THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND in the 2000s.
THE 2001 ELECTION
Labour were confident but believed they must not gloat. So long as they did not blot their copy book they would win easily. Caution was their watchword. Labour’s thewless campaign would pay dividends. Blair took advice from Clinton on his re-election.
Labour had plenty of set piece rallies to which only Labour members were invited. The Conservatives castigated Labour for spin. They claimed that Labour was false in providing these artificial images of positivity to the public. In fact the Conservatives were at the same game but were not so good at it.
Polls showed Labour was much more trusted on the NHS, education, the economy, crime and so on. Only one issue favoured the Conservatives and that was the European Union. Hague decided to play that card for all it was worth. He also highlighted the fact that a large number of illegal immigrants were entering the United Kingdom and many lodged bogus claims for asylum. The Conservatives made euroscepticism the mainstay of their campaign. Hague was asked about a future referendum on the Euro. Hague said, ”this is the referendum on the Euro.” He was raising the stakes. By trying to make the election about the Euro his party would win more votes. David Dimbleby said, ”then you will accept the result?” So if Labour won the election then Hague would admit that Britain wanted the Euro. William Hague dodged the question. Hague was too dishonest to admit this was the inescapable conclusion of his logic. When Labour did win Hague backtracked and did not accept that most British people wanted to get rid of the pound. His claim that the election was a poll on the Euro was disingenuous and will have gained but a corpuscle of support. Senior Tories such as Heseltine inveighed against euroscepticism. They viewed Hague as being a hapless jackanapes.
Despite the public mostly being eurosceptic this issue was low on saliency. It was well down their list of priorities. They did not see how it impacted on them. Labour was not committed to the Euro so it was a straw man argument to say that only the Conservatives could save the pound.
Labour emphasised prosperity. They mocked the Conservatives as being a film ”Economic Disaster II” – Hague as Mr Boom and Portillo as Mr Bust. The Tories had lost their reputation for economic competence. Low unemployment featured heavily in Labour’s campaign. Brown was portrayed as the Iron Chancellor – not like Bismarck. He joked that he loved prudence. In years to come people would say it was imprudence. Labour was shrewd in knowing that the economy mattered more than the themes the Tories were stressing. It became normal for middle class people to vote Labour. It was no longer for the covetous working class.
Blair undertook a few walkabouts. Outside a Birmingham Hospital he was accosted by a woman named Sharon Storer. She upbraided him for not improving the NHS enough. She said her boyfriend had had to wait far too long for his operation. She spoke for many when she said Blair did not care about the NHS. Blair remained tranquil and apologised. It was one of the few real moments of the campaign. Sharon Storer was later interviewed by Paxman. She was asked if she would agree to higher taxes to fund the NHS. She said no. This is the dilemma politicians had to deal with. People demanded better public services and then refused to pay for them.
John Prescott was on a walkabout in Wales. He was confronted by a heavy looking mulleted fuel tax campaigner who threw an egg at him. Prescott punched the man. It enlivened an otherwise banal campaign. Blair did not castigate Prescott for this ”John is John.” The Sun had dubbed Prescott ”two jags” because of his jaguars. Now they called him ”two jabs.” The police investigated the incident but did not prefer charges against the Deputy Prime Minister. Some saw it as setting a poor example for children. Despite being provoked Prescott had not needed to defend himself. He came out well by not behaving sourly afterwards.
In the 2001 election the Conservatives stressed some key policies. They wanted to tackle the illegal immigration issue. They would retain the pound sterling. The pound was the Conservatives only very popular policy. They were mistrusted on education, the NHS and even crime.
The Liberal Democrats wanted to raise tax. They said that the pound must be abolished as soon as possible. They wanted to spend more on public services and abolish tuition fees.
Labour won 41% of the vote and 410 seats. It was happy to note that this was almost the same number of seats as before. Labour’s share of the vote had fallen by 3% points. This was mostly to the benefit of the Liberal Democrats. This was yet another reason to smile. The Conservatives might one day be a threat but it was hard to envisage the Lib Dems ever posing a danger to Labour. Labour had suffered from low turn out. This was partly because the outcome was seen as a foregone conclusion. If there had been a significant chance of the Conservatives regaining office then reluctant Labour supporters would have come out of the woodwork to prevent a Conservative Government. Labour felt their very comfortable victory was a recompense for their caution. It was also commensurate with what they had anticipated. They had seen a thumping victory coming.
The Liberal Democrats increased their share of the vote for the first time since 1983. They captured 52 seats. They mostly gained from Labour. The Conservatives made a net gain of a solitary seat. They polled 32%. It was a small gain in share of the vote since 1997.
Tories knew they would lose. They were reluctant to believe they would lose to heavily.
In Northern Ireland nothing much changed.
Plaid Cymru and the SNP did not better than before. The Scottish Socialist Party did not come anywhere near capturing a seat and neither did the Socialist Alliance.
The 2001 election must rank as the most boring election of all time. Of about 650 seats in the House of Commons only around 20 changed between parties.
Leftists like to grind the Tories face in their double defeat. The Guardian mused that the public had rejected the Conservatives in 1997 and again so ”they meant it.” The Conservatives had not accepted how much they needed to reform.
NEW CONSERVATIVE LEADER.
Fresh cheeked Hague resigned within hours of the close of polls. ”Clearly it has been a deeply disappointing night for the Conservative Party.” It turned out his press chief Amanda Platell kept a secret diary. She revealed all the inner workings of the Conservative Party just after the campaign. Hague was but a stripling. Maybe an older leader was needed.
Hague had changed the Conservative Party rules for leadership contests. MPs would vote on a shortlist of candidates. This would reduce it to two candidates who would then be put to the mass membership.
Several men contested the Conservative leadership. Ann Widdecombe also wished to stand. No other Conservative parliamentarian would nominate her.
Portillo had been the Shadow Chancellor. He had become a standard bearer of the liberal Conservatives. He said the party should agree to same sex civil partnerships. Portillo has been seen as the coming man of the party for years. Expectations heaped on him were unrealistically high. He would liberalise the party and lead them back to office. For years rumours and circulated in the Westminster Village that Portillo had been actively gay in his 20s. The press printed stories claiming that when he had been at Peterhouse, Cambridge he had had a liaison with a don named Evans. Peterhouse was then known as Poofterhouse and all the undergraduates (boys only at that stage) were given girls’ names. Portillo was known as polly. Portillo had refused to respond to any inquiries about the veracity of such tales. In 2001 he finally decided to make a clean breast of it. He confirmed, ”I did have homosexual experiences as a young person.”
Iain Duncan Smith also stood. He had been talked of by the Tory right as a future leader even before 2001. Duncan Smith was the son of an RAF pilot. His Japanese ancestry made it hard to accuse him of racialism. He had been to a minor public school and was then commissioned in the Scots Guards. AFter a full army career he had gone into politics. Duncan Smith was respectable and had hinterland. However, he was not a good media performer. He was too desiccated and formal. He was not convivial. One journalist wrote it was hard to imagine him ever having worn jeans. IDS as he was known, was a hardline Eurosceptic. He had rebelled over the Treaty of Maastricht many times. How could he demand loyalty from others?
Ken Clarke was another major candidate.
The Conservative MPs narrowed down the field of candidates. One Conservative MP offered to vote for Portillo if he would water down his proposed reforms of the party. Portillo declined to do so. Portillo came third by a single vote. Some believe that Portillo’s statement about his prior gay activities had sunk him.
It was between Clarke and Duncan Smith. Clarke had more backing from among the parliamentary party. Former leader Hague gave his blessing to Duncan Smith.
Clarke’s determination to join the Euro counted against him. He also said the party should not necessarily be in favour of low tax. He said he was a liberal and accused Duncan SMith of being a hanger and a flogger.
The result was announced and Duncan SMith won 60% of the vote. He had been the Conservative Shadow Defence Secretary. Other than that he was plucked from relative obscurity. Not having been to university or in the professions he was in a sense a less typical Conservative MP than Clarke.
Within days Duncan Smith said the Monday Club was being suspended from the party for ”racism or perceived racism.” The fact that it could be suspended for a perceptions should have worried people. The club had been a faction within the party since 1961. Many MPs had been members.
After the General Election one newspaper headline chided Labour, ”Get back to work.” The Guardian told Labour that they had been elected but had yet to earn the nation’s love. New Labour had to significantly improve public services. Blair wanted to introduce elements of the market into public services and he knew that public sector unions would not like it one bit. The unions were demanding more for their members. Labour, the party of the unions, was firmly in government. But it seemed to be the party of the smart suited business elite and not the toiling classes.
There had been intelligence chatter for a few months that a large scale attack was planned against American interests. This would not necessarily be in the United States. It might be against a US embassy abroad as had occurred in Nairobi and Dodoma in 1998.
That September Blair went to address a conference of trades unionists. As he prepared to deliver unwelcome news to them a message came from America. There had been a devastating attack in New York City and other places. Tens of thousands of people had been killed. The speech was cancelled. Some hardened cynics among the press corps felt Blair had somehow planned this to duck out of a speech that he knew would bomb. Pun intended.
American air space was closed.Security measures were tightened in the United Kindgom. Among the dead in the USA were dozens of Britons. The felonious attacks provoked genuine horror in the UK.
Tony Blair flew to the United States with the head of MI6. They met President Bush. Blair expressed support in his usual effusive style. He was at his best during moments of high drama when he could moralise. He pledged unlimited British support. Blair was a comfort man for the United States and merely endorsed what Bush wanted to do. Blair also believed it was in the United Kingdom;s long term interests to stay close to the United States. He believed in the special relationship which was also never a phrase mentioned in the United States. This nominally special relationship was special to the UK but not to the United States. Britain’s political weight had been declining for decades. One way to compensate was to clutch America’s coattails. It may have seemed incongruous for a Labour Prime Minister to be so cosy with a Republican president who was notorious for his narrow mindedness. George W Bush was seen to epitomise Christian fundamentalism, unliateralism, disregard for the environment, regressive taxation and an excessively severe penal policy. He was regarded as being inept and antagonistic. His frequent malapropisms made him a subject of mirth around the world.
The British security apparatus began to fear an Al Qa’eda attack on the United Kingdom. Indeed a court in Pakistan convicted men of plotting an attack on the UK soon after 9/11.
The US looked to Afghanistan. The attack had Al Qa’eda’s fingerprints all over it. Al Qa’eda had attacked Americans around the world for several years leading up to the 9/11 atrocity. They had attacked the World Trade Centre in 1993. They had bombed the USS Cole. They had bombed the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Some were perspicacious in thinking that the United States would launch military action against Iraq. However, this did not occur immediately.
Many people in the United Kingdom had never heard of Al Qa’eda. There was a spike in anti-Muslim prejudice. Muslims found their houses graffitisied.
Parliament was recalled from recess. SOme new legislation was rushed through. The Conservative Shadow Home Secretary was Oliver Letwin. He critically analysed some of the bills and managed to have them watered down. His non confrontational style suited the moment.
The Home Secretary was David Blunkett. Blunkett was blind and the first seriously disabled person to serve at such a rank. Blunkett was a member of Amnesty International but seemed to disagree with them on almost everything.
The UK briefly reintroduced internment. Only a handful of people were locked up. The security services were given a lot more funding.
The Liberal Democrats opposed these moves on the basis that they encroached on civil liberty.
Within a month the US Air Force was bombing Taleban and Al Qa’eda positions in Afghanistan. The chapter of the NATO charter on common defence was invoked for the first time. The United States had been attacked an all NATO countries were leagued to assist her. The British military was dispatched the Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance was the legitimate government of Afghanistan. It had the country’s UN seat. The Northern Alliance only controlled about 5% of the territory of the country. The real name of the Northern Alliance was the United Islamic Front. Islamophobia was widespread in the United States and some American did not appreciate that their allies in this fight were Muslims.
Pakistan had recognised the Taleban as the rightful government of Afghanistan. This was for a plethora of reasons. The Taleban was created with the assistance of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The ISI Pakistan’s secret service. The Taleban were mainly drawn from the Pashto speaking people of Afghanistan. The same ethno-linguistic group dominates Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. The Taleban controlled most of Afghanistan so it was politik to have a good relationship with them. Some Pakistani’s shared the Taleban’s mediaeval version of Islam. Some Taleban leaders had been stalwarts of the anti-communist struggle in the 1980s.
Ferocious air attacks decimiated the Taleban. Northern Alliance morale surged. The Taleban fell back. Some people pointed out that one of the most prominent Northern Alliance commanders was General Rashid Dostum. This Tajik had been in the pro-Soviet Afghan Army in the 1980s. He was also responsible for a large scale massacre.
Pakistan withdrew recognition from the Taleban and expelled the Taleban’s diplomats. Pakistan wanted NATO to make sure that the new Afghan Government was not inimical to them.
NATO promised Pakistan that the Northern Alliance would not enter Kabul straightaway. As the Taleban abandoned Kabul the Northern Alliance advanced anyway. A Loya Jirga or tribal council was later held in Germany. The sorted out the creation of a provisional government until elections could be held. Mohammad Karzai was made interim president. Karzai had spent years in India and the United States. He spoke fluent English. He was a practising Muslim but not a fundamentalist. He was a Pashto speaker which was important as it counteracted the perception that Pathans were being pushed out of power. He had had a flirtation with the Taleban a few years before but NATO ignored this.
Labour became even more popular. The United Kingdom was fighting a war of liberation. At first it was going very well.
The usual far left protestors demanded that tyranny be left unmolested. The Campaign Group of extreme left wing MPs was to the fore in this. Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were among them.
Paul Marsden was one Labour MP who was part of Labour against bombing. Some members of this faction were in favour of armed action but not bombing. Marsden said Labour whip Hilary Armstrong told him people like him helped Hitler come to office. Marsden was assaulted by a fellow Labour MP. He was rumoured to be planning to defect. The Conservatives had a meeting and discussed what to do if he tried to join them. They decided they could not accept him. He moved over to the Liberal Democrats.
The skies darkened over Afghanistan as air forces and their equipage arrived. The US Air Force pounded Taleban positions. The Taleban fled to the mountains. Barrack busters were able to destroy their grottoes. Many Talibs fled over the Durand Line into Pakistan. A large minority of Pakistanis had some sympathy for the Taleban. Osama Bin Laden was rumoured to have his lair in Tora Bora caves.
There was so much focus on Afghanistan that Blair neglected domestic policy. The stock market took a beating in the wake of 9/11 but recovered after a couple of months. The other indicators continued to move the right direction. Blair said that the liberation of Afghanistan would help people at home. Afghanistan was the world’s major producer of heroin. NATO would destroy opium poppies and give people well paid jobs in the security of a growing economy. This last promise proved to be utterly false.
Taleban cave complexes were surrounded. Pashto propaganda was blared to them day and night to induce them to surrender. It at least aggravated them.
One Oxford Tory circulated verses to the melody of ”The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” – ”For mine eyes have seen the glory of the boming of the rags/ We are killing the Taleban and sending them home in Bags/ George Bush is marching on….Glory, glory bomb a rag head/ Glory, glory bomb a rag head / George Bush is marching on… We are dropping daisy cutters on the towel head beneath/ We are sifting out the limbs of rags in Mazar i Sharif/ They have learnt a healthy lesson for their infidel belief…. We are killing them with tanks/ they are firing back with blanks/ we killed ten thousand Afghans coz they killed 10 000 yanks…. Osama and his mullah are a hiding in a cave . with a thousand other Arabs whom their allah cannot save/ They shall find their mountain hideout turning swiftly to their grave/ George Bush is marching on. ”
Duncan Smith as a former military man was in his element. He could speak about militaria from personal experience. Despite this he was not making progress for the party. He was known by his initials IDS. People quipped this stood for In Deep Shit. They thought he hastened the party’s decline. Certainly recovery did not seem anear.
In 2002 Duncan SMith addressed his party conference. ”Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.” It was seen as a cringeworthy moment of ham acting. His boast, ”the Conservatives are back” was delivered without panache. When he went back into the House of Commons Labour MPs chorused ”sh…sh… sh” an allusion to him being a quiet man. He did not have Blair’s rapier wit. He always coughed before speaking – this was a sign of jitters. He never got Blair on the ropes.
The United Kingdom had maintained air patrols over Iraq under Blair. Saddam Hussein had played cat and mouse with UN weapons inspectors. They had been repeatedly refused access to various sites. One had to conclude that Iraq had a lot to hide. The 1991 peace agreement was predicated on full co-operation with weapons inspectors. In 1998 weapons inspectors had been withdrawn because the could not do their job. The US Air Force and RAF bombed Iraqi military installations to degrade their defences. This was to penalise Iraq for refusing to abide by the peace terms.
Sanctions remained in place. There were many things that Iraq was not allowed to purchase because they could be turned to a military use. The Oil for Food Programme was run by the United Nations. This permitted Iraq to sell a certain amount of oil and the money from these sales could only be used to purchase medicines and food. Saddam purchased the medicine and food and then sold most of it abroad. He deliberately malnourished his people and denied them medicine. There were countless images of Iraqi children dying of preventable illness. Saddam blamed this on his enemies. Many useful idiots fell for his deception.
Some feared that Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction as in 1991. Saddam might share them with Al Qa’eda. Others said this was very improbably. Saddam had crushed religious extremists at home. However, in later years he had moved towards religious fundamentalism. He had put Allahu Akbar on the national flag.. He introduced hand lopping for theft. He was a Sunni like Al Qa’eda. He was very pragmatic and might make common cause with Al Qa’eda/
Some believed that the coalition should have ousted the Ba’athists in Iraq in 1991 and freed the country. Since 1998 it had been US policy to achieve regime change in Iraq.
Iraqi exile groups called for the overthrow of Saddam. These groups included the Iraqi National Accord and the Iraqi National Congress. They were both based in the United States.
As NATO battled in Afghanistan Bush spoke of the axis of evil. He addressed Congress and identified the axis of evil as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
The US dispatched tens of thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia. Many Saudis disliked Christian troops being on their soil. However, they also disliked the Ba’athists in Iraq. Kuwait welcomed Western troops. With Saddam in power they would always be in danger of being attacked again.
Many other countries joined the US led coalition. They wanted Iraq to prove it had no weapons of mass destruction or else there would be war. Romania, Spain, the United Kingdom, Poland, the Ukraine, South Korea, Italy and many other countries sent soldiers.
There was a UN resolution calling on Iraq to give full and immediate co-operation on the search for WMD. The man in charge of weapons inspections was a Swede named Dr Hans Blix. The UN security council unanimously passed that resolution. It was not just the 5 permanent members but also the temporary members including Syria. The resolution warned of ”serious consequences” if the resolution was not complied with.
After a few weeks Dr Blix said he was not getting full co-operation from Iraq. The US sought a second UN resolution authorising the use of force. Blair persuaded them to try for this. Some like Vice President Dick Cheney were against. The UN refused to pass this second resolution.
Russia, China and India were all opposed. France, Germany and many other EU states also opposed war. However, their opposition was conditional. If there was a second UN resolution they would support it. Give it another few months and they might send troops themselves. Most of the Muslim world was also opposed even though this meant keeping their fellow Muslims under a tyrant. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt warned Blair he would create 100 Bin Ladens by invading Iraq. He also told him he would face WMDs in Iraq. The Jordanian Government said the same. Both Egypt and Jordan spoke out against military action against Iraq. Jordan’s Palestinian majority had a measure of respect for Saddam since he was a forthright supporter of Palestinian liberty. Despite Amman’s public pronouncements King Abdallah tacitly permitted the US to use his air bases.
The Stop the War Coalition had become a major force in the United Kingdom. It did not want the UK to fight the Taleban either. The Stop the War Coalition was a front organisation for the Socialist Workers’ Party. Some on the Labour left also joined it. The Green Party was somewhat involved.
Scott Ritter was a former US Marines officer who came out campaigning against military action. He said the Ba’athists were utterly wicked and he would like to see Saddam dead. He also said Iraq had no WMD.
The UK Government released a dossier about intelligence that suggested Iraq had WMD. It also published a book on human rights abuses in Iraq.
Some American pacifists went to Iraq to act as human shields at installations. They called themselves the peaceful tomorrows. Some of them were CIA undercover.
The League of Arab States sought to broker rapprochement. Iraqi and Kuwait delegates shook hands for the first time in years to loud applause from the other Arab representatives.
Grave doubts were raised about the legality of possible military action. Blair took legal advice from the Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith. Lord Goldsmith wrote a legal opinion which was kept confidential at the time. Some years later it was published. It stated that regime change was an insufficient justification for armed action. There had to be a threat to world peace such as illegal Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, had requested a one sentence statement from the government assuring servicemen that military action would be lawful. He wanted it in plain language and not in legalese. This was given.
In February 2003 there was a march of over 1 000 000 anti-war protestors in London. Ken Livingston, Tony Benn and Charles Kennedy addressed the mutlitude. Reverend Jesse Jackson from the United States was also there to address those who were determined to keep the Ba’athists in office. Aaron Barschak the comedy terrorist came on and said it was a rally for the congestion charge.
A few worthies of the Conservative Party also opposed military action. Douglas Hurd, a former Foreign Secretary, said it was folly.
Many of the far left figures who opposed freeing Iraq did so because they said there was no second UN resolution. Yet in 1991 even when a UN security council resolution specifically permitted armed action in Kuwait most of these same far left figures had opposed that. It was a red herring about a second UN resolution.
There was no law requiring Parliament to vote on armed action. The Prime Minister could exercise royal prerogatives on behalf of Her Majesty and declare war. This is how it had always worked. In view of the wide anti-war sentiment Blair decided to hold a parliamentary vote on the matter. Blair said if he lost he would stand down as Prime Minister. People began to see him as a popinjay. In the 1990s he seemed to crave popularity. By the Noughties he seemed to revel in being reviled. He embraced some causes as moral imperatives. He became curiously detached from public opinion. He was dangerously sure of his own rectitude and screened out unwelcome advice. He looked askance and frank warnings.
On 17 March 2003 Parliament voted on military action. The Conservatives overwhelmingly voted for armed action. Former Chancellor Ken Clarke was one of the few to oppose. Clarke said that next time there was a terrorist outrage in the UK ”we need to ask how far this war has contributed to that.” The Lib Dems opposed. However, Baroness Emma Nicholson (Lib Dem) said that ”this war has one of the strongest legal and ethical justifications of modern times.” Almost half the Labour Party opposed. Those who voted Yes were largely the pay roll vote. Blair would not be bidding adieu to Number Ten Downing Street.
Blair said, ”Even now I offer Saddam the chance to save his hideous regime. This is not the time for weakness. Imagine Saddam immensely strengthened.” Despite this Blair had blended the evil nature of Ba’athism with the WMD threat into his explanation for why military action was right and unavoidable.
The liberation of Iraq was about WMD and overthrowing a genocidal tyranny. Some railed against the liberation saying it stooped to neo-colonialism.
The Leader of the House of Commons was Robin Cook. He had informed Blair that he would not support military action without a UN resolution explicitly authorising it. ”Serious consequences” in the prior resolution was insufficient for him. Cook resigned because he could not defend the war. In his resignation speech he said it was wrong to fight, ”without international approval and without domestic support.” It was perhaps a percipient warning. Other former Labour Cabinet Ministers also voted against Chris Smith and Frank Dobson. There appeared to be a measure of personal satisfaction in their denunciations of Blair. Dobson had been persuaded to stand down as Health Secretary in order to stand for the Mayoralty of London. He lost largely due to Blair and was not rewarded with a Cabinet post. Smith had been dropped from the Cabinet in 2001.
Clare Short had said she would resign rather than be a party to military action. When it came to it she was talked into remaining International Development Secretary because she said she needed to do what she could to assist people in Iraq. People grimaced when they heard her reasons for remaining in the Cabinet. Blair had effectively annihilated be talking her into remaining in the Cabinet. Yet after a couple of months she resigned. This was the worst of both worlds.
For President Bush this was personal. In a sense it was unfinished business from 1991. Some people believed the US should have toppled Saddam then. Moreover, when President George H W Bush had visited Kuwait some years later there was an Iraqi bid to assassinate him. This is why many claimed that this was a showdown initiated by the so-called Toxic Texan as revenge.
Saddam seemed to have miscalculated yet again. He never thought that countries would fight him over Kuwait. Just as he believed he could defeat Iran. He seemed to think in 2003 that there was brinksmanship on the part of the coalition – that they would not liberate Iraq. There was a huge military buildup in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Iraqi soldiers fired on American soldiers in Kuwait.
George W Bush on 18 March announced on television that Saddam and both his sons must leave Iraq or war would begin. Bush said that the US had no quarrel with the Iraqi people. The Hussein family stayed put. Bush had become preternaturally calm. He was at peace with the decision he had made.
On 19 March 2003 the British Army entered Iraq. A helicopter crashed on the first day killing several soldiers.
Spain, Italy, Kuwait, South Korea, Spain, Poland, Australia and Romania and many other countries also had troops battling to free Iraq.
The conflict was reported like sport. At first there were easy victories. There was a race to Baghdad. The Iraqi Army melted away. The Free Iraqis – with the coalition – advanced. The Kuwaiti Army also advanced.
Within three weeks the coalition was in Baghdad. An Iraqi Ministry of Information official known as Comical Ali told the most unblushing lies. He insisted to foreign journalists that the invaders were nowhere near Iraq
Iraqi media broadcast images of Saddam going on tours of inspection. These were library pictures. The clothing he was wearing indicated these were shot in cold weather. He was out of public view. In mid April he went into hiding.
George Galloway a Labour MP spoke on Al Jazeera. ”The British are fighting illegally. British soldiers should not obey illegal orders. The only ones fighting legally are the Iraqis. Where are the Arabs armies?” The Labour Party held an inquiry into his sedition. He had incited soldiers to mutiny. He was expelled from the party. His support for the Ba’ath Party was notorious.
The Republican Guard was supposed to be ultra loyal unit of the Iraqi military. They were the SS of the regime – soaked in Ba’athist ideology. However, this praetorian guard unit was smashed. The fedayeen were orphans raised to see Saddam as their father and they too were beaten. However, after they were vanquished they regrouped as terrorists.
In Baghdad there was looting as order had broken down. The coalition troops guarded key installations. They did not attempt to halt looting because they did not have the manpower to do so. The national museum was looted and Saddam’s palaces were also ransacked. The US guarded the ministry of oil. In one government building a British journalist David Blair found documents relating to bribes paid to help circumvent the UN embargo. It mentioned payments to British MP George Galloway. These were published by the Daily Telegraph.
By the end of April things seemed to be going well. The coalition had control of almost all cities. The Iraqi police had initially disappeared. Then in Basra they started showing up for duty. This trend spread to other cities.
There was deep seated hatred of Saddam in Kurdistan. Kurdistan was liberated with little trouble. Kurds rejoiced to be free. Being fairly homogenous it became peaceful. For decades they had lived under the threat of genocide. Their civilians had been slaughtered by the tens of thousands. For them life without Saddam was Elysian.
In May local elections were held in the United Kingdom. Labour experienced a Baghdad bounce – a slight up tick in their fortunes. Once military action had begun a majority of people said they supported it. Because the decision had been made people decided to say they approved.
There were a few bombings and the odd sniping incident. People assumed it was just a few Iraqi Army remnants. The Iraqi Army never formally surrendered. The coalition took over Iraqi barracks to find them looted and empty. The coalition began releasing Prisoners of War. They then declared the Iraqi Army disbanded. The trouble was this made a few hundred thousand men jobless.
The Ba’ath Party had tyrannised Iraqi for decades. Some wanted Ba’athists banned from key posts. However, too many professionals had been members of the Ba”ath Party. Blair said these people had been in the party ”not because they wanted to but because they had to.” They were allowed to keep their jobs. This angered some of the Iraqi resistance who had fought the Ba’athists.
Gradually the bombings and sniping incidents became more frequent. It turned out that Al Qa’eda had sneaked into Iraq. Some SUnni tribes threw in their lot with them. Al Qa’eda cadres from Jordan and Saudi Arabia moved in. Al Zaraqawi was a Jordanian Al Qa’eda leader who rose to prominence on Iraq. There was also a Ba’ath Party terrorist organisation. Shia militias were formed. The conflict was partly about the coalition. There was also a denominational dimension to it. Sectarian murders became common. There was also sheer criminality. The coalition had confiscated firearms from many families. They were then vulnerable to robbery and kidnapping.
The UN passed a resolution recognising the Coalition Provisional Authority. The coalition was authorised to rule Iraq for the time being. The UN’s top man in Iraq was Sergio di Mellio. A terrorist bombing at the UN headquarters in Iraq killed him. Many left wingers in the UK expressed admiration for the terrorists despite their attack on the UN and countless other crimes.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was headed by an American named Paul L Bremer. Bremer was proconsul because he was seen as an expert on counter terrorism. He had castigated the Bush administration in its early days because it was not taking the terrorist issue seriously. He predicted there would soon be a massive attack. These were prophetic words. He granted portfolios to Iraqis such as Ahmed Challabi. Challabi was from a wealthy Shia family that had owned many properties in Baghdad. These had been confiscated by Ba’athists in the 1960s. Challabi had then lived abroad. In the 1980s he had been convicted in a Jordanian military court of embezzlement in a bank he owned. Challabi said it was a kangaroo court. How could he an Iraqi be tried in a military court in Jordan when he was not a Jordanian and not a soldier? He skipped the country. He later went to Kurdistan to fight the Ba;athists there. He ran the Iraqi National Accord in the United States. He campaigned for American aid in liberating his homeland. However, he had little following in Iraq.
Iraq was washed by a nationalist swell. Even those who were anti-Saddam wanted the US to leave but when. Some called upon the US Government to set a date for withdrawal. Al Gore was among those who did so. Others felt this was artificial and would condemn the mission to failure. Bush said the troops would stay not a day longer than necessary. Bill Clinton excoriated Bush one some issues but would not denounce him on Iraq. If he had been president he said he might have ordered military action in Iraq.
The Iraqi banking system had broken down. The dinar was worthless. People had to be paid US dollars in cash. The CPA had to organise a distribution system.
Baghdad was a huge sprawling city. Much of it was ungovernable. The Green Zone was the only semi-safe area.
The Iraq conflict continued in a similar vein the next 8 years. Through 2003 the security situation deteriorated. Some forecast that if Saddam was apprehended the insurrection would be broken. He was arrested in December 2003 and it made very little difference to the uprising even in the short term. Saddam had run his country on dynastic principles. His sons were soon cornered and shot dead.
Blair came to be perceived as perfidious. His war making was not popular. Public support for the liberation of Iraq leached away. Bush was seen as being rash and puerile. Blair suffered from his close relationship with Bush. Blair said that Bush was not just a wartime ally but he was a dear friend.
Soon there was a sectarian maelstrom in Iraq. The Shia had been largely excluded from power for decades. There was pent up fury due to the massacres of Shia after various uprisings. The Sunni had been privileged under Saddam. The Arabic speaking Sunni fought to defend their position of mastery. Tit for tat killings became commonplace. Each attack exacerbated the situation. Shia pilgrimages were held for the first time in decades. These presented tempting targets for Sunni extremists. Car bombs slaughtered dozens of the Shia faithful. The ire this provoked led to calls for a terrible vengeance to be exacted. The coalition strove to stop these sectarian slayings but it was to prove a hopeless struggle. Precepts of inter-ethnic harmony were a dead letter. The CPA tried to persuade people that it was benevolent and did not wish to rule Iraq long term. Iraqis had been indoctrinated with anti-American propaganda for years. Few believed that the US’s intentions were honourable. American Zionism was also a huge source of suspicion in Iraq. Most Iraqis felt fraternally towards the Palestinians.
Progress against the terrorists was variable. The Grand Ayatollah Sistani supported the overthrow of Saddam. His political party was the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Bearing in mind that the US Government denounced political Islam it was richly ironic that their bosom buddies in Iraq should include the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution. The Shia areas were not so hostile to the Coalition as the SUnni Triangle north of Baghdad. Nonetheless there were Shia who fought against the coalition. In Basra Moqtada As-Sadr urged his acolytes to fight the Coalition. This mainly meant against British troops.
The CPA was trying to introduce democracy to a country that had little tradition of parliamentarianism. It was seeking to plant democracy in the most testy circumstances. The midst of an internecine sectarian conflict is an unpromising situation in which to launch a political experiment. The notion that democracy could be introduced in such circumstances was a triumph of hope over experience. It revealed an astonishing naivete on behalf of the White House. Bush’s ignorance of Iraq was staggering. He had not even heard of Shias and SUnnis until 2003.
The US Defence Secretary was Donald Rumsfeld. He was a retread from the 1970s. He was very sure of himself. Unwelcome advice went unheeded. He thought the US could accomplish this mission with fairly few troops. He also authorised interrogation techniques that many felt counted as torture. Rumsfled was at least not capricious – he refused to change his views in the light of evidence. Others agitated for more troops. He said it would be a cakewalk.
British troops began dying because their landrovers were not armoured. They were vulnerable to roadside bombs. They could have been armoured and thus been better protected against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) but the Chancellor’s obstinacy prevented this.
Some chemical shells were found but this was only a fraction of what might have been found. People asked where the Weapons of Mass Destruction were. Some agitated for British withdrawl and for Blair to resign. Blair’s daughter Kathryn attempted suicide. The Blair’s secured an injunction to prevent the press publishing this information. Blair was seen as unbalanced. He no longer read public opinion or cared about it. It seemed to be hubris.
Labour’s boost in popularity after the liberation of Iraq soon faded away. For the first time placards were seen saying ”Blair must go.” People called him ”Bliar”. The WMD he had said were in Iraq were rarely found. There were some chemical shells. This was a fraction of what he said would be there. The fact is there was WMD in Iraq in 2003. Moreover, the reason for the war was the refusal of Iraq to disarm in a verifiable manner. Because Iraq had not proved it had disarmed then it had to be assumed that she still had WMD.
New Labour had been comically loyal to Blair in the early years. They were no longer on message. Many Labour MPs openly opposed Blair. Gordon Brown continued to defend the liberation of Iraq. People looked to him as a left wing alternative to Blair despite the fact that he had gone along with all Blair’s policies.
The Conservatives were slightly ahead on the polls. Iain Duncan Smith was beginning to make an impact. He had also proved more liberal than many had anticipated. In 2002 Alan Duncan MP came out as gay. He was the first sitting Conservative MP to declare himself to be a homosexual. IDS publicly praised Duncan for his bravery. There was a left wing Conservative pressure group called Policy Exchanged. THEY demanded further liberal reform. They were aware that the party had little appeal among the young and ethnic minorities. The Cornerstone Group was a pressure group demanding that the party remain true to its core principles. It needed to keep the faithful onside.
Some Conservative Party insiders had never accepted the choice of the ordinary members of the party. He was too right wing and principled. They decided he must go. They had some dirt on him or so it seemed. His wife, Betsy Duncan Smith, was paid by the taxpayer as working in his office. A journalist, Michael Crick, contacted several organisations that had contact with Duncan Smith. None of them had had any dealings with his wife. It seemed she drew a salary while doing almost no work. In October 2003 there was a party coup against him. Dozens of MPs came out against him demanding he stand down. Boris Johnson announced he would never abandon Duncan Smith. He then did so. IDS fell on his sword. A few months later a commission of inquiry cleared him of paying his wife from taxpayers’ money not to work.
The Conservative Party looked for a leader. Only one came forward. He was Michael Howard. Howard was a former Home Secretary and a successful one too. He had stood for the leadership in 1997 and got nowhere. His chances had been destroyed by his former departmental subordinate. Ann Widdecombe said there was ”something of the night” about him. The epithet stuck. Howard was born in Wales to Romanian Jewish parents. Contrary to what many claimed they were not refugees. Howard’s family was middle class and he attended a grammar school. He went to Cambridge where he read Law. He was called to the Bar. It took him almost 20 years to be elected to Parliament. He married a Christian and his children were raised in both faiths. Howard was a very self-assured House of Commons performer. He was a match for Blair in a way that IDS was not. Howard raised Conservative morale. In 1997 he had been seen as too closely associated with unpopularity of the Major years. By 2003 he was not liked but he was respected. People joked that he was Dracula since his parents came from Transylvania.
Peter Mandelson stepped down as an MP. He went to Brussels to be a European Commissioner.
The Labour Government was no longer trusted. Labour’s ambition of the United Kingdom joining the Euro was put on the back burner.
The Liberal Democrats were doing well owing to their opposition to the liberation of Iraq. They won some by elections.
The Respect Party was taking votes off Labour. The SNP also did well at Labour’s expense. Tens of thousands of people left Labour in disgust. The Conservatives pulled ahead of Labour.
In 2004 the Mayor of London was up for election again. Ken Livingston was Mayor of London and popular. Labour faced the disaster of having to fight against Livingstone. Labour would certainly not win. It risked a Conservative becoming mayor. Labour broke its own rules to let him back in to the party. He stood as Labour’s candidate against the Conservative Steven Norris. Livingstone won easily. His provocative style went down well with some. He fulminated against the iniquities of capitalism and then took GBP 10 000 for an after dinner speech.
In the European elections UKIP did very well and came second. The Tories won. The BNP also gained two MEPs. The BNP had people elected to the London Assembly. The election of the BNP was a boon to Labour. Labour said that racism was a cancer in British society. The BNP made it seem significant. Labour treated the BNP like they were important and kept mentioning them. Labour’s illiberal policies were intended to seem like they were combatting racism when in fact they detested dissident opinion. It also coralled many ethnic minority electors into voting Labour.
There was no policy compromising from Labour. Opposition to military action in Iraq was manifest in polls but protests withered.
The Lib Dems called for higher taxes. They never learnt from experience. Redwood said the Lib Dems proved that calling for higher tax was the best way to come last in an election.
THE ROYAL FAMILY.
In 2002 The Queen Mother died. She was 101. She was accorded a state funeral, The country took stock that march. Massed bands played on Whitehall. Soldiers from as far as Canada came to take part in the ceremony. The Koh i Noor was seen atop her crown. Her body laid in state in a sealed coffin in Westminster Hall. Hundreds of thousands filed past it.
Weeks later Princess Margaret also passed away. Her Royal Highness; death was brought on by smoking. Princess Margaret was accorded a smaller scale funeral. These bereavements did not much mar the upcoming celebrations.
In 2002 Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her Golden Jubilee. She was highly respected. Only 15% of people wanted to abolish the monarchy. No party with any parliamentary representation advocated such a course. She had fully recovered from the death of Princess Diana.
There were Golden Jubilee events all over the realm. Her Britannic Majesty visited many of her realms beyond the seas.
There was a concert in Buckingham Palace. The Queen went through London in her Golden State Coach on the day of the climax of celebrations. Over a million people came to do her homage. The monarchy was as popular as ever.
The Princes of Wales moved into Clarence House which his grandmother had previously occupied.
The rumours about Princess Diana;s death refused to go away. Dodi Fayed exploited them for commercial gain. He disseminated the lie that his son was engaged to Princess Diana. He had her image up in his shop. His royal warrants were taken away. Feeble minded people fell for the very exciting story that the evil establishment had killed Princess Diana.
The younger members of the royal family attracted more interest. Prince William was seen at St Andrews University with Kate Middleton.
It came to be known that Prince Charles kept intervening in politics. Freedom of Information legislation meant that his black spider letters became known. For years he had badgered politicians on various subjects. He felt strongly about education and rural affairs. He was a dilettante with some crackpot beliefs on homeopathy. He lobbied to have it made available on the NHS. Some Labour MPs found this wearisome. It emerged he had berated Thatcher on urban poverty. He sagely stayed out of the fox hunting debate. His views on hunting with hounds were discordant with public opinion.
WOULD LABOUR SURVIVE?
In 2005 in some ways things were going well for the government. The economy was healthy. The NHS had improved. Education had been degraded by dumbing down and pointless bureaucracy.
The two main parties were neck and neck in the polls. Blair was loathed by many. Should he call an election early? Maybe Labour;s fortunes would be restored? But things could go wrong for them.
Blair called an election for May 2005.
Blair was confronted by many people and told he had deceived them over Iraq. ”You are going to have to make your mind up about that” he would say as he shrugged it off. People would often say, ”Yeah I have and you are a liar.” Blair had nothing to say in his defence.
Labour warned people they had better vote for them or wake up with Howard as PM. A Lib Dem vote was a vote for the Tories they were told.
One Conservative MP ruined things early in the campaign. Howard Flight was recorded saying that the party should cut spending depsite pledging not to. Howard sacked him as a parliamentary candidate.
In the end Labour won 35% of the vote. They managed a narrow majority. The Conservatives scored 33.3% of the vote – a tiny bit higher than under Hague. But the Tories gained dozens of seats.
The Lib Dems won 22% of the vote – mostly because they wanted Saddam in power. They went up to 62 seats.
The BNP did well in some seats but did not gain any.
Blair was delighted to have won his hatrick. Labour had never managed it.
Howard said he would stand down. He insisted on a long leadership campaign. There must be ample time to make the right choice. Howard also wanted dictatorial powers for the new leader – the right to dismiss MPs and total control over policy. His reforms were defeated.
Kennedy seemed to be at his zenith. However, there were persistent rumours about heavy drinking. Journalists who interviewed him at 9 am could swear they caught a whiff of whisky off him. He testily denied these allegations.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan rumbled on. There were still anti-war demonstrations but fewer attended. People got bored of the issue.
London applied to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. Lord Sebatian Coe was the head of the British bid committe. Coe was a former Conservative MP and Olympic Gold medalist. Lord Coe had been Hague’s chief of staff when William Hague was Tory Number One. Coe had been the only person in the world to call himself a Hagueite and had even worn a Hague baseball cap. Despite Coe’s past misjudgments he proved to be highly effectual in running the bid. He was ably assisted by another Conservative Olympian Lord Colin Moynihan. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London also took part. The last two cities were in the running. The other one was Paris.
The announcement was made. London. As Blair recalled, ”It is not very often in this job you punch the air and hug the person next to you.”
The next day Blair was hosting the G8 summit in Gleneagles. The G8 is a group of the largest economies. That day was 7 July 2005. Four suicide bombs were detonated on LOndon buses and tubes. Over 50 people were killed.
Blair made an announcement from Gleneagles. He was flanked by world leaders. George W Bush;s pose looked like he was a gunslinger ready for a shoot out – eyes narrowed, hands poised over his hips ready to ”draw!”.
The suicide bombers were Britishers who were admirers of Osama Bin Laden. They objected to Muslims being freed from mediaeval theocrats.
That autumn the Tory Party leadership race dragged on.
Dr Liam Fox was the most right wing candidate. He was an outspoken admirer of Bush and an Atlanticist. This Glaswegian doctor’s gungho views on defence ruled him out.
Bizarrely Michael Ancram thought he might be in with a chance. To give him his real title he was the Marquess of Lothian. He had been to Ampleforth and Oxford University. He had read for the Bar at the Faculty of Advocates. He had been the first Catholic Conservative MP in Scotland. Then he did the chicken run to Devizes. Ancram was not telegenic. A chubby nobleman running the party would not cut it.
David Davis had the best life story. He was born to a single mother on a council estate. He did not get along with his step father. He read Business at Warwick University before going into business. He had been in the Territorial SAS. He was grumpy and gave a poor conference speech.
David Cameron was also standing. He was born in London. His father was a Scottish stockbroker. Cameron went to Eton where he managed to avoid expulsion despite being caught with drugs. He went to Brasenose College, Oxford. He took a first in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He had been in the Bullingdon CLub – a group for very rich boys. He then worked for the Conservative Party. He was one of the first special advisers. He then left to join Carlton Media. He ended up as head of communications. He was married to a glamorous artist and had children. His severely disabled son only increased his saleability. Cameron was an outspoken moderniser. The party needed to attract people who had previously disliked it.
In December the contest was between the two Davids – Cameron and Davis. Cameron won. He gave Davis a role in the Shadow Cabinet.
Cameron said that there would be an A list for parliamentary candidates. They would get the pick of constituencies to contest. The A list would be endorsed by Central Office. The A list must be at least 50% female and at least 10% ethnic minority. Cameron totally embraced the gay agenda. People said he was seeking to detoxify his brand.
Despite the economy going well and the NHS being better than ever the Labour Party gradually fell behind in the polls.
In January 2006 a story broke about Charles Kennedy. The long disputed rumours of alcoholism were confirmed by numerous Lib Dem sources. Several prominent Lib Dems called on him to resign. Finally his position became untenable. Kennedy called a press conference. ”For a few years I have had a drinking problem for which I have been seeking help.” He had also been lying to the public for years. He remained a Member of Parliament.
The Lib Dems tried to find a new leader. They elected Menzies Campbell. Campbell was MP for Fife. He was also one of their oldest people in the House of Commons. Campbell was very smartly dressed, grand and seemed like a Tory.
Labour benefited from the Lib Dems crisis.
UKIP was also a feature on the political scene. The Tory right demanded they be appeased. Cameron said he would not bore people by talking about Europe.
Cameron said vote blue go green. He claimed to care about the environment. He cycled to the COmmons. It then came to light that a car drove behind him with his suit. He also had a wind turbine on his house.
Cameron was an effective COmmons debater. He said he would move away from yah-boo. In fact he soon reverted to it. Blair found him difficult to confound.
THE END OF BLAIR.
Cameron was able to land some punches on Blair. In the House of Commons he scorned Blair, ”He was the future once.” The implication was unmissable – Cameron was now the future. Strangely Cameron confessed to admiring Blair and even being the new Blair. Cameron’s foes within his own party felt that this said much about Cameron. They believed that Cameron was trite and media obsessed. Simon Heffer, a right wing journalist, panned Cameron as ”a PR spiv.”
In the local elections 2006 Cameron went to Lapland to highlight the effects of global warning. This was a very unorthodox move. Some people said it was waste of time. Was it a gimmicK. What carbon footprint did he leave by flying there. He was certainly audacious.
When Patrick Mercer MP said when he was in the army everyone got verbally abused, ”come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard” Cameron sacked him from the Shadow Cabinet for racism. He said Mercer’s conduct was disgusting. Mercer apologised but explained he had just been explaining the reality of serviceman’s repartee. Some believe it was Cameron being fixated with the media again. Hague had dithered in similar circumstances in 2001 when John Townend MP had said some people considered the British to be a mongrel race.
The Liberal Democrat’s Menzies Campbell failed to connect with a younger generation. He was too old school and intellectual. His Christian name is pronounced ”Ming.”
In 2007 the Lib Dems toppled Sir Ming Campbell. The Liberal Democrats had to choose between Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg. Both had been to Westminster School. Huhne went to Oxford and Clegg to Cambridge. Huhne was a millionaire banker and Clegg was the son of won. Clegg had been a journalist for six months. Apart from that he had never worked outside politics. He had been a Eurocrat before being elected an MEP. He was then elected MP for Sheffield Hallam.
Clegg defeated Huhne. It was very good news for the Lib Dems but they did not then know it. 5 years later some information would emerge about Huhne which would have sunk the party had been its helmsman.
Labour was trailing the Tories in the polls. Blair announced that he would step aside as leader of the party and as PM in the middle of 2007. There has been a lot of TBGBs – this meant Tony Blair versus Gordon Brown rows. Sulky Brown was impatient for the top spot. Only one person was nominated for the Labour leadership. It was a coronation for Dr Brown. The deputy leadership was contested. Harriet Harman won. It was the second time a woman had been deputy leader. The other had been Beckett.
In June 2007 Blair finally made good on his promise. He signed off with a characteristic flourish. One Conservative MP was decent enough to give Blair a tongue lashing. Cameron realised there was no mileage in seeing ungracious. He led his party to a standing ovation for Tony Blair. Blair flew to Sedgefield to resign as an MP although that was not necessary. Strictly speaking no one signs. They enter the Chiltern Hundreds. This is an office of profit under the Crown which is incompatible with being an MP.
Brown enjoyed a surge of popularity and this was confirmed by opinion polls. He gave ministerial posts to people who were not in the Labour Party such as Lord Digby Jones (formerly head of the Institute of Directors). He spoke of having a ministry of all the talents. The Ealing Southall by election was a key test. Should Labour call an early election? In the by election Labour did well. There was talk of a pustch against Cameron. Dr Brown went to far as to invite Baroness Thatcher to tea at Downing Street in a bid to woo former Tory voters.
FAILURE OF NERVE
In September 2007 Brown announced he would not be calling an early election. He said he had not had time to set out his stall. The Conservatives mocked his explanation. The Sun had the headline ”Brown’s bottled it.” Labour ducked the election because they were millions of pounds in debt. Some donors gave them loans to sustain the party. Cameron breathed a sigh of relief. Had Labour called a snap election they almost certainly would have won albeit with a slim majority.
Within a fortnight of Brown deciding not to call an election the economy started to contract. He plainly had not foreseen this otherwise he would have gone for an early election. A bank called Northern Rock almost went bust. It became known as Northern Wreck. Northern Rock was based in Newcastle – a strongly Labour area. There was a demand from Labour backbenchers holding seats in north-eastern England that Northern Rock must not be allowed to go to the wall. The government bailed it out. There had been a run on the bank for the first time in over 150 years. Th government propping up a bank was to become a familiar sight.
In 2008 economic gloom began to gather. In September 2008 the worldwide credit crunch began. Many people lost their jobs. Wages were slashed. It turned out that the UK had been living far beyond its means.
David Cameron inveighed against the Labour Government, ”WHy didn’t you fix the roof while the sun was shining?” Brown had had an image as a hairshirt chancellor. He came to be perceived as having been profligate. Labour was well behind in the opinion polls.
By the summer of 2009 Labour insiders were quietly predicting that victory was impossible for them in the upcoming election.
In 2009 the United Kingdom withdrew all its military from Iraq. The British Army remained in Afghanistan. The pull out from Iraq was a popular move but did little to bolster Labour’s dismal poll rating. At times Labour’s popularity touched 20%.
In early 2010 the economy picked up. The public subjected the Conservatives to greater scrutiny. Labour’s standing improved a little. Some Labour people believed that Labour could just about stay in office on its own or more likely form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
In April 2010 Gordon Brown asked Her Britannic Majesty to dissolve Parliament and precipitate a General Election. Her Majesty chose to do so. Brown announced the election.
Labour campaigned but without much vigour. The anger against Labour was palpable. Brown had a public encounter with a Labour supporter named Gillian Duffy. ”You are a good woman you have served your community” he told her. She said, ”I am ashamed to say I am Labour now.” Mrs Duffy remarked that there were too many Eastern European immigrants. Brown and his aide drove away in a car. Brown remarked, ”That was a disaster.” His assistant inquired ”Will they go with that?”/ Brown remarked ”They will go with that” – as in the television channel would broadcast that interaction. He then added, ”the woman was a bigot.” Brown did not realise his microphone was still on. Later in a radio station he was played what he had said. Brown was stunned and humiliated. He went around to Gillian Duffy to apologise for calling her a bigot because of her anxieties about excessive immigration. It was symptomatic of a campaign in which everything went wrong for Labour.
All major parties held rallies to which only vetted supporters were permitted. This meant the public say positive images of crowds cheering these leaders.
There was Prime Ministerial debates. The leaders of the three major parties participated. Nick Clegg was thought to have got the best of it. His poll ratings shot up. People spoke of Cleggmania.
At the debates Brown said the other leaders were like ”two little boys squabbling at bath time.” Cameron shot back, ”I bet that sounded good in rehearsal.” Dr Brown was notorious for his turgid delivery and his lack of wit.
Cameron proposed tax breaks for married couples. Clegg scorned this. He said he married because he was in love and would not do so for a few pounds. His glamorous Spanish wife seldom accompanied him on the campaign trail. People noticed how similar Clegg and Cameron were in background, dress sense and attitudes. Labour tried to make some play from this. It was intended to deflect people from voting Lib Dem.
Labour were reduced to 28% – their worst result since 1983. The Lib Dems gained some votes but lost a few seats. The Conservatives won 35% of the vote but were short of a majority of seats.
When it came to election day UKIP did fairly well but picked up no seats. The BNP lost most of their support.
The Prime Minister refused to concede. People even wondered whether he could form a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party. Labour held meetings with the Lib Dems. The senior civil service facilitated meetings between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.
Labour peer Lord Mandelson came on television to say, ”the constitutional conventions are clear” – that Labour had first dibs on forming a two party government with the Lib Dems. This was not the case. Labour had been beaten in seats and share of the vote. The convention is the party with the most seats forms the government. He was talking through his hat. It was partisan dishonesty.
The Lib Dems intimated that Brown’s resignation was a precondition of forming a government. Brown was willing to resign since Labour;s defeat had been to a considerable extent a personal rejection. There were many other sticking points. The Lib Dems were dubious about propping up a rejected Labour Government. They feared being tarred with its unpopularity. They were not sure about forming a coalition with the Conservatives. Some such as Lord Ashdown – form Lib Dem leader – advocated forming a coalition with neither party of state. Some Conservatives were also opposed to sharing office with the Lib Dems. Viscount Cranborne wanted a single party government. But if the Tories did not cut a deal with the Lib Dems then Labour might.
In the end Brown finally conceded that his party could not form a government with the Liberal Democrats. Tje Conservatives and the Lib Dems made a written coalition agreement. Brown went to the Palace to resign.
Cameron was invited to form a government and accepted.
David Cameron became Prime Minister. Nick Clegg was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. The Cabinet posts were shared between the two parties. The agreement was that the coalition would last for the full parliament. Moreover, by elections would be fully contested. It was the first peacetime government including the third party since 1922. The Liberal Democrats had been called upon to serve and they had answered that call. Surely one enters politics to win office and implement one’s policies. Opposition is also service but not as useful as being in government. Some Lib Dems preferred the purity of eternal opposition.
Both parties had to jettison manifesto promises in view of the political arrangement.
Some Lib Dems who detested the Conservatives were upset that there party was forming a government with the Tories.
The Lib Dems found themselves agreeing to university tuition fees rising from GBP 3 000 to a maximum of GBP 9 000. However, they managed to secure free school meals.
A Labour minister had left a note for the incoming government ”I am sorry there is no money.” The fiscal situation was parlous. The budget had already been pared. It had to be cut even more. The diplomatic service had a recruitment freeze for all but those coming through the civil service fast stream. The defence budget was cut even further. This was despite the coalition committing to fighting on in Afghanistan.
UKIP attacked the Conservatives for forming a government with fanatical europhiles. Ken Clarke – an extreme europhile – was brought back as Lord Chancellor. He was aged 70.
In the summer of 2010 Raoul Mote went on a shooting rampage in north-east England. He was eventually shot dead by police. A taxi driver in Lancashire also went shooting people. Cameron declined to introduce new legislation saying it would be an over reaction.
The United Kingdom slipped back into recession. Labour blamed George Osborne’s excessive spending cuts. The CHancellor of the Exchequer Osborne said that reducing spending was needed. The deficit was enormous and was still growing. Under him it would grow at a slower rate than it had under Labour.
The cost of living was still rising. Housing was very pricey. Unemployment reached 10%. Many people worked for free as interns. The government’s honeymoon melted away. The Lib Dems had suffered an immediate fall in support. Some Lib Dems could not stomach forming a government with the Conservative Party.