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April - May 2008
Inside Britain: Brown's withdrawal from Basra
by Nisha Chopra
Unlike his predecessor Brown was not received into government with the tragic introduction of Princess Diana’s death; which, with the help of his spin-doctors, Tony Blair managed to exploit that tragedy for his own advantage. Brown on the other hand was received into government with the death of Northern Rock and what a catastrophe that was; losing his heavyweight title in handling a bad crisis and his corner team mate Alistair Darling doing little to help seal Brown’s open wounds. Nationalisation of this stricken mortgage lender has no doubt affected the ex-chancellor’s record in delivering economic stability.
Brown is not the only man in Whitehall who’s feeling the heat; rookie Alistair Darling has just given his first Budget report and despite his apparent confidence I think you will agree that we do not feel confident. His failure to address serious issues such as Northern Rock, Inheritance tax, stamp duty, the NHS, council tax, the Olympics, fuel duty increases and public transport suggests how hollow this year’s budget was. The salient features of his budget deal with tobacco taxes, child benefit increase and alcohol taxes which makes it sound as if he was presenting a budget to a house of single parent recovering drug addicts.
On that dreary note, since we never actually gave a mandate on Brown’s policies when he came into government as Prime Minister, lets take a look back on his Prime Ministerial achievements in 2007.
Against the backdrop of delayed decisions and the issue of unrequited legitimacy over his electorate, Brown was in desperate need of some positive media attention. So what does Brown do? He springs a surprise visit to Iraq on the 2nd October to announce that 500 more soldiers from the previously stated 500 in September will be back in the UK in time for Christmas. This 1000- soldier Christmas cut-back from the Basra Air Station (since its move from the Basra Palace base) also coincided with the later handover on the 17th December of Basra province to the control of the Iraqi forces.
There are two major issues that one cannot dismiss as easily as Brown did over the handover of Basra to the Iraqi forces. One of those issues is the handover itself, which showed clear signs of defeat despite Browns denial and his continued dismissal of anything to do with Iraq. If one was to look at the state of Basra today; with the rampancy of criminal gangs, Iraqi radicals and religious fundamentalists still threatening the province, there is no credibility in arguing that the Iraqi forces were reinstated because the job of creating stability has been achieved. Undeniably the British soldiers’ efforts have been tremendous in trying to create a sense of stability in a city recovering from civil war. However the fact that the Iraqi forces can still call on multinational forces for help, merely contradicts the handover all together; as they are simply not ready being amidst a power struggle among Shiite parties alongside the city’s main strong force the Mahdi Army militia under the leadership of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s army.
Moreover the sheer lack of nationalist understanding of the Iraqi people by Bush and Blair in going to war (not forgetting Brown’s unquestionable support) has transformed a resource rich goldmine into a minefield. With violence still prominent in the city it is evident that Brown also has lack of understanding as much as Blair and Bush did, in that it will take a whole generation of Iraqies to achieve democracy and stable government, rather than just a year as predicted. This is due to the fact that there has never been an organic growth of the state in the Middle East, like that of the West. The state was effectively dropped on the Middle East and against sub-state and transnational identities this foreign concept ‘the state’ was to try and compete with these identities and create democracy. Well it does not take a genius to understand that that never happened and in Iraq especially, what did happen was the rise of a brutal dictatorship and a violent, ethnically exclusive regime.
Again Brown, it would seem, is just as much of a spin merchant as Blair, spinning the actual numbers of soldiers that were coming home, holding surprise visits to Iraq on the back of the Tory party conference, on the eve of avid speculation of a snap general election.
As soon as Brown replaced Blair at No. 10 speculation began as to whether he was going to announce a surprise general election. Instead of making a clean statement, Brown played on this in hope for positive media attention. Again spinning the actual numbers of soldiers that were coming home in time for Christmas, he created a sense of false hope among the families of the soldiers. In reality, Santa Brown had no more gifts of homecoming to give, as this was merely an exploitation of our Christmas spirit. In actual fact he was republicizing a withdrawal that had already taken place and the other 500 soldiers were in fact being redeployed elsewhere.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: “Not a single serviceman is going home. Last week’s figure contained 500 that were already on the way home and now the others are simply being shifted.”
From this it is obvious that Brown is trying to shake-off Iraq by spinning events in order to gain some sort of media appraisal, but the manner in which he conducted these visits, during the Tory party conference and breaking his promise over announcing any new plans over Basra in Parliament, simply makes him look like a bad politician. We must remember Brown may be new to the game as Prime Minister but as Chris Grayling said, “he was the Chancellor who wrote the cheques for the war [and] he sat round the Cabinet and voted for the war.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/anyquestions_transcripts_20071005.shtml)
This is not unfamiliar territory for Brown and let’s not forget it was his Freudian slip about the Iraq war being a great economic gain for Britain that got Blair into trouble. It is difficult to understand how Brown thought that he could get away with exploiting British troops for boosting his opinion polls. He obviously doesn’t seem to have the same quality spin-doctors as Blair; as Brown had to resort to reusing headline-grabbing announcements in order to boost his personal ratings. Furthermore, being an un-elected Prime Minister, Brown is on a very slippery slope of losing credibility among his electorate and his legacy of being a great Chancellor. And his decision to remain un-elected was more detrimental than beneficial, as he may have been able to stay in government as PM, but the polls were given a huge shift in the balance towards the Tory Party.
Brown’s decision to handover the province to Iraqi forces was the sixth most momentous so far out of the nine largely Shiite provinces of central and southern Iraq. However it may give insight into what we should expect in 2008. That is further shake-off’s from Brown over Iraq. These have already become apparent for example in Darlings pre-budget report whereby he planned to give £2bn extra to the front line troops in Iraq, which initially sounded promising but defence officials are already arguing that this is not enough.
Is there an underlying truth in this that if Brown had his way it would have been a radical withdrawal from Basra. Anything to steer clear from Blair’s past! As if his blue tie didn’t give it away. Essentially it was all spun for that supposed snap election, but oh how badly did it turn out!