Saturday, 20 July 2013

On Blair

I had a real-life political argument today.

I was on a United With Labour street stall promoting the Scottish Labour campaign for Scotland to remain part of the UK. On the stall we also had information about the DebtBusters campaign (challenging the legal loan sharks who sell payday loans and charge exorbitant interest) and our local campaign calling for action against the Bedroom Tax. All great campaigns rooted in Labour values.

Some of the folk who approached us wanted to talk about other issues than the ones we were focused on. And that's great - one of the reasons we do stalls and other public engagement is to listen to what's important to people and feed it into our campaign work. We had some informative conversations.

But this couple wanted to talk about the Iraq war and Tony Blair, and I must confess, dear reader, that I did not. Not because I'm in denial, not because I have no answers, but because inevitably every such conversation seeks to find a way to change the past, and every time it fails, because we cannot do so.

I opposed the Iraq war, and I marched against it at the time. It was wrong. The Labour Party has since elected a leader who agrees it was wrong, and I'm proud to have voted for him. None of that changes the fact that it happened.

But this couple said the Labour Party had to go further to address this past mistake. They said only one course of action would satisfy them that Labour had learned its lesson: the expulsion of Tony Blair from the party.

On a busy shopping street on one of the hottest days of the year, I'm being told that unless I agree to call for Tony Blair's expulsion from the Labour Party, my arguments about the referendum, payday loans, bedroom tax and everything else are worthless.

And here's where I made my mistake. I responded with passion. I responded bluntly in reaction to the utterly idiotic logic of it. I told them I thought their idea was petty, personalised the issue rather than addressing it, and was utterly without merit.

This didn't go down well.

"Petty? You think opposition to the Iraq War is petty?" No, I'd have said, if they'd let me get a word in. That's not what I said and it's not what I meant. What I think is petty is to demand Blair's expulsion as retribution. I think it's dysfunctional, and counter-productive, to pretend that that would fix anything. Blair took a decision later backed by a majority of parliament on the basis of information believed to be accurate at the time. It was, in my opinion, the wrong decision, but it was his call.

"He's a war criminal!" At this point I'm on familiar territory. I point out that to be a criminal a person has to be convicted, and he has not even been charged. "Well he should be!" Well I'm sure that gives you the right to convict him without trial then, super. I imagine you're an expert in international law, yes?

You can see how this is going. Not well. Light is not being shed. Minds are not being changed. The past is once again destined to remain unaltered.

It went on for a while, and in the end we agreed to disagree on the idea of expelling from the party one of Labour's most successful leaders ever. And as is the way of such things, I realised afterwards what I should have said. It's very simple.

Under Tony Blair's leadership, Labour went to war in Iraq and made some dreadful mistakes on civil liberties. I think we were wrong on both counts.

But.

Also under Tony Blair's leadership, Labour delivered the winter fuel allowance, we delivered the shortest NHS waiting times in history and we cut crime by a third.

Under Blair we created SureStart, we delivered the Cancer Guarantee, there were record results in schools, and more students than ever.

Under Blair we implemented the Disability Discrimination Act, we delivered devolution for Scotland and Wales and we created Civil Partnerships.

Blair's commitment was critical to the Good Friday Agreement which delivered peace in Northern Ireland.

We implemented the Social Chapter, improving working conditions for millions, and we lifted half a million children out of poverty.

Under Blair we also ... Och, sod it, I'll let Gordon tell you the rest (list starts at 0m55s):



The point is simple. Are there things Labour has done that I opposed? Yes. But our achievements are still great. I'm still proud of the huge amount of good we've done, and excited and motivated by the huge amount of good we still can do in the future. And anyone who calls Tony Blair a bad guy based on Iraq, or makes lazy assertions about New Labour being right-wing, is also dismissing every single one of the achievements Gordon lists above.

I'm proud of those achievements, and keen to do more. That's why I'm Labour.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

On Trident

I am strongly in favour of unilateral disarmament of the UK's nuclear arsenal. I want to see the missiles dismantled and the warheads destroyed, and I certainly don't support the commissioning of a new generation. And I know I share that view with very many people across the UK.

People arguing for Scottish independence like to paint this another way. They like to pretend that Scots want rid but the rest of the UK wants to keep them. Any number of opinion polls show this isn't true. And that leads them to propose one of the most audacious pieces of false campaigning I have ever known: the idea that a Yes vote in 2014 means no more Trident.

It's simply not true. And in reality it's an absolute gift to the politicians who want to push through Trident renewal. Here's why:

  • Even if, on day one of a putative independent Scotland, a Scottish Government forcibly evicted HMNB Clyde, all that would happen would be that the weapons would be moved a few miles south. They wouldn't be disarmed, and they wouldn't be destroyed.
  • And that wouldn't happen anyway. An independent Scotland simply would not get away with attempting to forcibly and undemocratically damage the defences of another sovereign state, let alone its closest ally. In reality what would happen is a period of negotiation, and the most likely outcome of that negotiation between two NATO member states, under the watchful eye of the US for whom Faslane is a strategically critical site, would be an agreement to lease the site as the UK's nuclear base for as long as it was required.
  • On top of this, what a Yes vote in 2014 actually does is remove the influence Scots currently have - by dint of our having the same vote in UK elections as folk everywhere on these islands - over UK defence policy and Trident renewal. If we're sending anti-Trident MPs to represent us at Westminster now, it stands to reason that fewer would be there to argue against renewal were we to exit the UK.
  • And while we should be engaging in the UK-wide debate, fighting for the obscenity of nuclear weapons to be consigned to the dustbin of history, many of the strongest fighters are instead engaged in promoting independence as if it were the answer to the problem. People are being told they can stop Trident by voting Yes in 2014. And they can't. And by the time we wake up to the fact that we're being sold a pup by folk who merely want to hijack anti-nuclear sentiment to promote their goal of Scottish separation, it could well be too late.
A Yes vote in 2014 is not a vote to get rid of Trident. It's a vote to wash our hands of the problem, to walk away from the disarmament campaign, and to actively reduce the chances of disarmament happening in the UK.

If we want to disarm Trident, we need to stand and fight within the UK, not walk away.