Vote For Honesty

It’s General Election Day in the UK today. I’ve spent the past week sitting in a hospital bed reading the papers. It’s become increasingly clear to me that a large part of the country knows that Tony Blair set out to create a legal and political climate for invading Iraq because that’s what his friend George wanted to do, that he lied and misrepresented the evidence in support of the assertion that Saddam had WMDs, and that pressure was put on the Attorney General (chief Government lawyer) to say unequivocally that the war was legal under international law when that wasn’t his view[0].

Most people also know that he said specifically in his manifesto that he wouldn’t introduce tuition fees for universities, or raise the National Insurance tax, yet he did both. If you say you’ll do something and don’t, that’s one thing – you can claim circumstances or lack of time, promise to do it next time, and the public can judge whether they believe you. But if you say “Vote for me – I won’t do X” then actually make the effort to write the law and take the time to have it passed, that’s far, far worse.

A large part of the British public know all this… yet they think “hmm, well the economy’s not too bad, and I might be a bit better off under Labour” and are going to vote for his party anyway! “They’re all just as bad”, they say.

If you can’t hold your politicians to account for their honesty, what’s the point of having elections and manifestos? They can just promise anything they like, and then do something different when they get in power. I’m not claiming there’s some knight in shining armour on the political scene – some obvious person to vote for. But if you vote Labour, you are condoning this dishonest behaviour. No “reluctantly voting Labour”; no “vote Labour but hope they have a smaller majority” weaselling will let you avoid this truth. You can’t put “reluctantly” on the ballot paper.

Anyway, if you haven’t voted yet, go and do so. And please – vote for honesty.

[0] Note to war-supporting US readers: the reason this is a big issue is that “regime change” is not a legal means for invasion of another sovereign nation under international law. The reason this isn’t an issue in the US is that the US leadership doesn’t care a stuff what international law says.

27 thoughts on “Vote For Honesty

  1. “The reason this isn’t an issue in the US is that the US leadership doesn’t care a stuff what international law says.”

    You’re right – we don’t. And there’s still nothing anyone can do about it.

    I think it’d be funny if we invaded the UK. Talk about role reversal (from a couple hundred years or so ago, but still).

    Heh.

  2. I voted Howard. I will be thouroughly depressed to have another 5 years of Blair (Bliar.) Really depressed.

  3. It is called flexibility.

    did you even take the time to consider what had changed from the time of the manifesto till the time he raised the fees ??

    If a situation changes then sometimes you need to do things you hope wasn’t needed and even told people isn’t needed. Should you do it anyways knowing it is thew best (under the new situation) or should you let the situation detiorate for the next 3-4 years until you can make a new promise?..

    And give the US a rest, clean your own front lawn before telling others to do so.

  4. Gerv, our politicians (on both sides of the ocean) have never been honest.

    I personally think that the best I can do is demand some honesty and accountability for politicians at the most local levels (the ones whose homes I can walk to with my hollow plastic baseball bat). Anything above that, and I don’t feel particularly hopeful of being able to impact change.

    – A

  5. To me the idea of international law is a joke, because there’s no world government. The closest thing to it is the UN, which is much more of an oversight board. Even there, they aren’t really all that great — take a look at the Sudan, which they refused to brand a genocide because it would require them to take action. In the end I think self-interest is the only real way things should work (and will work, at least until the world is unified and there are much, much worse things to worry about). If a country gets too uppity, countries in the rest of the world will do something about it to protect their own interests. This does not constitute international law.

    For these reasons, I think you can’t judge the war to be either for or against international law because no such thing exists. As for my personal feelings regarding it, I believe there was probably some overeagerness in the decision, but I do not believe deception was encouraged or committed by either Bush or Blair. I think how things are progressing may not be great, but I think it’s about as good as can be expected given how monumental a task it is to help an entire country split by religion and ideology rebuild itself. In the short term things are and will continue to be difficult, but in the long term I think the world has changed for the better.

  6. Gerv, that might be nice if you are comfortable with a Tory government, or if you are in a Lib/Lab marginal. But some of us have memories. I also agree with Jeff on international law : anyone who believes it has meaning does not understand the word “sovreignty”.

    Yes, Blair is immoral. But most people have to make a decision based on what they feel will benefit them, not an unrealistic moral crusade (When was the last honest PM? I guarantee any answer you give to this is laughable.) We are forced into tactical voting by the sick old electoral system.

    The real thing to attack Labour on is “Vote Labour or the Tories will get in” : they have had 8 years to fix the electoral system, but have done absolutely nothing about it. Lib/Lab coalition where the Libs sacrifice everything but PR is the best we can hope for: another parliament of Labour crap, then we actually get to vote for what we believe. And yes, I mean STV or another sane system, not first past the post. And yes, I know its horrendously unlikely. But its a lot more likely than a non-asset-stripping Tory government.

    You can’t be suprised that people do what is most in line with their beleifs within the limits of the extremely shoddy system we have. Its a balance, and no, principle doesn’t always win.

  7. In almost all cases of election you are stuck with two people that are not the best people for the job. Its a fact of life and how people get to the top.

    One just has to deal with it, and elect the one that sucks the least.

    *hugs*

  8. “Most people also know that he said specifically in his manifesto that he wouldn’t… raise the National Insurance tax”

    Actually, their manifesto didn’t include a pledge on National Insurance, just income tax. In an interview, he said people shouldn’t expect NI to go up (so he implied it wouldn’t go up but did not promise this).

  9. But the economy *isn’t* better because of them, it’s better because of the Walmart Effect (price wars have kept food prices down which have kept inflation down but which invoke huge new ethics considerations in terms of *how* that low food price is created).

    Otherwise I agree with your post perfectly :)

  10. US Citizen said: I think it’d be funny if we invaded the UK.

    Probably not that funny. We have nukes. I hope you’re not too attached to the eastern and western seaboards. :-)

    Not UK said: did you even take the time to consider what had changed from the time of the manifesto till the time he raised the fees ??

    Yes – not much. The university funding situation is not a volatile thing. Also, when he did the U-turn, as far as I can tell he didn’t even really give any reasons, or tell us why there was a need to change.

    Jeff Walden said: To me the idea of international law is a joke, because there’s no world government.

    Having international law is nothing to do with a world government. It’s about countries getting together and agreeing to do or not to do things, not about pooling sovereignty. NATO is “international law”. So is the UN which, even though you claim you don’t like it, you are still signed up to.

    rjw said: Yes, Blair is immoral. But most people have to make a decision based on what they feel will benefit them, not an unrealistic moral crusade

    I very much hope not many people agree with you; I’m not so cynical as to believe that requiring honesty is unrealistic, and if everyone thinks the way you do then there’s no hope.

    Alex: thanks for the clarification. :-)

  11. Nationally I voted lib dem, because I believe their policies more. Labour went into Iraq on a lie, the Conservatives want to cut �35billion from public services and improve them, only the Lib Dems have said that they want to invest in particular public services and admitted that to do so they will need to raise taxes. If only the american people could see the same reality.

  12. “Jeff Walden said: To me the idea of international law is a joke, because there’s no world government.”

    So, how funny are the Geneva Conventions?

    “As for my personal feelings regarding it, I believe there was probably some overeagerness in the decision, but I do not believe deception was encouraged or committed by either Bush or Blair.”

    Now, to me, *this* is pretty hilarious.

  13. The Geneva Convention is amusing, but it holds because the alternatives are too ghastly for leaders to contemplate. Violation of the Geneva Convention means that the other side is freed from its restrictions. Germany had enough poison gas to stop D-Day cold, and the Russians for that matter, but because Churchill stated publicly that use of gas was cause for retaliation strikes in kind, Hitler backed down.

    As for international law, nation-states obey international law purely out of the same self-interest. However, the fact remains that sometimes international law has failings, one being that there is no provision for other countries to remove a regime that threatens others. Sometimes it is a moral imperative to defeat an enemy before he can present a more serious threat. Indecision on the part of French and British leaders when the Germany Army reoccupied the Rhineland led to World War II, and all of the horrors that ensued.

    The choices other than war were to either leave Saddam in power, crippling and starving his country with sanctions, and leaving the population to the abuses of power and genocidal tendencies that marked the Baathist regime, or to drop the sanctions and hope for the best out of a dictator who had already launched one war of aggression. The horrors of a limited war pale in comparison to what he or his successors may have achieved instead.

  14. Gerv: The things you mentioned are *treaties*, not *laws*. A treaty is a bilateral or multilateral agreement between sovereign powers. If *one* party decides to break or dissolve the treaty, it is gone. If they pretend they didn’t break it, then its up to the other party to dissolve it. That hasn’t happened.

    If you say “They broke some treaties”, it doesn’t sound that bad, because every country breaks treaties the whole damn time – eg trade bickering, import tariffs, etc etc. If you say “They broke international law”, it sounds much worse, because we all know breaking the law is bad.

    “International law” is a fiction in the same vein as “intellectual property” – it conflates a whole bunch of things and compares it to something else thats vaguely similar in a way that doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny. This leads people to think silly things, eg that they can sue over the “illegality” of the war.

    Note, I’m not saying I think the war was right – I don’t – but this international law thing really gets my goat.

    And the unrealism I was accusing you of is in thinking you will get an honest or non-slavishly-following-the-US Prime Minister by voting against Labour. I’m afraid it isn’t going to happen. Was there really someone standing in your constituency that you could realistically judge the honesty of? I doubt it.

  15. I can’t claim to know much about the U.K and it’s government (although I did live in London for 9 months), but I applaud your remarks Gerv, and thank you for speaking your mind.

    To the first poster ‘US Citizen’. Your a joke. And I’m ashamed you claim to be American, as you obviously have no idea what that means. Sure, you may have a nice pretty blue passport like many of us do, but there is MUCH MORE to it than that.

    You are pathetic, and you shame us all.

    -Jed

  16. Mike said: The Geneva Convention is amusing, but it holds because the alternatives are too ghastly for leaders to contemplate… However, the fact remains that sometimes international law has failings, one being that there is no provision for other countries to remove a regime that threatens others.

    I’d say that “pre-emptive” first strikes are one of the things most of the world considers “too ghastly to contemplate”, which is why international law forbids them.

    Who was Saddam threatening? Certainly not the US or the UK or Italy. He had no nukes (and even if he did, that’s not cause to invade – see e.g. North Korea and Iran), he had no other WMDs. He was just sitting there posturing and making life generally miserable for a proportion of his population. But if the US thinks it should be riding to the rescue of any country where that is true, then there are a lot of places which should be higher on the list. Hey – why not start with China?

  17. rjw said:

    Gerv: The things you mentioned are *treaties*, not *laws*.

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.

    Sorry, Charlie. Treaties form part of the “supreme Law” and are just as binding as I am. Read me!

  18. Sorry, you inoperative bit of soiled toilet paper. I hope you’ve enjoyed your complet ignoral over the last 70 years. In case you didn’t notice, we are talking about the UK election. We do not live under a written constitution, and “The constitution” only covers 5% of the worlds population. The fact is that treaties are agreements between soveriegn nations. They are not enforced by an “impartial” entity, they are nothing like laws. They only last as long as both parties want them to. Often, parties to a treaty will moan about breaches, but not dissolve the treaty.

    Also please understand that in the US, a treaty has to pass congress – this is not the case in a lot of countries. I hope you’ve heard of Crown prerogative, it is how treaties get passed in the UK – a minister agrees to them and the legislature has nothing to say about it.

    Where is the “international” in your argument? The fact that one country implements treaties as laws internally says nothing about the “legality” of a totally different country breaking the terms of treaties. That would need a law in the other country saying “it is illegal for us to break treaties”.

    Anyway, given that you believe treaties are laws and that the US=World, what treaty did Britain supposedly break?

  19. Gerv, I agree that the war was not the right thing to do. The only vaguely convincing argument for it was “He is using our sanctions as a propaganda weapon against us, and we just can’t bear to let him get away with Kuwait by just lifting them.” But they did not try to develop this argument, which would have taken many more years, and instead went with ridiculous rubbish about WMDs, threat to the region, etc,etc.

    But, I just find this “illegal” rhetoric ridiculous. There are a lot of other illegal things both administrations have done, why pretend that this was one of them?

  20. Gerv said: You can’t put “reluctantly” on the ballot paper.

    Yes, unfortunately a single “X” on a piece of paper is a rather blunt instrument for expressing your views. Whatever issue(s) you choose to put first, there can be all sorts of other issues which you care about and which would cause you to vote differently.

    I wish I could have written “reluctantly” myself. In principle, I should be a fairly natural Lib Dem voter. They strike me as straightforward and honest, and have a lot of policies which I agree with. I feel strongly about Blair’s dishonesty, as you do, and about his losing touch with the people. I also fear Tory cuts to public services, and didn’t want to reward the Tories for Howard’s negativity over immigration or for their support for the Iraq invasion. And the split in my local constituency is such that Lib Dem isn’t a “wasted vote”. But the one big reason I’d have had to write “reluctantly” on the ballot paper is that I object to that the Lib Dem candidate’s record on a range of “family values” issues.

    In the end I settled for voting Lib Dem but writing to the local and central party to make it quite clear that they should not interpret it as an endorsement of that particular candidate.

    What can you do?!

  21. Since I’m at the University of York, I was signed up to the Selby constituency, where Labour and the Conservatives both had ~40% and the Liberal Democrats had ~10%. My vote was one of the thousands that contributed to the overall swing to the Lib Dems (they now have ~15% here) but that made no difference to the final result. Fortunately I couldn’t care less about who is elected for Selby, where I neither live nor study.

  22. rjw said:

    Anyway, given that you believe treaties are laws and that the US=World, what treaty did Britain supposedly break?

    Don’t be deliberately obtuse. Gerv’s footnote stated that Americans don’t care about international law, you stated that treaties aren’t laws, and I was simply pointing out that for Americans the two things are one and the same.

    For Britain, perhaps treaties aren’t laws, and perhaps Britain therefore didn’t break any international laws. That’s debatable. By America’s own standards, however, America did engage in illegal activity regarding the Iraq war by violating the UN charter, which was ratified as a treaty in 1945, and therefore part of the “supreme law” of the US.

    Britain also violated that charter, of course, but as you rightly point out, we don’t have a written constitution.

    (Yes, I said “we.” Did you assume I was American? Tsk.)

  23. I think the real problem is not the honesty of one party or the other, but the arrogance of power – whoever has it. And desire of power to cling on to power – if necessary by lying. The only thing that works in the long run is checks and balances – and that is what democracy is supposed to provide. So yes, vote against dishonesty, vote against warmongering, vote aganist arrogance – but don’t think the other lot will be any better once they have got their hands on the levers of power.

    I notice a level of aggression and personal insult creeping into even this very civilzed discussion. Am I paranoid, or is it emanating mainly from US respondents? And is this indicative of the way the US sees its role in the world?
    Miranda

  24. Hi

    I linked through to your blog from the OxLUG site, and it’s refreshing to see someone else agreeing that integrity and trust are major factors in politics. I’ve been banging on about the same things in my journal.

    Personally, I voted Conservative – not, sadly, that it did us any good.

    Interestingly, one of your commentators mentioned the misleading comments on tax and NI – did anyone notice that the Grinning Goon’s comments in yesterday’s speech were enormously similar to his comments at the 2000 Labour Party Conference?

    When he’d been accused of broken promises, he said “I’ve listened, I have heard and I will act”. And in 2001 he was given a second change.

    This time around, “I’ve listened and learned”. Hmmm. Hopefully the electorate will learn for 2009/2010 before we end up in real trouble.

    I’ll withhold comment on the opinions of our colonial brethren, who really don’t have a leg to stand on. And I’ve worked closely with the US Forces (USN and USMC), so don’t get me started!

    Regards

    Neil