Gordon Brown could not ignore the question of the Iraq war as he faced protests, heckling and tough interrogation in Coventry last Sunday, at the first of a series of Labour Party leadership and deputy leadership hustings.
Over 70 demonstrators took part in a lobby, keeping up a noisy protest for two and a half hours, and warning Brown to not end up like Tony Blair, disgraced and discredited for his war in Iraq.
Andy, chair of Coventry Stop the War Coalition, told Socialist Worker, “Over 40 of the Labour Party members attending the meeting signed the Stop the War petition calling for a withdrawal of all British troops from Iraq by the end of October.
“As Gordon Brown arrived, we moved past the police barriers and closer to the venue, and we were told that our chanting could be heard inside the hall.”
Pearl, a Stop the War activist on the lobby, decided that she would try and get a bit closer to the future prime minister.
“I went into the hall on the spur of the moment,” Pearl told Socialist Worker.
“I just thought that I would see how far inside I could get. New Labour security people challenged me a few times, but I just shrugged them off.
“I sat at the back and listened as Brown started talking about becoming prime minister.
“It was like a cosy little chat. So I stood up and interrupted him, shouting, ‘Gordon Brown, get the troops out of Iraq’.
“I carried on shouting as I was bundled out of the hall.
“I felt exhilarated afterwards. We rarely get near enough to the politicians responsible for the destruction in Iraq to tell them to their face what we think.”
Following Pearl’s intervention a Labour Party member questioned Brown, “The elephant in the room is that this war has gone on too long. Out there, everyone knows this – everybody has had enough of it. When are you going to bring those troops home?”
Brown defended the war, but admitted that Iraq had been a “very divisive issue” and said that he was going to Iraq to “assess the situation”.
“But most people are not divided,” says Nicola Fisher, who chairs the Glasgow Stop the War Coalition.
“Most people are firmly against the war. The recent Scottish elections, in which Labour did very badly, showed that clearly.”
Brown is due to speak in Glasgow on 2 June and Stop the War activists are preparing to lobby the hustings there too.
“We have had many vibrant anti-war protests in Glasgow and we expect to build on those at the hustings,” says Nicola.
“Gordon Brown may be a new prime minister, but he’s still part of the old administration and he was happy to finance the destruction in Iraq.”
Keir McKechnie, secretary of Glasgow Stop the War, adds, “Some of the longstanding Labour Party members in the Stop the War group are talking about raising the issue inside the hustings, and maybe wearing Stop the War T-shirts.
“We want to make sure that Brown is faced with the question of Iraq everywhere he goes.”
There are a further nine hustings on the Labour leadership coronation roadshow, and there are going to be lobbies and protests at each of them.
- Bristol Saturday 26 May – a Unions Together event Sheffield Sunday 27 May
- Leicester Wednesday 30 May – Black, Asian and minority ethnic event
- Glasgow Saturday 2 June
- Newcastle Sunday 3 June – a Unions Together event
- London Wednesday 6 June – a Unions Together event
- Cardiff Saturday 9 June
- Oxford Sunday 10 June – a youth event
- London Saturday 16 June
- Manchester Sunday 24 June – Major demonstration as Gordon Brown is announced as leader