E-mails flying around in the last few days have been polluting the air with glib denunciations of Tony Blair for supposedly having precipitated the London bombings of 7/7 by joining the Americans in invading and occupying Iraq. Similar voices have been heard on radio and television, too, notably from Mr George Galloway, fresh from his victory over the United States Senate. It’s there in the blogosphere, too.
Diligent readers of this blog and website will have noticed (pay attention, now: you’ll be tested on this in a moment) that I’m no slack-jawed admirer of Tony Blair, still less of his monumental blunders over Iraq or his government’s dismal assaults on our civil liberties. But fair’s fair: he has had a good week or two lately in which at least two brave gambles – aka foolhardy, as we would all have said if they had failed – have succeeded either spectacularly (winning the Olympics for London) or significantly (making perceptible progress on all fronts in the G8 under his chairmanship). The hat-trick came with his response to the bombings on 7/7: sober, defiant, calm, realistic – genuinely speaking for the nation at a time of grief and shock, something that even his sourest critics need to recognise he does well. As I wrote in my previous piece on the bombings, you would need to be a ferociously committed anti-Blairite not to have felt sorry for him when the glitz and glamour that were his due after the Olympics and the G8 were rudely shattered by a string of murders committed for no discernible political, religious or other purpose by a criminal gang lacking in all humanity or moral sense.
Yet the usual suspects emerge blinking into the daylight with their trite, complacent and predictable assertions that the finger of blame points, not at the murderers, but at the British prime minister. I’m afraid I find this exploitation of the London bombings as yet another stick to beat Blair with singularly offensive. For once Blair has been a genuine credit to his office (over the Olympics, the bombings and the G8), not putting so much as a toe wrong on any of the three issues. This is surely a good moment to suspend polemical trivia for a while. Anyone who thinks that if Britain under Blair hadn’t been with the Americans in the Iraq operation, London wouldn’t have been bombed, can’t be taken seriously. Those who voice that view anyway need to be careful about implying that the government’s major or other foreign policy decisions ought to be influenced in the smallest degree by fear of annoying murderous terrorists. They would do well to read a letter from Madrid in the week-end FT at http://tinyurl.com/cz9pc. The attack on Iraq was disastrously wrong for all sorts of reasons, but risking provoking murderers wasn’t one of them.
It’s encouraging, on the other hand, to see many of the heavyweight Sunday columnists (including the Sunday Times trio of Simon Jenkins, Michael Portillo and Minette Marin) making the essential point that the bombings must not be used as a pretext for yet more erosion of our civil liberties in new, panicky, tabloid-driven ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation, pushed through parliament in the aftermath of the bombings while MPs and even peers are afraid to provoke tabloid wrath by opposing it. Further dismantling of our historic liberties represents only a sort of victory for the murderers. If, as ministers constantly tell us, the terrorists want to “destroy our way of life”, dismantling our ancient safeguards against arbitrary and oppressive control of the people by an over-mighty executive sounds like just the sort of thing they have in mind.
Simon Jenkins also however makes the excellent point that the British and American governments’ constant references to “the war on terror” when there is no such war, no clash of armies, no state enemy, indeed no identifiable enemy at all, make it all the more difficult to show up the bombings of innocent Londoners as squalid crimes committed by squalid criminals (which is what they are), and not legitimate quasi-military acts of war by an enemy entitled by the state of war to retaliate when attacked. It is futile and misleading to try to rationalise purposeless crimes committed by psychotics. They have nothing to do with Iraq or a wish to “destroy our way of life”, which is in any case something no amount of murder and mayhem on the Tube could even begin to accomplish. Our way of life is indeed at risk, as one of the Law Lords remarked in the historic judgement of last December: not from a few mindless murderers, but from cowardly or power-hungry ministers in thrall to cynical and circulation-driven tabloids. Happily, there are signs that the home secretary, Charles Clarke, may be resisting the siren calls for yet more attacks on our liberties from the tabloids, the security services and police (always ravenous for more powers and fewer restraints), and probably his own officials (always vigilant for opportunities to slip in a few long-cherished horrors while no-one is looking). He has courageously pointed out that ID cards would not have prevented the London bombings. It’s relevant that the control orders rammed through a reluctant parliament earlier this year, seriously and indefinitely abridging without trial on a politician’s say-so the liberties of people who have not been convicted of any offence, didn’t prevent the bombings, either. For control orders to frustrate criminal attacks, it’s necessary to know who is planning them; and if you know that, there are plenty of ways to stop them. Despite the vengeful howls from the pages of the Sun newspaper, the case against further illiberal laws, and for radically amending existing ones, is wholly unaffected by the dreadful crimes committed in London last Thursday.