Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Labour leadership hopefuls attack Ed Miliband on Iraq war stance.

Ed Miliband is being rounded on by his rivals for the Labour leadership who say that he is trying to "rewrite history" with his opposition to the Iraq war.

Ed Miliband, David Miliband, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham appeared in the first televised hustings which are due to run into August. Some of the candidates turned on the younger of the two Miliband brothers who in the first few weeks of his candidacy has made much of his opposition to the war. Though he was not an MP at the time of the invasion, Ed Miliband has said he thought UN weapons inspectors should have been given more time.

Ed Miliband told the studio audience of lost Labour voters at BBC2's Newsnight hustings that the broader lesson he drew from Iraq was that war should always be the last resort, to which his brother David Miliband, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "The idea that anyone on this panel doesn't think that war is the last resort doesn't do justice the substance of this issue."

Like Ed Miliband, Balls was not an MP in 2003 when Iraq was invaded but he has since said he thought his support for the war was a "mistake".

David Miliband also said there was no use in "conveniently trying to rewrite history". He went on: "The idea we lost the 2010 election because of Iraq simply does not add up to the conversations I have had around the country."

David Miliband is, of course, correct when he states that Labour didn't lose the 2010 election because of the Iraq war. Tony Blair was re-elected after the invasion for God's sake.

But that doesn't mean that there isn't a point to Ed Miliband's claim that trust in New Labour was badly eroded by the foray into Iraq. It was very clear that the Iraq war did much to destroy the trust in New Labour from amongst it's own ranks.

People like myself, who would never consider voting for anyone else, nevertheless saw our enthusiasm for New Labour evaporate with the invasion, when it became clear that Blair had decided to back Bush no matter what and was scrambling around trying to find reasons to justify a decision which had already been made.

Indeed, 139 Labour MP's refused to back the government's insistence that a case had been made for the war against Iraq. The Labour MP's who refused to back the war are listed here.

But the fact remained that the war was instigated by a Labour Prime Minister, albeit against the will of many in his own party.

That the other Labour hopefuls think this did not affect public trust in New Labour, especially after it was discovered that the much touted WMD did not, in fact, exist is fanciful.

I would agree with them that New Labour did not lose power solely because of the Iraq war, but I am not aware that Ed Miliband has ever really made that claim. My understanding is that he has claimed that the war led to "a catastrophic loss of trust in Labour". I personally think that that fact is simply undeniable.

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