In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

Blair Must GoPeter Clarke

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Vol. 25 No. 17 · 11 September 2003

Blair Must Go

Peter Clarke explains why he once supported Tony Blair and now believes he should go

There was a very good case to be made for Tony Blair’s handling of the Iraq issue. His critics never sufficiently acknowledged his efforts to play a difficult hand in a difficult game. He is nobody’s poodle. It was wise, rather than craven, not to isolate the Americans, still smarting from the affront as well as the horror of 11 September. And if it was important to encourage them to work through the UN, does anyone suppose that this could have been achieved simply by hectoring them, whether in English or in French? A hawkish American President was persuaded, by a process of coalition building in which the Prime Minister was a key player, to seek UN support for forcing Saddam Hussein to comply with his international obligations. And does anyone suppose that – unforced – any compliance would have been forthcoming? So Blair’s approach should fairly be credited with more successes than failures, even at the time when millions took to the streets to denounce him. Right up to the end of February, he seemed to have the better of the argument. Who would have thought that Iraq’s benighted regime would submit to this degree of containment by a peaceful UN process, backed by the credible sanction of force? Whether his critics liked it or not, was it not Blair’s policy that had actually done most to stop a war in Iraq?

The war, however, was stalled rather than stopped, as we all know. What, then, was the fatal flaw in the case for supporting Blair? Surely the assumption that he was a moderating influence on the US. It was a moment of truth, in more respects than one, when he declared, as he first did in an interview on 1 March: ‘If the Americans were not doing this, I would be pressing for them to be doing so.’ Yet we had been here before: it was not Iraq but Kosovo that first established Blair as an international leader – as the most resolute champion of effective intervention, whatever the risks and whatever the costs, and without UN sanction. This was the issue on which Blair had forced the pace, despite American wariness. ‘This is now a battle of good and evil,’ he told readers of the Sun in April 1999. He saw it as a victory achieved against the odds. His belief that he’d been vindicated fortified him again in Afghanistan.

In handling the Iraq crisis, then, a justifiable prudential strategy was, by March, overtaken and overwhelmed by this paradigm, underpinned by a commitment that became increasingly messianic. From this point – not wholly without prior warning, but henceforth unmistakably – Blair’s rhetoric shifted gear, from conditional to imperative and from consequential to moral. In the process the issue changed. The problem was no longer to identify and find and contain the weapons of mass destruction that were the basis of the case put to the UN. The task was redefined, increasingly explicitly, as that of overthrowing the forces of evil represented by Saddam Hussein and his regime. When Blair talked, as he did increasingly, of being judged by history, it was in these virtually providential terms. Hence his retrospective claim that history would forgive him, even if no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, presumably because he had put on the whole armour of God and stood against the wiles of the Devil.

This is not what we signed up for. No, let me put it more personally: I don’t want to fall into Blair’s habit of co-opting others into a supposed consensus that they do not share. Perhaps I should openly declare my own agenda and confess my own record, which is – or was – by no means anti-Blair.

I have written about politics in the LRB for over twenty years now, though not as a paid-up member of the Labour Party. It was precisely a lack of fealty to Old Labour that made voters like me receptive to attempts to modernise the Labour Party. Ten years ago, for example, I was writing of Kinnock and his efforts to stitch up union support for reform: ‘Like Moses, he led his followers within sight of the promised land. It is up to his successor to keep on with the tablets.’ That successor, in October 1993, was still John Smith; so it was a pre-Blair perspective that led me to conclude: ‘If a “labour party” did not exist, it would not be necessary to invent it. But a social democratic party known as the Labour Party, with an unstitched leadership, is more necessary than ever.’

Little wonder that the sudden advent of Blair seemed so liberating to those of us who had almost despaired of getting rid of the Tories – and who thought that the necessary preliminaries included getting rid of Clause Four and doing so without depending on trade union influence. Hence the fine spring promise in 1995:

Tony Blair has shown that he is alert to the implication that Labour needs to be imaginative, flexible and responsive if it is to be confident of victory next time. The alternative strategy, of course, seen in the defenders of Clause Four, is to wait with undiminished confidence for the tide to turn, whereupon socialist fidelity and patience will receive their repeatedly postponed but ultimately inevitable vindication. This is bad politics, feeding on bad history. The need for adroitness in catching the tide is one message which the new Labour Party ought to learn from . . . its tough, wily, resilient, shrewd, adaptable – and often remarkably lucky – opponents. Who knows? Under Blair Labour might get lucky too.

And lucky it became, almost beyond belief. We need to remember what a transformation of the political landscape Blair presided over. As the general election of 1997 approached it seemed necessary to point out the obvious: ‘Labour sympathisers are superstitiously afraid to believe the evidence of their own eyes about the scale of their impending triumph, ever mindful of their nasty experience last time. The fact that Blair has dispelled any real apprehension about a Labour Government (except perhaps on the left) has been slow to sink in.’ If Blair had squared the political circle by combining an appeal to boldness with an offer of reassurance, the essential precondition was the trust that he inspired.

It is trust that is now at stake. When we were first confronted with the published evidence as to whether Iraq posed an immediate threat, it was obvious that the Prime Minister had sources on which he could not fully dilate in public. If he made claims which seemed to lack convincing proof, that he seemed convinced was itself persuasive, licensing the reasonable assumption that he must know something we did not. Under these circumstances a leader who is trusted can make a claim on well-disposed followers whose acquiescence, although intuitive, is not simply gullible. When Churchill told the British people in 1940 that they were in imminent peril from weapons of mass destruction, almost everyone took him on trust, and they weren’t wrong; nor was he.

Tony Blair has often appealed for trust. His own sincerity has been part of his political armoury. But he has been able to maintain this posture partly by employing a succession of advisers of more robust disposition. In the continuing disputes, notably with the BBC, about the veracity of the Government’s presentation of British intelligence, an important line has been crossed. This has become a zero-sum game, which one side can win only if the other loses. The Government has entered into a bitter tactical skirmish about whether it was Alastair Campbell who manipulated the evidence. But suppose he is totally and utterly exonerated of this specific charge. This simply sharpens the infinitely more damaging strategic issue: if Campbell did not exaggerate the case for war, who did?

Blair and his inner circle bear an inescapable burden of responsibility. They have played together as a team and he is indisputably the captain. The football idiom here is not just a metaphor: it’s more serious than that. When Peter Stothard was allowed to follow Blair for the month that saw the Iraq war begin, he quickly had to learn the argot, as his revealing book recounts.* Campbell duly makes his dig against Jack Straw, who is the MP for Blackburn: ‘What do Saddam Hussein and Blackburn Rovers have in common? They both put people in football stadiums and torture them.’ Here is another joke from Campbell. ‘Just remember: when we get our own dictatorship here, I will control all the media.’ This time Blair comes back. ‘That will be good: non-stop football videos from Burnley.’ The Prime Minister’s ability to bluff his way through this wearying welter of football talk is well caught. It is a laddish, locker-room badinage that I remember with indulgent nostalgia from my days playing college rugby; we, too, thought we were a great team but I’m not sure that the future of the country ought to have been entrusted to us. Stothard’s diary for 25 March records: ‘Iraq has temporarily replaced football as the favoured male metaphor.’

All credit to Blair for admitting Stothard to his circle. It shows that the Prime Minister felt that he had nothing to hide, but whether he really appreciates the impact of his candour is another matter. It quickly becomes clear that there was never any question inside 10 Downing Street either that Bush would attack Iraq regardless, or that Blair would support him regardless. ‘On this war,’ Stothard notes, ‘the central commitment has been fixed, not seriously challenged, for at least a year.’ Little wonder that Bush later said of Blair: ‘We’ve learned that he’s a man of his word.’ It follows that Blair’s resort to the UN, his ‘flat-out’ effort to achieve a second resolution, was simply cover for a policy already determined on other criteria. Little wonder, too, that Blair later professed himself ‘uncomfortable’ with sticking to the terms of the UN resolutions. The UN Secretary-General was thus an important player but never a decisive one, merely lending his name to eponymous ploys in public relations. ‘Yes, we want more Kofi,’ a Downing Street aide says, faced with an embarrassing twist. ‘We seriously have to Kofi now.’ It all came down to signing up Kofi for Burnley.

In some ways it seems unjust that Blair has had to face more criticism over the war than Bush. But Bush never seriously purported to be waging the sort of war that Blair thought he could get the UN to support. Bush’s war was pretty straightforward in its objective of regime change, which has happened, as it was bound to once US forces had been committed. All that Bush needed to justify war was the war itself. What Blair would need to justify the war would be not only the end of the former Iraqi regime, which nobody mourns, but a good peace. This is what he promised, not least for Palestine. What was at stake was always the consequences of his actions, not his moral convictions. Whether Iraq and Palestine and the whole region are now better off and a lesser threat to peace is still the test.

‘Governments are recognising that they made a bad choice on Iraq,’ Blair said to himself (and Stothard, of course) on 6 April. He was thinking of Jean Chrétien, the Canadian Prime Minister, who had recently telephoned, and, having kept his country out of the firing line, was, according to Blair, rueful at being ‘on the wrong side’. Perhaps they ought to swap notes again, five months later. These have not been happy months for Blair. It is obvious that he cannot really understand why people are still exercised about the way the case for war was presented or why they are not content to rejoice at the fall of Saddam instead of fretting about whether the evidence was strong enough to justify the second resolution in the UN. If only the weapons of mass destruction could be produced, what fools the French would look! As it is, our parliamentary system, reinforced by the media, has held Blair to account.

For those of us who have supported Blair up till now, and have been sympathetic to New Labour as an improvement on Old Labour, there is now a crisis of leadership. ‘The only plausible alternative to Tony Blair is not Gordon Brown but Robin Cook,’ was Ross McKibbin’s challenging conclusion in the LRB last month – all members of the present Cabinet are thereby disqualified from the succession. But although Cook’s manifest vindication warrants his return to high office, it is simply not realistic to think that he can displace Blair. Still less do we need a return to Old Labour. The social democratic dimension of New Labour, by contrast, has been explored most convincingly in the initiatives of the present Chancellor, who displays a moral commitment in domestic policy without Blair’s messianic zeal in foreign affairs. If Blair is still the man we took him for, and wishes to secure the continued ascendancy of New Labour, he should take the obvious and honourable steps to settle the future leadership of his Party while he is still able to do so.

26 August

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.


Vol. 25 No. 18 · 25 September 2003

In telling us of how he came to be disillusioned with Tony Blair, Peter Clarke (LRB, 11 September) refers to and quotes from the fly-on-the-Downing-St-wall account of the Prime Minister at war written by the former editor of the Times Peter Stothard. Clarke goes on to say: ‘All credit to Blair for admitting Stothard to his circle. It shows that the Prime Minister felt that he had nothing to hide.’ All credit be damned; admitting a journalist to his circle at such a fraught moment, when its deliberations ought quite certainly to have been conducted without the presence of a hired diarist, smacks at best of an unpleasant narcissism on Blair’s part, and at worst of a determination to ensure that the writing of the History that he likes to invoke as one fine day justifying his Government’s actions in respect of Iraq should begin at a moment when he is there in person to oversee it. The openness commended by Clarke strikes me as a positively creepy innovation, entirely consonant with the Blair circle’s urge to govern via the media. It strikes me as horribly predictable also that Stothard’s book should have been published by an imprint owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Margery Rowe

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.