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Ken Clarke tells truth about Iraq shock

Nick Bird

 

A spectre is haunting New Labour – the spectre of Ken Clarke. Whilst the interest generated by his entry into the Tory leadership race is a damning comment on the lacklustre nature of the current generation of Conservative MPs, there is no doubt many see him as the only realistic hope the Tories have of threatening Labour at the next election.

Spurious though it may be, his ‘man of the people’, cigar and a pint image seems to find some resonance – whereas the prospect of finding Tony Blair in your local pub would be enough to send the most hardened drinker fleeing, if only in search of a blunt instrument.

What is noteworthy is that Clarke chose to speak out on the issue of Iraq as the opening gambit in his campaign. He clearly thought it was worth setting the dangerous precedent of telling the truth about aspects of the Iraq conflict because of Blair’s continuing weakness on the question. When he says that Blair must be the only person left who sees no connection between his “disastrous” decision to go to war and the July bombings in London, people will nod in recognition.

When he warns that “new laws after every terrorist atrocity can feed a sense of panic” and “if our response is an ever-more repressive set of laws, [terrorists] will know that those laws are most likely to impact on communities from which they derive sympathy,” he taps into widespread concerns about civil liberties provoked by Blair’s messianic authoritarianism.

Of course, nobody can imagine that a Tory government under Clarke would do anything other than what Tory governments always do, and Clarke was a key figure in the long night of 1979-1997. It is just remarkable that a contender for the Tory leadership can effectively attack a Labour government from the left on the questions of war and civil liberties. Blair has made Labour so right wing that swivel-eyed neoliberals in the Tory party can offer no real critique.

The whole sorry situation can only make it more urgent for the forces of the radical left to organise the most serious and widespread challenge possible over the coming years and to build on the foundations laid by parties such as Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party. We cannot let Clarke hijack our agenda and create a climate where people see the Tories as a saner alternative to Labour's wars and lies.

 

September 2005

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