13 December 2009

Assuming the position

Tony Blair has caused a bit of a stir this week by claiming he would still have invaded Iraq in 2003, even if he had known there were no weapons of mass destruction. As much as anything, this is a corner into which he has painted himself. To admit otherwise - that he would have gone to war only because of the WMD - would throw uncomfortable light upon the evidence, dodgy dossier and all. Better to tough it out as a moral position.

At the same time as Blair was undergoing his sofa grilling (at the hands of fearsome political interrogator Fern Brittan), the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was complaining that politicians didn't take religious faith very seriously but as an "eccentricity" practised by "oddities". Since Tony Blair's positions are driven by his deeply held Christian convictions, Dr Williams' comments seem timely, although probably not in the way he intended. If Blair is the poster child for politicians taking religious views seriously, then long may we continue to seek their mutual separation.

It also highlights a contradiction at the heart of Blair the politician. He is often painted as a focus-group fanatic, unable to express the simplest opinion without knowing how it would play with key voter demographics. Yet time and time again, on some of the biggest calls, he would adopt a position based upon instinct and adjust his arguments, or even the facts, to suit it - from Kosovo to ID Cards, PFI and, ultimately, the Iraq invasion.

While this approach might work in the imaginary bubble of politics, I'm not sure how successful a strategy it would be for those who live in the real world. Suppose I want to go to the cinema, and so I tell everyone that a new James Bond movie is playing that evening in town. But when we get there, not only is the movie not showing, but it hasn't even been made. I then turn to my disappointed friends and offer them the opportunity to watch the latest Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy - if they don't like it, and tell me I should have checked the listings, I simply tell them that someone had to take the decision to come to the cinema, and that I believe the trip was worth it. And then spend my friends' annual wages on the tickets.

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