Nothing became the new Labour leader less during his conference speech than his comments on Iraq. He put it thus: “many [Labour MPs] sincerely believed that the world faced a real threat. I criticise nobody faced with making the toughest of decisions… But I do believe we were wrong…to take Britain to war and we need to be honest about that.”
The implication, it seems, is that Ed Miliband did not believe Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a real threat to the world. His argument on this is loosely worded, but that seems the best interpretation. And it is a disturbing position for a leader of the opposition to take.
Miliband has used his opposition to the Iraqi intervention—an opposition which, allegedly, none of his political colleagues remembers him voicing—to cement support from an activist and trade union base which would overwhelmingly agree with him. What he has not done is prompt that base to think.
To give the impression that the world does not face “a real threat” from dictators who seek to acquire WMD is hugely irresponsible. Anyone in serious politics who now wishes to oppose, in retrospect, the Labour government’s decision on Iraq, must give his party an account of how he sees a world in which one of the gravest strategic threats is the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. What’s more, we cannot simply deny the danger that terrorists might seek to use these weapons against civilian populations.
In Britain, while the threat of home-grown terrorism has diminished, it has done so through extensive and largely successful intelligence and police work which thwarted some dozen serious planned attacks since the 2005 bombings. Two, however, were not stopped by preventive measures: the Haymarket car bomb and subsequent Glasgow airport attack were either detected by police work, or failed to detonate.
Earlier this month, the head of MI5, Jonathan Evans, warned it would be a matter of time before a terrorist atrocity occurred once more on British streets. Al Qaeda has been weakened in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the al-Shabaab militia group, linked to al Qaeda, has been training jihadists in Somalia and earlier this year killed over 70 people in Uganda. These real threats will only intensify as…