Send Blair to be Our Man in Baghdad
I have to admit that the bicycle story put me off my stride. I was just settling down to pronounce on the tenth anniversary of Blair’s premiership, and I was preparing for a dithyramb of destruction. I wasn’t going to rain on Tony’s parade; I was going to be a one-man hurricane of hatred, pouring squalls of cold water on anyone so foolish as to claim that Britain had got better on his watch.
I was going to call upon my army of readers to form a giant conga and dance on the political grave of A. C. L. Blair, and then I was going to invite the hand of history once again to feel the shoulder of this glistering-toothed charlatan, and then I was going to tell that hand to move along a few inches and feel the collar of this Dome-constructing, peerage-selling, dodgy-dossier-authenticating lackey of George W. Bush; and just as I was about to wring his withers one last time for his failure to improve our schools, for the continuing shambles in the NHS, and for the near-destruction he seems to have wrought on the ancient union between England and Scotland – just as the steam was starting to puff from my ears like a kettle – my eye fell on the newspaper.
It was a story about cycling, a good news story, and for a minute or two I was completely taken in.
It said that there were more cyclists in London than ever before. Since I love cycling, I was excited. The numbers were up vastly on last year, said the story, and 83 per cent up on 2000.
I thought of all those people, and the pleasure they are getting from swishing silently through the sunlit streets, entirely the masters of their own speed and destination, and without adding any more carbon to the upper air than a pedestrian; and I reeled back, wondering how I could fail in some way to credit this to the Labour hegemony.
I flung wide my window here in Westminster, and I could feel my wrath abating. Yes, Britain still seems to be here, after 10 years of Tone. The chestnut trees are still producing their lovely candles, and it is still true that there is nowhere on earth more beautiful than Britain in early May, and yes, there are indeed flotillas of gaily-coloured cyclists sailing down the streets, and for one pathetic moment I was so entranced that I almost relented.
I was on the verge of qualifying my attack, and noting that Tony Blair did not entirely disgrace this country on the international stage. I might have added that he had considerable powers of charm and persuasion, and that he could at least speak in clear declarative English sentences, and that he showed signs of a sense of humour. And then I looked again at the scene before me and – pow – I saw what I fool I was.
Cyclists! I’ll tell you why there are so many more cyclists on the streets of London, and it’s nothing to do with the happy, confident eco-friendly ethos of the Labour government.
You show me a Londoner who has recently converted to cycling and I will show you someone who is a refugee from the Tube – not just because the Underground is now an armpit-nuzzling inferno of heat, but also because at the back of the mind of many new cyclists is fear.
They fear that one day it could be them sitting next to the psychopathic “martyr” who believes he has only to pull the rip-cord and he will be surrounded by the 72 black-eyed virgins of paradise and their 144 welcoming hands.
It’s not delight that impels the new cyclists; it’s necessity leavened with terror, and at the thought of that fear, I am afraid my rage returned.
How can we say that Britain has improved? The risk of terror is so much greater that air travel has become a nightmare of queueing, a Tube journey involves constantly squinting at anyone with a rucksack, and in spite of all the erosions of liberty – the 4.2 million CCTV cameras, the restrictions on trial by jury, the extensions of detention without trial – there are still apparently 2,000 people who pose such a threat to our society that they are being kept under constant surveillance.
And why are there so many middle-class, fish-and-chip-eating, cricket-playing British Muslims who seem to want to murder their fellow Britons, 10 years into the Blair premiership?
Yes, I am afraid it is his fault, and it is time we all admitted that the latent poison of Muslim alienation and disaffection has been potentiated by the war in Iraq.
Blair cannot escape the blame for a disaster in which at least 60,000 (and possibly 10 times as many) Iraqis have died, and which is causing 40,000 Iraqis to flee the country every month, and what gets me is that he won’t join me, and others who voted for it, in admitting the truth.
It wasn’t that the execution was somehow faulty, and that we failed to plan for the aftermath, as Geoff Hoon suggested yesterday. The whole enterprise was fatally flawed, and what is so infuriating is that we have never yet succeeded in bringing Blair before Parliament and confronting him with the reality; and what he doesn’t understand is that his persistent denial, his insistence that black is white, is just making matters worse.
He yesterday blamed al-Qa’eda for the civil war, and though it is true that the organisation is now involved in Iraq, it is also true that Osama bin Laden and his chums were nowhere to be seen in Iraq until the allied invasion.
Every time he glides over what is going on, he sounds more insouciant, more indifferent to the deaths of Iraqis, and more provocative. So I have a plan. Better than sending him off on his lecture tour to America, Gordon should immediately appoint him Our Man in Baghdad, where he could use those skills, honed in Northern Ireland, to heal the rift between Sunni and Shia. Iraqis would see that he did really care about them and their government.
In the face of this personal effort and sacrifice, Muslim anger around the world would abate. Yes, it’s goodbye Tony, and hello Lord Blair of Baghdad. If it’s good enough for Prince Harry, it’s good enough for him.