Blair’s Legacy Of Poison

A new Labour leader can rebuild support, even among Muslims, if there is a change in foreign policy

When a US intelligence report found that the Iraq war and occupation had fuelled terrorism, it confirmed what most people had argued from the start. The fact that President Bush first attempted to conceal this report and then rubbished its central thesis came as no surprise. But Tony Blair’s insistence in his speech at the Labour conference that such claims amount to “enemy propaganda” should arouse serious alarm.

Since last year’s London bombings, the prime minister and his allies have made ever more clear their view that any attempt to link the bombings to Britain’s foreign policy is akin to an act of treason. Increasingly, the message has gone out that such talk is the preserve of people with dodgy allegiances. That is a line which makes enemies out of most British people, not just Muslims.

In reality, report after report and poll after poll have pointed to an inherent link between foreign policy and the upsurge in both terrorism and sympathy among youngsters towards the corrupt rhetoric of extremists. The roll call includes the Foreign Office-linked Chatham House, intelligence experts working with MI6, members of the diplomatic corps and now the military officer attached to the Ministry of Defence, whose leaked report insists Iraq has been a “recruiting sergeant” for extremists.

Those of us who warned in the run-up to the US-British attack on Iraq that it would only benefit fanatics and xenophobes did not draw on any prophetic genius. It was obvious that while Saddam Hussein could be removed from power, the impact on Iraq, the Middle East and our own society would be grim.

Three and a half years on from that doomed campaign, Blair’s legacy in Iraq is that he has managed to achieve the impossible: Iraqis of all backgrounds now agree that Saddam’s brutal days were far better than what they now have to face. We have reached the point where an official UN report concludes that torture and human rights abuses are far worse than under Saddam’s regime. How Tony Blair, an otherwise seemingly intelligent man, can look British people in the eye – let alone Iraqis – and say that he made the right and ethical decision, or that the invasion had a positive impact on extremism in Britain and throughout the world, is bizarre.

Labour clearly has to ensure that the transition to a new leader takes place as soon as possible. But the new leadership must also rebuild the party’s support on the basis of a real change of policy. There is no shame in admitting that the party made tremendous mistakes under Blair – the great shame would be to pursue the same set of politics under a false pretence of loyalty. That is why Gordon Brown’s extraordinary insistence this week that Iraq has been “liberated” is so worrying – but why Harriet Harman’s assertion of the need to change the mould of politics, particularly foreign policies, is to be welcomed.

The wrong thing to do would be to adopt the “John Reid line”, placing the entire responsibility upon the Muslim community and demanding that it alone delivers where the government and its agencies have failed. From his demand that Muslim mums and dads spy on their kids, to this week’s attack on Muslim “bullying”, the government’s unabated drive to lay the blame at the feet of others is simply outrageous.

Should a new Labour leadership emerge that understands the necessity of reconnecting with people and listening to opposing views, we may yet see the return of those roaming voters, including British Muslims, and very probably a truly historic fourth victory at the next general election. Otherwise, we will all have to deal with the consequences.

· Anas Altikriti is the spokesman for the British Muslim Initiative
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