I suppose fake history is easier to get away with when the events it describes are a long time ago and those with first hand experience are passing away. But in the age of internet information overload, it's very easy to "misremember" recent history. Liberalism's latest hero, Ken Clarke, has done just that. Writing in The Times about Brexit over the weekend, he said:
I compare it to the Iraq War. That was the last time I stuck my neck out in supporting a really unpopular cause - 70 per cent of the British public were in favour of the invasion and most of the Conservative Party was in a patriotic fury but I aligned with Robin Cook in opposing the war. Within 12 months you couldn't meet a member of the public who had ever known anybody who was in favour of it.It's one of those moments where either you have fallen down the rabbit hole and are suffering from the Mandela Effect, or the venerable member for Rushcliffe is wearing well-heated underwear. Readers might recall that between the the Summer of 2002 to the actual invasion in 2003 that there were a few more people than our Ken and the late Robin Cook who were opposed to what was happening. Even in Parliament. This was the period George Galloway - for good and ill - rose to public prominence. Even on the Tory benches, Nicholas Soames took time out from the tea room to address anti-war rallies. Yes, rallies. The strength of feeling was such that the largest demonstration since the days of the Chartists clogged up London's streets, coinciding with huge protests in Edinburgh and across the world.
Now, we know that there is a world of difference between people turning up for a march and what the wider population might think, though a good rule of thumb is if you're pulling between one and two million out onto the streets, you've tapped into something. Nevertheless, from my memory of the time opposition to Bush and Blair was pretty solid. I was, however, informed by others via the Twitterly medium that I was in fact wrong. Some pollsters consistently showed majorities against, and others displayed support for the war drive. Is my memory playing tricks?
According to YouGov, I'm in the wrong. Between the invasion and for the remainder of 2003, a majority (54/38) believed it was the right thing to do, though asked 12 years later in 2015 about their views at the time, the sample reported a slight majority (37/43) saying they did not support it.
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted a problem with YouGov's evidence, though. Their measurements began at the moment sorties were launched and troops started moving in. This was not at all surprising. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of any conflict Britain wades into, public support for active service trumps all other considerations for a lot of people. This, however, is taken as backing for the war per se, which it was not. An altogether different picture emerges if you look at polling in the run-up to the invasion. This contemporary analysis of eve-of-war polling looked at those by ICM and Ipsos MORI, and found varying support for a number of prompted scenarios - but overall majorities opposed both military action and Blair's handling of the crisis. This opposition was certainly evident just before the big anti-war demo, and accelerated after. What is interesting is the difficulty of tracking down YouGov polls prior to March 2003. It is worth noting, however, that opposition wasn't uniform. According to ICM, it peaked in August 2002 and fell back to 37% after the Bali atrocity, and again started growing afterward.
A case of fake history then? This time, probably not. It's a question of emphasis. The statement that the majority of the British public backed military action is true. The statement that the majority of the British public opposed the Iraq War is also true. Honest accounting of those times means acknowledging the huge levels of opposition prior to the conflict without pretending it didn't exist, a la Ken. And it also demands lefties stop wearing rose tinted specs about those times and note how a good chunk of the opposition vanished when the war began.