It’s all our fault, by which I mean it’s all your fault

Feedback from the comments section reveals that I have been outflanked in my bile-ridden and jaundiced view of life by several commentators who form what one might call the “This War Now Is As Good As We’re Going To Get” Left. This is the view that Bush is such a moron, and Blair is such a lickspittle, and the French and Russians are so venial and hypocritical, that no matter what happens, the current clown show was the only war proposal that was ever going to be made. All I can really say is good God. I thought it was bad enough being me. I’m now imaging what it would be like to be someone who regards me as a hopelessly impractical optimist, far too inclined to give politicians the benefit of the doubt, and to be honest it’s quite the Joseph Conrad moment. Hell.

No come on guys. It’s insufferable. While this is world is a bad old place, it’s surely to hell not that bad. I offer as exhibit A, the recent experience of the UK in the debate over tuition fees (toward the end of the debate, we weighed in on Crooked Timber on the subject; Chris thought the bill was worth saving and I didn’t. So now the American readers are up to speed).

The substantive issues on that bill are not the question here; in retrospect, I think that I was probably wrong to oppose the final bill that past, and that I underestimated a number of the provisions in it which could genuinely help to make it a broadly egalitarian proposition (in particular, increasing the size of the student grant, lengtheneing the term of repayment of the new loan arrangements and reducing the amount of variability in fees). But that’s not the important point here. The important point is that all the good bits of the bill were the result of compromises and amendments. The original tuition fees bill submitted by the government was just terrible. But the labour backbenches rejected it, in sufficient numbers to make Blair and Clarke afeared of an embarrassing rebellion. So they came back with another draft. And another. And another. Until they finally squeaked in under the wire having shed enough ideological ballast to convince enough wavering lefties that the bill was no longer worth handing the Tories a victory over. For this fantastic piece of work, of course, the backbench MPs were treated shoddily by the press; they were portrayed as bitter unrealistic chumps, and the Blairites were able to spin hated compromise climbdown provisions as if they were part of the bill all along. But the important thing was that, through obstinacy and truculence, recalcitrant British lefties were able to force the government to come up with what was actually a quite decent piece of legislation.

I hope that the parallel with the war is clear. It didn’t have to be the dog and pony show we have before us. They did have it in them to plan and execute a proper war. If Blair had been genuinely made to think that the fiasco he was allowing Bush to set in motion was going to cost him the election, he’d have put up some resistance to it. If meaningful resistance from allies had been encountered, I am more or less certain that, under pressure, the Bush team would have come up with a better plan. They’re all intelligent blokes.

So in other words, the conclusion is pretty bleakly pessimistic for the British Left. It’s all our fault. If we had tried a bit harder with the Stop the War movement, then there would have been a better war. Sure, a better war would have meant that we’d have to put up with some fairly insufferable arseholes saying “despite your silly predictions of a fiasco and quagmire everything has turned out alright thanks to the sensible and realistic plan put together by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz”, but we’re the left; we’ve got broad shoulders when it comes to that sort of thing. We should have done better.

Of course, it would have helped somewhat if the efforts of those of us on the Anti This War Now Left had not been constantly and maliciously undercut by people who thought that

  • their breathless enthusiasm for an idealised vision of humanitarian intervention, or

  • (far less forgivably) their own desire to settle scores with obscure far-left grouplets that they were embarrassed with their own previous associations with or
  • (far more forgivably) their distaste at the nasty element of British Islam that attached itself to the movement

were sufficient reasons to ignore the coming farrago of fond hopes and underplanned plans which anyone with eyes in his head could have seen was being put together. But, to be honest, I’m not anticipating many mea culpas from that direction. Much easier to claim that everyone who disagrees with you is a supporter of fascists and ignore the practical consequences of your program. Which formulation has the effect of clearing my head on the question of why there are so many ex-Trots on the pro war left.

Update: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago then went on holiday. Since then, for obvious reasons, the “This War Now Is As Good As We’re Going To Get Left” has rather thinned out in its ranks, and we have even had a few mea culpas. So my final paragraph is probably too harsh.


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