Letâ€™s remember that Harry Truman, the President who saved Western Europe and South Korea, left office with an approval rating of 25%.
An acceleration of the reconstruction of Iraq might mean that Blair leaves a legacy of strong poll rating to his successor, whether that is Gordon Brown or David Milliband.
What is also interesting is the effect that a successful reconstruction of Iraq will have on those who either opposed the liberation or were extremely lukewarm about it. Menzies Campbell initially had a reputation as a Liberal who was (relatively) less opposed to the war than others in his party.
During the leadership campaign of 2006 he even stated that, â€˜We cannot stay there forever but we have a duty to do everything we can nowâ€™. However, his recent decision to return to Charles Kennedyâ€™s familiar strategy of attacking the government over Iraq may mean that voters begin to move from the Lib Dems to the government sooner than they would otherwise.
Although it is pretty clear that David Cameron was at best unenthusiastic about the invasion and, if given the chance, would probably pull troops out rapidly, he has been clever enough to use George Osborne and Liam Fox as smokescreens for his anti-war attitude.
While Iraq has been divisive in the country this strategy has worked reasonably well for the Conservatives. However, Cameronâ€™s comments that; â€˜there are the confused and uncertain (on the war), of whom I am definitely oneâ€™, â€˜most of us would also like something else to be done before that threat (invasion) becomes realityâ€™ and â€˜Issues that once divided Conservatives from Liberal Democrats are now issues where we both agreeâ€¦.. (an example is) Iraqâ€™, leave him vulnerable on this issue.
Expect the government to take some votes away from the Liberal Democrats and the Tories in the opinion polls during the next few weeks. Indeed, it might be a good time to put some money on Labour winning the next election and Tony Blair staying until 2008.
Matthew JCG Partridge is a PhD Student (Economic History) at the LSE
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Many thanks – Mike Smithson