Friday 21 May 2010

Ed Balls and Ed Miliband both argue that Labour got the Iraq war wrong

Ed Balls is interviewed in Saturday's Telegraph.

He says:

His greatest criticism is reserved for the Iraq war, which still saps Labour support. Mr Balls today becomes the first former Cabinet minister unequivocally to condemn the invasion, claiming the public were misled by “devices and tactics”.


Although Mr Balls concedes that, had he been an MP at the time, he would have voted for the war on the basis of the facts provided, he now concedes that not only was the information wrong but the war unjustified.

“It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war. We shouldn’t have changed our argument from international law to regime change in a non-transparent way. It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives. Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong.”

This is not in fact the first time Balls has said something similar about Iraq.

At the Fabian New Year Conference, right back in January 2005, having left the Treasury after being selected as a Parliamentary candidate, Balls said that there was a strong case that Hans Blix and the weapons inspectors should have had more time.

When I asked him about this afterwards: he said he had also said this during the Normanton constituency selection the previous summer.

That wasn't picked up in the press at the time, though other comments from Balls on the same panel were reported the following day. (And this was the pre-blog era, though I did mention this on the blog last year during the debate about the Iraq inquiry!). And he said something similar to Independent readers in 2006.

At the time, I thought Balls' comments were potentially newsworthy particularly if they could be read as a signal that Gordon Brown might say something similar about Iraq in a forthcoming leadership transition.

Of course, Brown didn't do so, offering a robust defence the decisions to go to war while accepting the case for an inquiry. Which suggested that Balls had indeed expressing his personal view, rather than flying a kite for his former boss.


PS: The Telegraph says that Balls "becomes the first former Cabinet minister unequivocally to condemn the invasion". The key word there would have to be "unequivocally", in his statement that "the war was wrong".

Several serving Cabinet Ministers had spoken about the need to admit the mistakes and lessons of the Iraq war, again, it was the Fabian new year conference in January 2007 which provided the occasion on which Peter Hain, James Purnell, Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper all chose to talk about the lack of legitimacy of the Iraq war.

Last weekend, Ed Miliband told the Fabians, in launching his leadership campaign, that:

We had a catastrophic loss of trust over Iraq.

For many people, the way that happened, broke the bond of trust with us.

Ed Miliband expands further on that thought in an interview in tomorrow's Guardian, with the paper suggesting that this makes him "the first contender for the leadership to make it an issue during the campaign".

The Guardian reports:

"I was pretty clear at the time that I thought there needs to be more due process here," Miliband said.

"As we all know, the basis for going to war was on the basis of Saddam's threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and therefore that is why I felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time to find out whether he had those weapons, and Hans Blix – the head of the UN weapons inspectorate – was saying that he wanted to be given more time. The basis for going to war was the threat that he posed.

"The combination of not giving the weapons inspectors more time, and then the weapons not being found, I think for a lot of people it led to a catastrophic loss of trust for us, and we do need to draw a line under it. "

He also urged other candidates to set out where they stood and stand on the issue. He insisted he did not think Britain went to war for the wrong reasons, and said he was not an opponent of liberal interventionism. "It has its place," he said.


Robin Paice said...

While it is undoubtedly true that the Irak War lost Labour many votes, it should be remembered that we actually won the 2005 election (when the war's principal British advocate was still party leader). There is some evidence (such as regaining Bethnal Green and Bow and our relatively good performance in inner city seats) that the Irak War effect has substantially reduced. So it cannot explain the huge swings against us in rural and suburban England, esp in the South.

Unknown said...

While Arabic transliterations aren't beyond reproach, I should point out to the above commentator that the country Tony Blair decided to unilaterally give assurances to the White House he would support an invasion of, regardless of the legality, is conventionally spelled 'Iraq'.

Robin Cook for Labour leader! The only man who had the decency to resign from cabinet over the war when it actually made a difference (even Clare Short was slow off the mark). Ed Balls is an opportunist.

Unknown said...

Mr Balls didn't say any of this at the time. He could have said it during the election campaign, if he believes it. Why didn't he? This is just a political game. That alone is bad enough - a Labour opposition needs to be based on principle not politics. But the insane thing is that its not even good politics. It is blatant flipping: vulgar and shameful.