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Voting Respect won't let the Tories back in

GUARDIAN JOURNALIST Polly Toynbee defended the New Labour government from the criticisms of both the anti-war movement and the new Respect coalition in her column last week. JOHN REES, one of the founders of the Stop the War Coalition, who is heading t

Issue No. 1894

POLLY TOYNBEE has produced a neat digest of Downing Street press releases over recent weeks. This is a service to the left, since it allows us to itemise New Labour's defence of government policy and reply point by point.

(1) 'Don't collaborate with our enemies to tear Blair down.'

TONY BLAIR 'collaborated' with the Tories in Britain to push through the vote to go to war in Iraq against the biggest backbench rebellion the Labour Party has faced.

He is 'collaborating' with the most right wing Republican administration the US has seen since the Second World War. He is also 'collaborating' with the Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi, a government that contains fascist ministers including one minister who served Mussolini in the 1930s. He was, until last week, 'collaborating' with Jose Maria Aznar's conservative government in Spain.

New Labour was visibly disheartened when the Spanish Socialist Party defeated the Spanish Tories and they will be similarly dismayed if Democrat John Kerry beats Republican George Bush in the US presidential elections.

Blair is not in trouble because the left and the anti-war movement have 'collaborated' with the right wing. He is in trouble because he has struck a pact with right wing warmongers abroad and equally right wing business interests at home in defiance of the interests of the working people who elected him.

If the Tory party is now attacking Blair over the war in Iraq then that is political opportunism driven by New Labour's failure to convince either the mass anti-war movement or the majority of voters that the war was justified. If Tony Blair wants to shoot Michael Howard's fox he should do as the new Spanish government has done and promise to withdraw troops from Iraq.

(2) 'The war in Iraq is over and, no matter whether we were for it or against it, it is now time to move on.'

THE ANTI-WAR movement is not merely protesting over the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not marching about the past but about the future. The prime minister made it clear in a speech in his Sedgefield constituency only two weeks ago that he has now adopted the US policy of pre-emptive attack.

He has made it equally clear that, in his mind, the threat of terrorism is a justification for future pre-emptive military actions. We know from George Bush's National Security Strategy that he regards further regime change in the Middle East as desirable. We know from a series of statements from senior figures in the Bush administration that Iran and Syria are regarded as potential military targets.

For the moment the US and British war machine is bogged down in Iraq. The military and political resistance in Iraq combined with the international anti-war movement is preventing further Anglo-American military adventures.

But if Tony Blair survives the 10 June European and Greater London Assembly (GLA) elections undamaged, and if George Bush is re-elected in November, then the doctrine of pre-emption will become active once more. So the reason we must hold the government to account for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is not simply because we believe that great crimes and monstrous lies should be punished. It is because we cannot allow future, equally bloody, conflicts to grow from these wars.

(3) 'The government is delivering on the domestic agenda so it would be foolish to oppose it because of the war in Iraq.'

THE WAR and the neo-colonial regime that now rules Iraq cannot go unchallenged. The principle of the military occupation-that the Iraqis cannot be trusted to choose their own government-is poisoning political life. It seeps racism and contempt for civil liberties and democratic rights into both international politics and domestic politics.

Just look at the breach of the most elementary human rights that has accompanied the construction of the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, with the legend 'Honour bound to defend freedom' over its gates.

Look at the provisions of the Civil Contingencies Bill now being brought before parliament giving the government, without a vote in parliament, the right to declare a state of emergency, ban demonstrations and strikes and to seize and destroy people's belongings.

And what can it mean that over 500 people have been arrested under anti-terror laws since 11 September 2001? Most of them are Muslims. Only five have been convicted of any offence. David Blunkett, now introducing New Labour's third asylum bill, has done as much as any previous Tory home secretary to legitimise racist attitudes, especially against Muslims. Michael Lavalette deals in depth with Blair's domestic agenda (see article, below).

(4) 'Remember the Tory years. Frivolous revenge will be regretted at leisure.'

IF WE do not seize the opportunity presented by the mass anti-war movement to create an alternative, further down the line it will be forces like the Tories who benefit from disillusionment with Blair.

And no Tory government can be elected in the European and GLA elections on 10 June. No Tory can be elected on 10 June as a result of Labour voters switching to Respect. The proportional representation system ensures that Respect candidates can replace New Labour GLA members and MEPs without letting the Tories in.

Each constituency elects a number of MEPs, with each party getting a share of the MEPs in proportion to their share of the vote. For example, a constituency might currently have four Labour MEPs. If Respect were to take a quarter of Labour's votes away in the 10 June election, there would be three Labour MEPs and one Respect MEP.

This system means replacing New Labour from the left without risking a division of the vote that would allow the Tories to win. The European and GLA elections will be a referendum on the Blair government. If Respect candidates are elected the government will be forced to take account of the anti-war feeling, forced to reconsider its attitude to Iraq and Blair will be under increased pressure to resign.

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Sat 27 Mar 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1894
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