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Tony Blair

The Iraq war changed everything

Tony Blair with British troops in Basra, in 2004. Stefan Rousseau/AFP/Getty

Next Monday will mark 20 years since the invasion of Iraq, says John Harris in The Guardian. It’s an “uneasy anniversary”, reminding us not only of Tony Blair’s responsibility for the “greatest political and humanitarian disaster” the UK has been involved with since the Second World War, but also of a moment when the political centre ground “lurched somewhere reckless and catastrophic”. Far from the assertion of one FT columnist that the war “didn’t shake politics”, the “sheer disastrousness” of the conflict created the “crisis of public trust” that still festers on in the UK.

The feeling that burned through was that “politics and power had lurched away from the public”. Millions protested a war that was foisted on them by Blair, justified by “weak and patchy evidence” about weapons of mass destruction that never existed. The idea of politics as a “mendacious trade” might be an ancient cliché, but this wanton deceit proved that cliché right. And it had a “seismic” impact on voters. Labour’s majority plummeted from 167 seats in 1997 to just 66, and thousands of Scots for the first time backed the SNP and its vision of Scottish independence, as leader Alex Salmond tapped into “huge anger” about the invasion. Iraq ended the New Labour vision of Britain as a “young, confident country”, and shattered fantasies of “liberal interventionism”, fuelling the isolationist feeling that would materialise in the rise of Ukip and the Brexit vote. It’s because of Iraq that the UK will never again be the “quiet, orderly, outward-facing nation” it was 20 years ago.