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John Reid’s record of opportunism

This article is over 15 years, 3 months old
When better than the week of the Labour Party conference to talk of low, crawling things? I mean, of course, John Reid, the home secretary.
Issue 2020

When better than the week of the Labour Party conference to talk of low, crawling things? I mean, of course, John Reid, the home secretary.

Last week he was lecturing Muslims about the need for them to help the police in “exiling extremism from our country – and our communities”. He appealed to Muslim parents to “look for changes in your teenage sons – odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends”.

The Nazis got children to spy on their parents. New Labour wants Muslim parents to spy on their children. Not, of course, that Reid is a fascist. He’s a clownish, authoritarian bully whose rise to such political prominence is a sign of the decline of the Labour Party under Tony Blair’s leadership.

Reid was challenged when he spoke to Muslims in Leytonstone, east London, last week by Abu Izzadeen, a radical Islamist. Abu Izzadeen is an eloquent guy, but his sectarian politics prevented him from making a really effective case against Reid.

Reid should never be allowed to forget that it was he, as defence secretary, who sent the present British military mission to Afghanistan. At the time he said the British force might leave Afghanistan “without firing a shot”.

Last week a team from ITV News filmed British soldiers huddled under siege in ancient, crumbling buildings, under relentless pressure from a well motivated enemy. Their plight is a product of Reid’s folly and Blair’s vanity.

Yet there Reid was last week, still holding high office, warning Muslims not to let their children hang out with “extremists”. If he had the smallest sliver of honesty, reflection on his own career might have given him pause.

Reid joined the Communist Party in the 1970s, when it dominated student politics north of the border. He was a student at Stirling University when it exploded in protest after the queen visited the campus in 1972. With the radical left in the ascendant, Reid decided to run for union president.

According to Tom Bower, writing in the Guardian Weekend magazine last Saturday, “success depended upon support not only from Labour students but also from the Communists. Approaching Jim White, the secretary of the Young Communist League, Reid professed to be a convert seeking membership.

Suspicious transition

“‘He told us he was a Leninist and Stalinist,’ White recalls. ‘Although I was suspicious about his transition, we couldn’t tell if he was acting. We let him join.’ With White’s support and Reid’s good organisation, he won the vote. John Reid’s political career was launched.

“With hindsight, White condemns Reid as ‘an opportunist’.” You can say that again. He has tacked and turned as it has suited his career – from Stalinist to Kinnockite and now ultra-Blairite.

How dare this shop soiled careerist lecture Muslims about “values” and “extremism”? His real policy towards Muslims has been to create a climate of fear in order to intimidate them campaigning against George Bush’s wars.

We got a glimpse of what this means at the weekend. Last Sunday in Manchester the Stop the War Coalition followed up its demonstration with an alternative conference. Several hundred people, many of them Muslim, crowded into sessions devoted to a wide variety of subjects.

Outside the conference several police vans stuffed full of cops in riot gear filmed people as they entered the conference. A couple of policemen even tried to force their way into the main lecture theatre “to see who was there”. They were sent away with a flea in their ears, and after protests the police presence outside the conference was drastically cut back.

But this kind of bullying and intimidation is at the heart of the present government’s policies. Blair and Reid may talk about defending freedom and democracy but in practice what they are doing is undermining the real liberties that we enjoy.

Those liberties were won through struggle over hundreds of years. We are going to have to fight hard to defend them from Reid and his ilk.

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