Iraqi tribes men carry their weapons as they gather, volunteering to fight along side the Iraqi security forces against jihadist militants. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Hague defends the Iraq war as Boris disowns it

The Foreign Secretary says "I don't think the invasion itself was a mistake".

When the Commons voted for the final time on the Iraq war, all but 16 Conservative MPs (including Ken Clarke) supported Tony Blair's government. Events since then have, unsurprisingly, prompted several to recant, and Boris Johnson has become the latest to do so today. In an excoriating Telegraph column, the mayor writes: "The Iraq war was a tragic mistake; and by refusing to accept this, Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates – the possibility of serious and effective intervention. Blair’s argument (if that is the word for his chain of bonkers assertions) is that we were right in 2003, and that we would be right to intervene again."

But asked on the Today programme this morning whether he shared the mayor's contrition, William Hague replied: "I don't think the invasion itself was a mistake". The Foreign Secretary limited himself to saying that "mistakes were made" in the aftermath of the war (most obviously the complete dismantlement of the Iraqi state) and noted that he argued long and hard in opposition for a public inquiry. 

Asked whether he was ruling out new British intervention action in Iraq, Hague carefully replied that "to rule all things out in all circumstances would be a mistake" and rejected the notion that the government's defeat over intervention in Syria proves that the Commons is "never prepared to authorise military action". He was clear, however, that British involvement will almost certainly be limited to humanitarian aid and the offer of counter-terrorism expertise. 

The most salient point that Hague made was that it would be a mistake to view the issue through the prism of western intervention. There are forces at work - the rise of ISIS, the sharpening Sunni-Shia divide - that go far beyond the rights and wrongs of military action. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to prevent Iraq's downward spiral being used as an occasion for unsightly grandstanding over 2003. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.