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Blythman on Brown

This was published in the August 5 (Scottish) Sunday Herald: I thought it was spot on:

We’ve not all fallen for Gordon
By Joanna Blythman

ISN'T HE doing well? We are having a love-in with Gordon Brown at the moment. Even nicey-nicey David Cameron admits that the electorate is going through a honeymoon period with the new PM. Newness always bestows an advantage, however temporary, if only because a fresher politician centre stage brings relief from years of frustration watching the same protagonist visiting mayhem on miscellaneous tinderbox countries and making a hash of everything at home from civil liberties to the NHS.

But any grudging honeymoon I might have had with Gordon Brown ended abruptly when he voted to go to war in Iraq. He could have resigned from the Cabinet, so showing integrity and the true statesmanlike stature of Robin Cook. How prescient Cook was when he said in his resignation speech: "None of us can predict the death toll of civilians from the forthcoming bombardment of Iraq, but the US warning of a bombing campaign that will shock and awe' makes it likely that casualties will be numbered at least in the thousands". A recent survey put that figure at 655,000.

Brown could have expressed reservations in public. Even the odd glimmer of doubt flitting over his face at Prime Minister's Questions might have persuaded me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But there was not a whimper, not a squeak. I don't buy the "Brown was secretly against the war all the time but couldn't distance himself from Blair" school of thought. That's too subtle and Machiavellian. Perhaps he thought the war in Iraq was a jolly good idea, in which case his judgement is forever suspect. Isn't Brown meant to be a towering intellect? If so, why didn't he read a few Robert Fisk articles and get the message?

Or, alternatively, Brown thought the war was a crap idea but chose to lie low in Treasury boffin role to protect to his future prime ministerial prospects. He had company here, of course, from assorted nose-in-the-trough, on-the-make fellow travellers, all eyeing up a future Cabinet portfolio. It sticks in the throat to watch the parade of commentators purring approvingly over Brown's Camp David encounter with George Bush, in the manner of doting grandparents showing off snapshots of their progeny: "Look, he can do this! And that! Isn't he clever!" Do they have amnesia? This is the man who could have used his weight and credibility to talk Blair out of his disastrous mission. But he didn't, and now realises that being too pally with that bellicose scatterbrain, George Bush, won't play too well with the voters at home.

Once again, an eye to the main chance. No wonder Brown is so keen, belatedly, to establish some distance from Bush. But why should we applaud him for having cold feet about the catastrophic Iraq adventure? More like: "Where were you four years ago, mate?"

I suppose we have to be grateful for small mercies: at least with Brown, we are spared the chinos, the chumminess and the grating, freeloading spouse. (And almost anyone has to be more competent in the job of foreign secretary than Margaret Beckett.) But surely an admission of error is in order, or, at very least, some public recognition of the fact that Iraq has proved to be a bloody disaster, swiftly followed by an expression of commitment to getting out of it? Instead, all we get are hints about possible troop movements and agreement that in Iraq, both the US and the UK have "responsibilities to keep".

That's pretty limp in the same week that Oxfam reported the grim realities of life in "liberated" Iraq: about a third of Iraq's population needs emergency aid; 43% live in absolute poverty; 70% have no water. A massive 92% of Iraqi children have had their education totally disrupted by the war - a situation which, by the general agreement of the civil population, is infinitely worse than when Saddam (Bush's "evil dictator") was in charge.

And still we are expected to be ever supportive of Britain's ongoing presence in Iraq. I recently heard a radio interview with a soldier earnestly avowing that, despite all the killed and maimed colleagues, despite all the traumatised civilians, he sincerely believed that British troops were "making a difference" in Iraq.

You can understand why soldiers have to cling on to the belief that they are risking their lives for something worthwhile and honourable, but this script, doubtless handed on a plate to the media by some Ministry of Defence press officer, is that of a teenager embarking on a gap year. It rivals the Miss World "swimming with dolphins" line for crass banality. In the context of Iraq, it is a tragic distortion of the truth. The best thing our troops could do for Iraq would be to head home.

Dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporters desperately want to believe that the centre-left New Labour project, which puts a social face on complete capitulation to globalisation and the City, is still valid. They attribute mistakes such as Iraq to the individual failings of Blair and his advisers and believe that Brown is the man to rescue it. Let them enjoy their honeymoon, it can't last for long.

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