Why the moral stance fails to convince

Advertising executives know that, for all the power of greed and aspiration, fear is the most effective sales weapon of all. Will I have an impoverished old age if I don't take up this pension scheme? Will I get a reputation for BO if I don't buy this deodorant? Will I have nothing to say if I don't read the Financial Times? Political parties often use the same technique, as the Tories did with their claim that Labour would introduce ruinous taxes, and as Labour did with its charge that the Tories would dismantle the NHS. Tony Blair seems to have forgotten this truth. Paradoxically, by taking the moral high ground and adopting what is by far the strongest argument for war on Iraq - that the people of that tragic country can be liberated from Saddam Hussein - Mr Blair has lost what little chance he had of converting Middle England to his cause. This always depended on his convincing the mass of people that they have more to fear if Saddam is left free to rearm than if the tyrant (and perhaps other Islamic militants) is provoked by a British-American attack.

To say this is to risk accusations of spoiling the virtuous glow that arose from the great London march. But it is no use pretending that fear was not an important emotion among the protesters, even if few would admit it even to themselves. We can acclaim Middle England's instincts on the war, while deploring its instincts on asylum-seekers; but we delude ourselves if we fail to recognise that, to some extent, they derive from the same insular attitudes. How many people have not asked themselves, in recent weeks, if they would need to worry about gas attacks on the underground or watch troops patrolling airports if they lived in, say, Oslo or Antwerp or Berlin or Buenos Aires? The strongest feeling in the country at present is that whatever President Bush's motives for going to war, Britain has no need to ally itself so closely with him. The British have an instinct (or think they have) for sniffing out anybody who is not quite right in the head, and they are pretty sure there is something funny about President Bush. They sense that he is dangerous company, like one of those young men who always knows of a night-club still open on the other side of town.

As it happens, the humanitarian argument is probably wrong. It is all very well for Mr Blair to quote letters from Iraqi exiles - who in any case do not claim to speak for more than 350,000 out of several million. Exiles are by their nature bitterly opposed to the incumbent regime; if the tyranny is bad enough to persuade them to flee their homeland, they will reasonably think it is bad enough to risk a war. We can by no means conclude that the majority of Iraqis, who may not be as politically driven as the exiles, would willingly lay down their lives to be rid of Saddam. Indeed, since most are under 15, it seems improbable that they would offer such a sacrifice. Even so, the humanitarian argument remains the strongest, simply because, unlike hidden weapons and links with al-Qaeda, it offers something tangible and undisputed, as Saddam's atrocities are well-known and well-documented and there is no need for UN inspectors to verify them.

But Mr Blair of all people cannot now play this card. The whole basis of his policy - repeated over and over again during recent months - is that there need be no war if only Saddam would disarm. Yet a Saddam disarmed under UN requirements would be no less of a tyrant to his people - true, he could no longer gas them, but he has ample other ways of committing murder. President Bush can at least claim consistency, in that he wanted "regime change" from the start, and has only been persuaded to modify his position by others - notably Mr Blair. But Mr Blair's professed wish to free the Iraqis from tyranny - sincere though it may be - looks to be the product of either confusion or spin.

Even if the Prime Minister is believed, it won't do him any good with Middle England, which already fears what a sleeping dog will do if disturbed. Now, it will conclude, Mr Blair's intention is not at all to protect his people; rather, it is to pursue some misty-eyed liberal idealism. Nor will he win points with the anti-war left. There are ample ways of doing good in the world: opening up trade with Africa, welcoming migrants from poor countries to Britain, stopping arms sales, relaxing patent laws so that the developing world has access to cheaper life-saving drugs, to name just a few. Mr Blair professes concern on such issues (and has not been inactive) but treads cautiously because he will not risk British business or jobs or Labour's chances of re-election. Yet he will risk the lives of Iraqi children. This does not seem a very impressive humanitarian commitment to most people on the left.

Becks suffers collateral damage

As the nation prepares for war, we must all be grateful for Sir Alex Ferguson's firm refusal to apologise for the most talked-about graze in history. For those just back from Alpha Centauri, Sir Alex, the manager of Manchester United, sent a boot flying through the air while expressing - how to put it? - disappointment at the team's defeat. The boot connected with the forehead of his star player, David Beckham. Everyone knows that it is necessary to rant, rave and throw things at professional footballers. The fans do it all the time, so why expect more of managers, whose jobs are at stake? Chasing a ball for 90 minutes every week as though it matters is an inherently absurd way to earn a living, and only extreme measures can persuade the players to keep up the pretence. So Mr Beckham's injury counts as collateral damage. We shall see more of it soon, and if Sir Alex had not set a sound example, there would be no end to apologising.

Next Article