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Sun, 02 Mar 2003

Close, but no banana

The ongoing Iraqi situation is having a distorting effect on British -- and world -- politics. There's a fascinating article on the Guardian which explains the background to last Wednesday's huge parliamentary rebellion.

Key extracts give a feel for how badly the Labour party is rattled:

... Foreign Office Ministers were dispatched to the Commons to start 'pressing the flesh'. At 10am Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was to be seen at the meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party in Committee Room 14. Ann Clwyd, darling of the Left, told the meeting that Saddam Hussein should be deposed on humanitarian grounds. How else could the world look the Kurds of northern Iraq in the eye after the years of persecution, torture and death they had suffered at the hands of Iraq?

More than a dozen MPs said that they swung back behind behind the Government after hearing Clwyd's impassioned call to arms. Clwyd will now start a tour of constituency parties of members who fear de-selection because they decided to side with the Government.

Let me explain just how important that underlined final sentence is.

Prior to a parliamentary election, candidates are selected by their local constituency party (subject to some nobbling from Central Office). While most MPs stay in the same constituency for their entire career in parliament (there are no term limits so runs of five or six re-elections are not remarkable), de-selection is the ultimate sanction that a local constituency organisation can impose on a sitting MP -- it forces them to look for another constituency, often one with a worse electoral margin, and puts their career at risk. (It also makes them look like a political carpetbagger.)

The Parliamentary Labour Party, in thrall to Blair, is actually afraid that MPs who voted for the government could be punished by their local party organisations for defying the will of the voters. As Michael Portillo points out, there are eerie parallels between Blair's persistence in following his policies with messianic fervour in the face of massive public opprobium and the events leading up to be overthrow of Margaret Thatcher by her own party. And as Kamal Ahmed put it, at the end of his time-line of events leading up to the commons rebellion:

Parliamentary opponents of war said that they will consider tabling a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister if he takes military action without a second resolution. Blair had been given more than a bloody nose. There was now a chance it could be a bloody nightmare.

Meanwhile, some other fun snippets: huge SNAFUs caused by privatisation of most logistics functions have left British troops in Kuwait so short on food that they're relying on food parcels sent by their families. Huge cost overruns in an upgrade to the royal dockyards at Devonport look set to line Halliburton's pockets, while the army's Apache helicopters are in mothballs because an attempt to privatise flight crew training resulted in a typical competitive tendering mess. (Oh, and they're outsourcing to the private sector responsibility for maintaining the Ministry of Defense's secret records.) If Blair gets his way and sends the British military into Iraq he'll be sending them in with inadequate equipment and supplies, largely due to his slavish pursuit of Thatchernomics.

Meanwhile in the rush to stick Saddam's head on a pike the real issue of who's behind Al Qaida sort of got ignored. It turns out that the Saudi ambassador to London is a former secret policeman and torturer who is alleged to have bankrolled Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden's right hand man. (But that's okay, he isn't a member of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party.)

And would it be churlish to mention the US dirty tricks campaign currently being pursued against non-aligned nations with seats on the UN security council right now?

[ Link ] [ Discuss Iraq invasion ]

posted at: 17:00 | path: /wartime | permanent link to this entry


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