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27 January 2010

Should Tories be called to the Iraq inquiry?

The opposition's dereliction of duty.

By James Macintyre


With both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown set to appear before the Chilcot inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq before the general election, many assume that the Tories will benefit from a reminder to the electorate of “Labour’s war”. If that is the case, however, is it fair?

The official opposition, after all, officially supported the war. It is one of life’s dark little ironies that had the 300,000 grass-roots members of the Tory party voted for Kenneth Clarke over Iain Duncan Smith, the opposition might have opposed the invasion — as Clarke did, prophetically warning of retribution on Britain’s streets. This would have meant that Blair probably would not have won his February 2003 Commons vote, for which he relied on the votes of Conservative MPs. And the US-UK invasion may even have been stopped.

However, Clarke lost in 2001 to Duncan Smith. An ultra-hawk, IDS went even further than Blair in talking up the alleged threat from Saddam, linking it directly to the UK. In September 2002, he claimed that Iraq was developing ballistic missiles that would have “the capacity to strike most of Europe, including London”.

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Now, it is true that IDS’s immediate successor, Michael Howard, sought opportunistically to row back, angering George W Bush’s White House by saying during the 2005 general election that he would have voted differently “if I knew then what I know now”.

However, and contrary to perception, David Cameron did and does not share the retrospective doubts about Iraq that Howard expressed. Along with the vast majority of Tory MPs, he voted for military action.

“I look back over what I said to my constituents and the argument about weapons of mass destruction was just one of the points that I put,” Cameron said in a recent Sky News interview, echoing Blair’s line that there was a separate case for regime change. “I think the fact that Saddam Hussein was in breach of so many UN resolutions, and was such a menace to the region, were also relevant points.”

In his column in last week’s magazine, my colleague Mehdi Hasan described the dominant neoconservative strain inside the shadow cabinet. And in a feature for this week’s issue he touches on the question of Tory support for Iraq, in a piece packed with thought-provoking revelations.

However, today I thought it might be time to go one step further and ask: as well as Jack Straw, Peter Goldsmith, Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell, Blair, Brown et al, isn’t it time for the Chilcot inquiry to consider calling Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron, too?

After all — like Brown and Straw — the Tories could probably have stopped the war.