When Major Henry committed suicide, Proust wrote that the Dreyfus Affair, hitherto pure Balzac, had become Shakespearean. While the Iraq affair obviously differs from Dreyfus, we can see what Proust meant. Yet the Iraq crisis had been unfolding before Dr David Kelly's death - whatever Lord Justice Hutton's inquiry concludes - and the sense that Iraq did not cause but nevertheless represents a crisis of the Labour Party has been with us for months now. The extent of the continued underfunding of the public services, the Government's confirmation that it wishes the House of Lords to be wholly nominated, something scarcely believable in a democratic society, the travails of the almost incoherent NHS legislation, the tacit admission that the mania for targets and league tables might be counterproductive, the Cabinet reshuffle that got badly out of hand, all these suggest a Government which does not need Iraq to be in a crisis. In these circumstances we would expect people to ask the Prime Minister to go. Should he resign? The obvious answer is yes: more than any other individual he is responsible for Labour finding itself in a political and intellectual dead-end. But this is to over-individualise what has happened. If Blair went who could succeed him? Not Gordon Brown, a formidable personality, but all too often obstinate in the defence of bad ideas, and as much responsible for Labour's failure to see just how financially decrepit our public institutions were (and are) as anyone. Not, obviously, any other member of the present Cabinet: all are disqualified on the same grounds as the Chancellor. Furthermore, the Prime Minister has had no difficulty in finding Parliamentary whips to organise majorities even for the most contentious legislation. And how many MPs really believed that Iraq was an immediate threat to Britain or the possessor of weapons of mass destruction?
LRB 7 August 2003 | PDF Download