Iraq/Iran WMD myths, part 67

John Lloyd uses the “Iranian threat” to criticise Ed Miliband’s position on Iraq.

The former New Statesman journalist and "liberal interventionist" John Lloyd has a rather silly blog post up on the Prospect site entitled:

Ed Miliband's alarming attitude on Iraq

He says Miliband's declaration yesterday that the invasion of Iraq was "wrong" implies that the Labour leader does "not believe Saddam Hussein's regime posed a real threat to the world". Memo to John: it wasn't. He had no WMDs. He wasn't even a threat to his neighbours. The best — the very best! — that Tony Blair could come up with in the Iraq chapter of A Journey is that Saddam might have, one day, in the distant future, if all sanctions were lifted, and if all UN weapons inspectors pulled out, reconstituted WMD programmes (not WMDs).

Lloyd goes on to write:

Anyone in serious politics who now wishes to oppose, in retrospect, the Labour government's decision on Iraq, must give his party an account of how he sees a world in which one of the gravest strategic threats is the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Really? Did Obama? I'm always amused at how liberal and conservative hawks in Britain, who condemn those of who opposed the Iraq war and continue to denounce it, have so little to say about Barack Obama's opposition to, and denunciation of, the war (which, of course, helped him get elected too!).

Lloyd concludes:

A leader's maiden speech is not the place . . . to dismiss one of the central controversies of the past decade with a few glib phrases.

Hmm. Then how to explain Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, in August 2008, in which he accepted his party's nomination for president and said:

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face . . . You don't defeat a terrorist network that operates in 80 countries by occupying Iraq.

Why pick on Ed M while giving Barack O a free pass?

But the real reason for this post is that I couldn't let Lloyd's claims vis-à-vis Iran go unchallenged. He writes:

Iran has taken the lead in threatening the region and the west with WMD, which it continues to attempt to acquire and make operational.

I have three responses to this nonsensical and disingenuous sentence:

1) "Threatening the region" with "WMDs"? Not even the most hawkish Israeli general or American spook has claimed that Iran possesses weapons of mass destruction.

2) He then claims that Iran "continues to attempt to acquire make operational" WMDs. Where's the evidence? The IAEA disagrees, as does the US intelligence community.

3) How can a "serious" journalist talk about the threat of WMDs in the "region" without making even a passing reference to the only country in the Middle East which actually has nukes — that is to say, the state of Israel? Ridiculous.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.