I don't particularly WANT Tony Blair to be brought down, I think he's been a good Prime Minister and despite the war and other hiccups has done very well for the UK.
Tony Blair would only lose his position - in any situation - with a credible opposition. As you said, Michael Howard's performance yesterday was quite impressive and (rather surprisingly, in my opinion) he is turning into effective opposition - which is great for the country as a whole.
Domestic issues are important, and I agree would usually settle any election. But there is no one issue standing out. Health and education can be spun either way, yet there is no solid, strong opinion that Labour has messed up schools and hospitals. The railways are bad, yes, but the public is always going to remember just who privatised them (which is a bit fickle in my opinion - the railways now are ten times better than the dire last days of BR
). With today's announcement, the government is at least taking some active steps to tackle problems.
Consider other 'major' domestic issues. The strikes, while annoying, aren't that severe and Labour can easily claim it's got nothing to do with them. Petrol protests are long forgotten.
The EU is a hot potato, and it's always possible that the Tories would ride in on the Daily Mail-induced anti-Europe sentiment, but I have a feeling the Tories are going to be very hard pressed to maintain a moderatly anti-Europe stance while disassociating themselves from UKIP etal.
While the Tories provide good opposition and soundbites with international issues, including the war and to a lesser extent the EU, they simply don't have clear domestic policies.
The recent debates about health prove this: both parties were talking about 'choice' and the choices offered were barely distinguishable between the parties. Both are nice, but the opposition policy isn't distinct enough from government policy to make an impact.
If the next election will be won or lost on domestic policy, the Tories need to have more defined, different policies domestically.
Regarding the legality of the war:
In the case of Iraq, the Attorney General offered initial advice to the Government prior to
the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, when consideration was
being given to the enforcement of Iraq’s compliance with its disarmament obligations
under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 and subsequent relevant
resolutions. That advice mainly concerned legal interpretation of relevant United Nations
Security Council resolutions. But the Attorney General did conclude that, on the basis of
the information he had seen, there would be no justification for the use of force against Iraq
on grounds of self-defence against an imminent threat.
That is, prior to 1441, a war based on self-defence against Iraq would be unjustified.
Following the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, there was
disagreement inside the FCO on whether a further decision of the Security Council would
be needed before the UK could lawfully use force against Iraq to secure compliance by
Iraq with its disarmament obligations. The Foreign Secretary told us that he took the view
that, particularly in the light of the negotiating history of Security Council Resolution 1441,
such a further decision was not essential but that all concerned in the FCO accepted that
the final word would belong to the Attorney General.
In the ultimate event, a Deputy Legal Adviser in the FCO, Ms Elizabeth Wilmshurst,
disagreed with the Government’s position and felt it necessary to resign. We took
evidence from Ms Wilmshurst and she told us that her view rested on a difference over
legal arguments and was not related to intelligence.
This shows clearly the split after 1441 over the justification and legality of a war.
We have received an account from the Attorney General of that advice, and have read it.
It was based on the legal interpretation of relevant United Nations Security Council
resolutions and negotiating history in the United Nations, and not on WMD-related
intelligence. It did, however, require the Prime Minister, in the absence of a further United
Nations Security Council resolution, to be satisfied that there were strong factual grounds
for concluding that Iraq had failed to take the final opportunity to comply with its
disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Security Council and that it was
possible to demonstrate hard evidence of non-compliance and non-co-operation with the
requirements of Security Council Resolution 1441, so as to justify the conclusion that Iraq
was in further material breach of its obligations.
This makes it clear that the legality of the war was based upon a 1441 breach.
Following the end of negotiations in the United Nations on a further Security Council
resolution, the Legal Secretary to the Attorney General wrote to the Private Secretary to the
Prime Minister on 14 March 2003 seeking confirmation that:
. . . it is unequivocally the Prime Minister’s view that Iraq has committed further
material breaches as specified in paragraph 4 of resolution 1441.
The Prime Minister’s Private Secretary replied to the Legal Secretary on 15 March,
. . . it is indeed the Prime Minister’s unequivocal view that Iraq is in further material
breach of its obligations,as in OP418 of UNSCR 1441,because of ‘false statements
or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and
failure by Iraq to comply with,and co-operate fully in the implementation of, this
This shows that the attorney general came to the conclusion that a war was legal following a 1441 breach based on the idea that the prime minister had an 'unequivolcal view' of a breach of 1441.
Paragraphs 3-4 of UNSCR 1441:
3. Decides that, in order to begin to comply with its disarmament obligations, in addition to submitting the required biannual declarations, the government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programs to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, sub-components, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programs, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material;
4. Decides that false statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations and will be reported to the council for assessment in accordance with paragraph 11 and 12 below;
Now, this is the crux of the issue. In order for the war to be legal, the PM
had to have an 'unequivolcal view' that Saddam had holdings of WMD, had programmes and had lied to the UN over these programmes.
Three of the main conclusions of the Butler report is:
Information used to justify the certainty of claims to the public about Iraq's production of chemical weapons came from "a new source on trial"
Information from another country's intelligence agency on Iraqi production of biological and chemical agents "were seriously flawed" and the grounds for British assessments that Iraq had recently produced such stocks "no longer exist"
There was no "over-reliance" on dissident Iraqi sources
This shows that the intelligence given to the PM
was false - his 'unequivocal view' hence came from incorrect intelligence.
Another major point of the Butler report is:
The claim that Iraq could use weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was should not have been made in the government's weapons dossier without explaining what the claim referred to
Which shows that, crucially, someone had to take the decision to include the 45-minute claim without explaining what the claim referred to
. This isn't expressly written in the Butler report, so is my own interpretation. Given that it was a government dossier, and MI6 intelligence included explainations that the claim refered to battle-field weapons only, someone in the government included this claim, without explaination, on purpose
. (Making a mistake of this nature is simple neglience).
knew (or should have known) that the 45-minute claim regarded battlefield weapons, yet did not comment when the dossier did not include this caveat. Hence he felt that the case for the war needed to be strengthened (sexed-up?!). If he felt the case needed to be strengthened then he could not have, by definition, an 'unequivocal view' that the terms laid out by the attorney general for war were met. Hence the war was illegal.
I accept that the link isn't as direct as I thought it was earlier. I admit I've waffled on a bit too
Still, I think this is a crucial point regarding the war and the legitimacy of the war.
Whether this significantly effects the election we shall see!