Ed Balls visited: Written in December 2017
One night in March 2003 I was watching late night TV with some friends when the first images of the invasion of Iraq came in. The American reporter talked about “Schockenaur” which I thought must be a German word to describe what was going on – I remember asking my fellows what it meant. Shrugged shoulders all round! Only a couple of minutes later did we all realise that the reporter was talking about “shock and awe”. "We'll live to regret this." we all agreed.
One afternoon in April 2004, whilst I was concentrating on Channel 4's Countdown, there was a knock at my front door. It was Ed Balls. At that time, I knew very little about him except that he was standing as prospective Labour MP for the constituency in which I lived. He was alone, and I didn’t recognise him but he had his ID with him, so I invited him in for a chat. He stayed for about 40 minutes and I was so engrossed in our discussion that I omitted to offer him a cup of tea or coffee – an unforgiveable, and uncharacteristic, lapse of traditional Yorkshire hospitality. (Fortunately, I had been recording Countdown, so I missed nothing.)
Eventually, when I was able to get a word in, I told Mr Balls that there was no way I would vote Labour at the 2005 General Election as long as Tony Blair was Prime Minister because I thought Tony Blair had led the UK, or more likely had been forced by President Bush, into an illegal and dangerous war against Iraq, contrary to the wishes of the United Nations. Mr Balls did not actually agree with me, but he did say, “Mr Blair will not be PM much longer.” He went on to explain that he was a great supporter of Gordon Brown (who became Prime Minister in 2007).
My view, that we would come to rue taking part in the invasion of Iraq, came to pass all too soon. It has, however, taken quite a long time for senior politicians to come around to my way of thinking - or at any rate to admit it. Sycophancy has a lot to answer for. Ed Miliband the new Labour Party Leader admitted in his first speech to the Party faithful, in 2010, that UK participation in the Iraq War had been a mistake. The TV cameras caught a close-up of the other Miliband (David) and Harriet Harman exchanging asides. Government ministers, and senior policemen, have learned to cover up classified documents from the prying telephoto lenses of photographers on Downing Street; now they must all learn to guard against lip-readers.
I think we should listen carefully to Ed Miliband. His first speech as Leader of the Labour Party was interesting, but the trouble with politicians is that you never know whether they are really being honest or whether they are just acting and playing to their audience of the day.
“We’ll all come to regret this”, I had said on that shocking and awful night in 2003 when I had recalled the prescient remark by Admiral Yamamoto after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."