Despite the ending of UK and US combat missions in Iraq, the country is still plagued by violence and, as has been proven recently, still has the propensity to dominate headlines within the British press. With the withdrawal of large parts of the western military presence from the country, a power vacuum, akin to that created by the removal of Saddam Hussein, has once again become apparent in one of the most turbulent nations in the world. However, the effect of the intervention in Iraq spreads far beyond the country and the region and has the potential to play a large part in the UK general election scheduled for 2015.
The biggest headache that Iraq will cause will come for the Labour party leader Ed Miliband. Prior to Iraq, immigrant communities and their future generations were expected to largely vote for Labour and other left parties, mainly due to fears of Conservative racism and anti-immigration ideals. However, the Iraq War, coupled with Afghanistan and New Labour’s cuddling up to the US and George Bush, has caused huge distrust of the Labour Party within Muslim communities. The Muslim world is one that sees itself as very interconnected and a close knit group, a feeling typified by the worldwide Islamic ummah. The problem that the Labour leader faces is that the Muslim community globally feels vilified by the actions of New Labour governments. Not only do they feel that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were unjustified and perhaps highly illegal, but they also feel that ordinary Muslim citizens now suffer from discrimination from the general public and western governments.
Most of the British Muslim community then still has not forgiven Labour for its actions in the Middle East and at home. Part of the problem is how closely tied to the New Labour government both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were. Ed Miliband wrote the Labour manifesto which resulted in Gordon Brown’s election defeat in 2010 and Ed Balls was a close advisor to Brown at the Treasury. Therefore, Labour risks losing thousands of Muslim votes due to their actions in Iraq and will have to work hard to recapture the trust of Muslim communities (perhaps by advocating a repeal of the impingement on rights and freedoms that followed the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under Tony Blair), or risk losing voters and perhaps the election.
The Conservative Party also faces a difficult challenge concerning the war in Iraq and current policy concerning the Middle East. Firstly, the Tories generally aren’t trusted by immigrant communities as fears still remain, despite the Cameroon centralist project, that the Tory party is inherently nasty and, at least in some quarters, racist and discriminatory (an image not helped by the demotion of Baroness Warsi in the recent reshuffle). Furthermore, following Conservative support for the invasion of Iraq, their continuance of a failing policy in Afghanistan and the failure to remove detach themselves from the bullying tactics of the US all over the world, the Tories are unlikely to mop up the Muslim voters the Labour Party has haemorrhaged.
The Conservative’s coalition partners are perhaps the only one of the three main parties with the opportunity to take advantage of the Iraq War debacle. The Lib Dems were some of the main opponents of the invasion of Iraq, a principled stand that they have taken and stood by and should be commended for. However, although the Lib Dems opposed the invasion, the votes of Muslims will not rest solely on this point and the Lib Dems are likely to have done enough damage to their image by selling their souls for power to have put off potential voters. They are particularly unlikely to gain Muslim voters over Iraq since 2010 seeing as the invasion occurred prior to the 2010 election and any major gains would have occurred then.
To which parties then are opponents of the Iraq War likely to turn. Social democratic voters, perhaps natural supporters of the Labour party who left for the Lib Dems following Iraq and now feel betrayed by them due to their pandering to the Conservatives in coalition will perhaps look to the Green Party. I believe that the Green Party risks becoming a force on the left, particularly considering their move away from purely green issues to focus on social and economic issues, particularly a radical approach to opposition to the coalition’s austerity programme. If the Green’s new leader Natalie Bennett can motivate voters and get the Green message out to the public then the Greens have the potential to massively increase their share of the vote in 2015.
Another potential winner will be the Respect party, a potential epitomised by George Galloway’s return to politics in Bradford. Galloway ran an unashamedly populist campaign in Bradford and relied on the support and votes of the local Muslim population, which turned out in vast numbers and delivered him victory. Part of Galloway’s appeal was his complete opposition to western fiddling in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, and played on anti-western sentiment within the Muslim community, to great effect. The Respect Party has the potential to replicate Galloway’s victory in other areas of the country.
Finally, a mention must go to the BNP which, whilst imploding via internal feuds and lack of funds, also has the potential to gain a few right-wing supporters who back the policy of withdrawing British interests and troops from the Middle East completely, believing that British troops should protect only British land, views echoed by the English Defence League who have also threatened to run candidates in upcoming elections. However, I think it likely that with the current disorganisation faced by the far-right of British politics that any far-right candidates will largely find themselves losing their deposits.
Iraq, whilst not being a defining issue at the next election, will almost certainly be a tricky issue which will surface sooner or later in the run up to 2015, particularly if the current violence in the country continues. The Labour Party in particular has a lot of ground to cover to recoup Muslim and anti-war voters and I think that the Iraq war and anti-imperialist sentiment has the potential to return some shock results in 2015.