Sitting in Basra after a day of watching elections. Some violence in Baghdad, but not here. Pretty much just people enthusiastic to vote and decent local administrators running decent polling stations. Turnout above 60%? There’s deep sadness that folk have died, partly at my own cheerleading. Yet some cautious optimism that while religion has played a part the thing on the minds of voters is, as elsewhere, public services – security, sure, but electricity, water, schools. And if the present pm loses, he walks. That’s democracy and every politician, diplomat, soldier, cop, public servant, voter I’ve met has said the same. Progress? Yes.
War-justifying? Nope. Maybe the historical sweep will take that view, maybe not, but for now that isn’t the point. The Iraqis are moving forward (check out some of their neighbours); let’s just say a small thanks for that. Ask John Pilger if he has a view. He’ll charge his usual rate for a mindless polemic.
In London, Gordon Brown’s under fire from assorted ex-chiefs of defence and other former (actually, in effect present) senior officers. The Chilcott inquiry’s the justification. And I don’t doubt how professionally able his accusators (for that’s what they are) are. Lords Guthrie and Boyce, General Lamb (whose words were, in my very modest view, timed for the election or he’s an arse or too grand for the effect of the words, which he isn’t. Unless he’s a fool, which is his alternative). But they’ve followed General Dannett, whom I admire as a General, less so as a politician) into the Tory camp.
Here’s a thought. Can you think of a moment in history just before a general election when senior military officers personally attacked, in unrestrained terms, the prime minister of the day? No?
When I was a private solider in Germany in 1980 I lived in a house with an outdoor toilet and had to buy my own combat jerseys, as directed by NCOs, from adverts in the newspapers. The generals? No word. When we sold off army housing (albeit to a fantastically effective private sector consortium) before the 1997 general election, the most disturbing betrayal of the interest of soldiers for many years, under John Major and Michael Portillo; what words from the chiefs? Er, that’ll be nothing again. Where were Guthrie and Boyce then (the most senior of officers at the time)? They were thinking about their careers and, in the most general (excuse the pun) of ways, reflecting their Tory instincts.
And of recent years? Funny old world, too funny for many in the media, but odd how little scrutiny there has been of the non-exec director interests of retired officers and their statements in the Lords. Note the apologies made by Guthrie and Boyce; note how man of dubious moral authority Boyce’s public position changes with his private sector interests. He’s too grand for people to check out, of course. But there it is.
When you make the effort to come to Basra (as the BBC didn’t today, but John Simpson’s reports seem nevertheless pretty fair) it’s fairly clear to spot a couple of things. First, the Iraqis are in charge of their own future – and they want it to be a democratic one. That doesn’t justify the the war of itself, right? Yet at last Britain follows through, quietly, too quietly, brilliantly. Let’s see what happens next.
Second, a lot of Britons died for Basra and we have simply the most astonishing folk there now – from Alice Walpole, Consul General, to the contractors who serve in anonymity. They deserve our support. So they do. Actually, I know they have it. Yet, when it really matters – what’s the future of our Basra station?
As long as the Iraqis think we can help, we should stay here and follow through. For the good. And there’s a lot of good we can do.
Enough from me.
Yes, know what you mean.