Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Column, March 14, 2006

TONY Blair's appearance on Parkinson explained a lot. It has become fashionable to write 'Parky' off as a bit too pipe and slippers comfy in an age where interviewing is defined by axemen like Paxman and John Humphrys.
That might be why Blair's acolytes put him up for the appearance in the first place, expecting his shucks I'm just a family guy act to get him through a series of softball questions.
But Michael Parkinson is a hack at heart and so when our leader starts alluding to God being the justification of why we got into Iraq then he thought it was worth a little exploration.
Admittedly that was where we needed Paxman to step in to explore whether God had appeared to Tony as a burning bush, or whether he'd just sent one of his archangels to explain how it was his will that 100,000 innocent Iraqis had to die in a war to topple Saddam – yea let it be so.
You do wonder why he bothered with all that dossier business trying to convince Parliament that war was the right thing to do. Why didn't he just go to the Commons and explain he'd been given the go-ahead by the big guy upstairs?
It would have saved us a lot of time and money as well as a lot of Iraqi lives. Instead of measuring him up for an ermine cloak when he relinquishes occupancy of Number 10 to Gordon Brown and becomes Lord Blair of Basra, he'd had been fitted for a jacket with arms that strap across the back and moved into a cell with extra comfy walls.
Is there something of a little bit Stalinist about the Blair premiership? All of his Cabinet clapping on cue for fear of being airbrushed out of Government and exiled to the Siberia that is the back benches?
Now and again you get mutterings in the ranks, this week our own Kim Howells admitted that Iraq was 'a mess' (a masterpiece of understatement, but nevertheless a step in the right direction).
But nothing cracks the edifice of Blair's insistence that he was right to go to war in Iraq and history will bear him out. And religious conviction would explain such stubborn insistence on being in the right, in the face of all the overwhelming evidence otherwise.
But you know, people like me have wasted acres of newsprint making these points time and time again – it was an illegal war, there were no WMDs, Bush and his cronies had no plan whatsoever about what to do when they, inevitably, toppled Saddam – yadda, yadda, yadda, blah, blah, blah, dull, dull, dull.
We are dismissed by Blair and his lickspittle inner coterie as at best misguided and at worst as security risks. Remember this is the party that ejects a pensioner from its conference and has him arrested under anti-terrorism laws for shouting 'rubbish' when Jack Straw was spouting exactly that while lamely attempting to justify the war with Iraq.
And why should anyone take any notice of what a here-today, gone-tomorrow blatherskite columnist thinks about the war? No reason I can think of.
But if you're sick and tired of people like me bleating about quite how we got embroiled in a war on the coat-tails of an unholy alliance of US big business and the religious Right, then instead listen to what Trooper Ben Griffin has to say about it.
Let me preface his comments with the admission that there are two things British soldiers are extraordinarily good at – fighting and moaning, and usually both at the same time.
This is not a criticism of them, they built an Empire upon which the sun never set, but they do whinge a lot doing it. Sometimes their complaints are justified, being sent into battle with a rifle that doesn't work being one complaint that would seem to have some merit. But if it's not rifles that don't work then it's food, the amount of leave they get, the lousy pay, the arrogant officers, the boredom etc etc etc, you get my drift.
Twas ever thus, but no-one can deny that when they have to get on with it they do just that and you would not want to get in their way.
But Trooper Ben Griffin, who was brought up in Wales, is not your average moaning squaddie. No, no. He's a member of the SAS who has served in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan. He has an exemplary military record which included service with the Parachute Regiment – not your average bleeding heart liberal then.
But Trooper Griffin quit the Army after three months in Baghdad, saying that he was no longer prepared to fight alongside US soldiers who he said were employing illegal tactics and treating Iraqi civilians as if they were sub-human.
This is what he said about Iraq to the Sunday Telegraph: “I think the war in Iraq is a war of aggression and is morally wrong and, more importantly, we are making the situation in the Middle East more unstable.
“It's not just wrong, it's a major military disaster. There was no plan for what was to happen after Saddam, no end-game.”
After he explained his position to his CO he expected to be arrested and jailed for refusing to soldier. Instead he was discharged with a testimonial that described him as 'balanced, loyal, and determined...with the strength of character to have the courage of his convictions.” Which seems to imply that there was some sympathy for his stance among the upper echelons of his regiment.
You see, as I said, there's no earthly reason why anyone should take a blind bit of notice of me or any of the legion of other journalists who have been saying what we have been dragged into is illegal.
But if you are not going to listen to Trooper Griffin, a man who has served his country in the most trying of situations, then who are you going to listen to?
It's a simple choice, between a man who revealed on prime time TV that he took us to war on the guidance of God, and a Welsh soldier who has faced the muck and bullets as a result.

THE new census forms, yes new census forms, and you thought you’d enjoyed the last one so much, will include a ‘Welsh’ tick box we are assured.
Hurrah, a nation rejoices, no doubt the now deathly quiet Independent Wales Party will be declaring 'We Won It For Wales.'
Although it was reported in some papers at the weekend that a nationality tick box has been included at the behest of the Welsh.
Well, not quite, I think the (London-based) writers will find that what the Welsh wanted was just the same as the Scots and the Irish got, that is to say what they are – Welsh – rather than what some English census designer assumes them to be – British.
There is a difference. Although we'll have to wait and see whether only the Welsh in Wales can declare themselves to be so and whether the next census will answer the far more interesting question of just how many Welsh people are lost to England because of economic opportunity.

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