Blair Is Not Churchill

Roundup: Media's Take

Paul Waugh, writing in the Independant (London) (Feb. 7, 2004):

ONE WAS faced with an enemy that had the biggest army in history, had overrun half of Europe and was bombing British cities on a daily basis.

The other was faced with an enemy that couldn't use its air force in its own airspace, was crippled by sanctions and possessed weapons that it now turns out were more imagined than real.

Most historians wouldn't dare to compare Winston Churchill's wartime leadership with Tony Blair's experience in the run up to the war on Iraq.

Although Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein were probably equally deranged, it is difficult to find any serious academic who would agree that the two posed similar threats to Britain.

But after a week in which the Government's case on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction appeared once more to be embarrassingly thin, it was perhaps not surprising that some cabinet ministers lashed out in frustration to defend the Prime Minister.

The exasperation of Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, with stories about the details of the so-called 45-minutes claim finally spilled over when she made the comparison between Mr Blair and his predecessor of 60 years earlier.

The final straw appeared to be Michael Howard's call for Mr Blair's resignation on the grounds that he had not known MI6's assessment that Saddam's chemical weapons were for the battlefield and not cities hundreds of miles away.

Ms Beckett, who fairly represented many of her colleagues' anger at the Tories' move, said that it was"nit-picking of the highest order"."Do you suppose Winston Churchill went round asking precisely the kind of munition they had in the Second World War and would that have been a valuable use of his time?" the Environment Secretary asked.

Unfortunately for Ms Beckett, there were plenty of people ready to step forward to declare that, yes, of course Churchill would have done precisely that.

Even more unfortunately, the former prime minister's grandson just happened to be Nicholas Soames, the shadow Secretary of State for Defence.

"Margaret Beckett has the impertinence to invoke the name of Winston Churchill in the same breath as Tony Blair, saying that Churchill would never have considered it his responsibility to have been informed of details of munitions and weaponry. She could not be more wrong. This is ignorance of the first order.

"My grandfather was obsessed with military detail and would have regarded it as his solemn duty as Prime Minister to have ensured that the reasons for going to war were detailed, valid, legal and honourable, and above all accurate," Mr Soames said.

"Blair and the No 10 machine were so obsessed with spin and hype that they were ignorant of, and disinterested in, the hard military realities. The difference between these weapons matters very much indeed in any careful and detailed military assessment."

It is true that Churchill frequently tried to micromanage many aspects of the military effort, from the response to the V1 and V2 rockets to equipment in the Far East.

The historian David Starkey told The Independent:"Unlike Mr Blair, Churchill had been a soldier and knew all about weapons. He also, of course, had Lord Cherwell as his special adviser and was kept right up to date with all the latest information."

He added:"Churchill actually worked - he didn't spend his time sitting on a sofa.

"It seems that this government has more in common with the Ottoman empire in decay - while the Ottoman empire was ruled from a divan, this government is ruled from a sofa."

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