Monday 11 July 2016

The Conservative Party Leadership: What a drama

After last month's Brexit referendum result and David Cameron's decision to resign it was assumed that we'd now be in the midst of the Conservative Party leadership election with Boris Johnson odds on favourite to become the country's new Prime Minister.

If a week is a long time in politics then last month's referendum now feels like a life time ago. Rather then the Boris Johnson coronation many expected we instead have Theresa May as our new Prime Minister.

Everything is moving so fast at the moment in British politics I can't ever remember a time like it.

Boris Johnson's campaign crashed and burned within a week of the Brexit result and it many ways it was hardly surprising. After successfully convincing over 50% of referendum voters to vote for Brexit it quickly became obvious that Boris and his Brexit colleagues didn't have any immediate plan on what would happen next. Despite this, nobody really expected Michael Gove to politically stab Boris in the back by launching his own bid for Tory leader, and thereby derail Boris' long term political ambition.

As brutal as it all seems, I don't have much sympathy for Boris or any other politician when this sort of thing happens. This is the life they chose, a bit like mafia mob bosses who end up getting 'whacked'. It's an occupational hazard.

Besides, I'm very much in agreement with Ken Clarke when I say the idea of Boris as Prime Minister is ridiculous. It always baffled me as to why Boris had so much support amongst some Tories. Boris is clearly a very clever and able person but he's also someone who has blagged and winged his way through his career.

When you look at some of his gaffes and his personal and professional behavior over the last 20 years, it's incredible that he was even in the running to become Prime Minister. Boris has always been a unique one-off. If it was anyone else their career would have been finished years ago.

If the appeal of Boris Johnson has always baffled some, it doesn't quite compare to the extraordinary rise of Andrea Leadsom.

I'd never heard of her 4 weeks ago, yet somehow she made it to the last two for Tory Party members to decide who should be our PM. Thankfully and quite rightly, she's now withdrawn following the ridiculous interview she gave to the Times, where she insinuated that because she has children and Theresa May doesn't she has a 'tangible stake' in society.

When I first heard that I thought' 'Are you really going to go there?' As part of her humiliating climb down she then accused the Paper of gutter journalism despite the fact that the paper simply quoted exactly what she had said.

When it comes to Andrea Leadsom, the country has dodged a bullet. She was far too inexperienced for the role and far too right wing for my liking. She would have been a disaster.

So here we are with a new Prime Minister. You have to have a certain amount of respect for the way the Tory Party ruthlessly operates when it comes to getting rid of and electing their leaders. You can't help but think: Are you watching Labour, when you consider the shambles of Labour MPs in their attempts to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn.

I'm glad it's Theresa May has been elected. As a non Tory voter I can live with her. It's good to have another female PM and it's also good that she's slightly older. In the last few decades there's been a preference for younger leaders but with so many difficult and pressing issues facing world leaders I think it's good that we again look at older politicians with more experience.

There's no doubt that we're entering a new era in British politics and history and it's going to be fascinating to see how Theresa May and this new Conservative government will tackle Brexit.

Saturday 9 July 2016

The Chilcot Report

Another dramatic week in British politics with the long awaited publication of the Chilcot report into the Iraq War.

It was a pretty damning indictment of Tony Blair's decision to take the country into war and his reputation now lays in tatters.

When I considered many of the main findings it confirmed to many people what we already knew or suspected about the decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein.

Back in 2002/2003 in the run up to the Iraq War, at no point did I ever believe that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. If he did possess them I certainly didn't believe he posed any kind of threat to the UK. The Chilcot Report confirms much of this.

What was clear between 2001 - 2003 was that a decision had been made by President George Bush and his Neo-Con allies that Saddam Hussein had to be removed from power. This decision was made in the aftermath of 9/11.

The United States were always going to invade Iraq and there was little that Britain could have said or done to stop this from happening. The question for this country was whether it was right for Tony Blair to ally himself so closely with America in this decision to go to war.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it's clear that Tony Blair and those who supported the decision to go to war got it wrong. History has judged this decision even more harshly when you consider the utter chaos consumed Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam.

What is perhaps most damning and shameful is the total lack of planning on how Iraq would be governed following regime change. You tend to find that countries that have been ruled for decades by dictators maintain a certain level of stability. However once those leaders are removed the power vacuum that emerges unleashes a whole number of political, cultural and ethnic forces that can be uncontrollable.

This is exactly what we've seen in Iraq. Perhaps if there had been better planning on how Iraq might look after Saddam's removal and the sectarian violence kept under control, we might be looking back on the decision to go to war in a different light.

One thing I did agree with Tony Blair on is that we can't say with 100% how Iraq would look had we not removed Saddam Hussein.

In 2011 we witnessed a number of uprising across the Middle East which was called the 'Arab Spring'. Government and leaders such as Colonel Gaddafi were removed from power. The uprising in Syria has resulted in the prolonged civil war which continues to this day.

Are we meant to believe that Saddam Hussein and Iraq would have been immune from this uprising across the region? It's perfectly conceivable that Iraq could have turned into another Syria. We will never know but it's a distinct possibility.

The decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake, and its repercussions have and continue to influence the level of trust we have in politicians and the country's foreign policy.

In terms of Tony Blair, it's not fashionable to say but I always thought he was quite a good leader and there were a lot of things that he and New Labour achieved that were of benefit to the country. Many will disagree but what's sad is that his reputation now lies in tatters and he will always be associated with Iraq.