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JUDGED BY HISTORY

Mr Tony Blair is preparing, as he puts it, “to be judged by history”. But before the heroics, come the “day-to-day judgments”, the more local consequences of trying to do the “right thing” instead of the “easy thing”. Mr Blair’s position within the American president’s “coalition of the willing” now looks quite dramatically irreversible. And a crucial dimension of the drama is provided by the domestic rebellion he is having to face within his own ranks. If Mr Blair sticks to his commitment to Mr George W. Bush in the absence of a second United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, then the legitimacy, and morality, of his position are going to be judged in no uncertain terms by a growing number of his colleagues at home. More than 150 Labour parliamentarians have threatened to rebel if Britain and America render the UN security council redundant by deciding to go ahead with their attack on Iraq. Insiders claim that about 95 per cent of Labour Party members are opposed to the war. Their opposition is not merely an ideological question of pacifism, but also a profound unease with the imminent undermining of the entire framework of international law embodied in the UN. The argument about Iraq has become an argument about the future of international relations as a whole. This is a protest against what is being perceived as a form of indefensible recklessness in Mr Blair by a growing band of increasingly vocal parliamentary aides in his cabinet. The first signs of this revolt happened at the end of February, when 199 members of parliament, 121 of them Labour, voted against the government over Iraq in the House of Commons. This was a remarkable event in the history of democracy, ranking alongside the great parliamentary battles over World War II, Suez and the Falklands.

A crisis in democracy is precisely what Mr Blair is facing in Britain today. In Mr Bush’s “coalition of the willing”, whose will does Mr Blair represent' At the heart of this build-up to a war is a rupture in certain notions of political representation and accountability on which any parliamentary democracy must be founded. If a democratically elected government represents the will of its electorate, then going ahead with the war against Iraq seems to break down this relationship between what the leaders are pushing through and what those they lead really want. The rebel MPs in this case are not just contrary politicians. They form part of the far less politically consequential world of ordinary men, women and children whose principles, voices and wills form no part in the decisions regarding what might be the “right thing” to do.

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