JUNE 4th 2004
Charles Kennedy, in a party political broadcast for the Liberal Party, regrets that we removed Saddam and says the UK blew 3 Billion Pounds on war that could have been spent on Schools and Hospitals. Economics are often not the strong suit in any politician's hand, but this is a classic example of twisting public ignorance for political ends. Money spent on one activity is not necessarily not spent later on another. The vital judgments to make on the spending of public money are:

1. Is it spent in the National Interest?
2. Is it spent on people, goods and services of integrity?
3. Is it spent in an accountable way?

These days the National Interest includes some considerable global responsibilities. If the UN Security Council had fully approved the removal of Saddam (as it should have done) the costs would still have been similar. The money spent goes to pay the wages and salaries of millions of people who in turn spend it again. It will get spent in taxes, some of which will get spent on schools and hospitals. Some of it will be spent directly by individuals on schools and hospitals in the UK. Some of it is spent directly on schools and hospitals in Iraq, and eventually the state of affairs of Iraq will be very much better than it was under Saddam Hussein, particularly in so far as schools and hospitals are concerned. Money does not disappear from circulation when it is spent. The important thing is what does it achieve in the spending, and what are the long term consequences.

It is very unfortunate that George Bush has the global diplomatic skills of a dalek and has alienated the public opinion of most of his allies, let alone the rest of the world; but that makes no difference to the facts. Having criticised George Bush from the moment he took office, I can still say he makes more sense than Charles Kennedy when it comes to what to do about Iraq, even if some of his reasons are the wrong ones and his knowledge of the world and even America is inadequate, and his invocation of Churchill would make the old man spin in his coffin.

UPDATE DEC 8th 2005
What can we now say about the three criteria set out above.
1. Has it been spent in the National Interest? There is still disagreement. I would say definitely yes.
2. Has it been spent on people, goods and services of integrity? Not always, unfortunately. Some most decidedly, but some has been misused.
3. Has it been spent in an accountable way?  In the rush to achieve results, the accounting system in Iraq seems to have gone to the dogs in the early days after Saddam's removal. However now it would appear to be coming under better control. British expenditure, however, is the prime concenr here and there is no reason to suppose accountability has suffered. On occasions, less strict control might have saved lives; but that is always the case. Waste costs lives in the long run too.