It’s Iraq, stupid

This brilliant article in today’s Times calls this “the Basil Fawlty” election (the UK general election I mean, not the one for the new Pope). Journo Martin Samuel’s reference is to the John Cleese character’s catchphrase “Don’t mention the war!”, on account of the three main parties’ hypocritical and cowardly silence over Iraq. But another quote from that great TV series also springs to mind, the one about “the bleedin’ obvious”.

Samuel’s piece, in being staggeringly simple, honest and true, is exactly the opposite of the politicians’ bluster. Iraq is the real divisive issue in this election, the real issue, the only issue. It’s bleedin’ obvious – but nobody seems to be seeing it. Worryingly, one of the people not seeming to see it is Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats. As Jeremy Paxman said to him in a TV grilling last night, “You were the only party that opposed the war. People should be flocking to you in droves. Why aren’t they?”

“There remains a tremendous amount of anger over the invasion of Iraq,” writes Samuel, “and Kennedy is the only party leader that can rightfully lay claim to it. Howard supported the war, Blair started it, but Kennedy spoke against it throughout. This is what any capable marketing executive would call his Unique Selling Point. The Lib Dems should be the true opposition party in this election, yet they are stuck peddling the same tired lines as the big two.”

The reason for this, it seems to me, is that the Lib Dems are afraid (as, in fairness, would the other two parties be if they were in the same position) that the electorate will turn off if they start talking about “stuff happening abroad”; the emphasis of policy, it is perceived, has to be on what’s happening at home – hospitals, tax, education, crime. But this isn’t a normal election with only those normal election issues at stake. As Samuel says, “Vote for what you think a politician will achieve, based around a loose bag of pledges, promises, bluster and speculation. The war is not like that. It happened. We’re in. They’re dead.”

And, I would add – even if Charles Kennedy won’t – vote Lib Dem.