Socialist Worker

Liberal Democrats' great con trick

Charles Kennedy's party might pose as anti-war, but they want to be all things to all people, says Charlie Kimber

Issue No. 1901

ONE WEEK before the start of the Iraq war Charles Kennedy gave a remarkable speech to the Liberal Democrats' conference. He told delegates, "The threat of war now looms over us all. Increasingly it seems we shall see conflict very soon, perhaps next week and probably without a second UN resolution authorising the use of force. When war comes, I want to make it absolutely clear that the Liberal Democrats will be backing our troops. We supported the deployment to the Gulf in support of UN Resolution 1441. If they are now asked to risk their lives for their country and for all of us, they will have our unqualified support. They are in the Gulf region to deal with a dangerous and brutal tyrant-Saddam Hussein. Iraq must be disarmed. But if war begins without a second resolution and before the UN-authorised weapons inspections programme has been properly concluded, I have made it clear the Liberal Democrats will oppose it."

One might almost have thought he was drunk. War is coming, there won't be a second UN resolution, we will support our troops unconditionally-but we'll be against it!

This opportunistic mish-mash of confusion is characteristic of the Liberal Democrats' whole approach to the war. Today Kennedy argues to "turn the elections on 10 June into a referendum on Iraq".

The elections should be a referendum on the war. But Kennedy is on the wrong side of the argument. He heads the party that believes in bombing with a worried look on your face-murder with misgivings. Any honest analysis shows that the Liberal Democrats are no anti-war party.

What Kennedy and his crew sniff is the possibility of capitalising on the wave of revolt against Blair's backing for Bush. Although the Liberal Democrats raised doubts in the run-up to the war, they always left it open to support the assault in Iraq. Then, although none of the conditions they said were necessary to justify a war had been met, they collapsed into cheerleading the US-British attack anyway.

Charles Kennedy spoke at the rally following the two million strong demonstration on 15 February last year. He said, "I have yet to be persuaded that the case for war against Iraq has been made." But he added that "we are not an anti-war party-we are positively pro-UN."

So, sceptical and against war unless the UN sanctioned it-in which case it might be alright to visit a firestorm on the Iraqi people. And, as the war began, Kennedy said, "Whatever were our anxieties about the justification for war, now that military action in Iraq has begun, we all hope and pray that it can be concluded as swiftly as possible with minimal casualties. My thoughts are particularly with our British service personnel in the Gulf. I know that we, as a country, will unite in supporting them."

The next day Kennedy said, "In this awful conflict it is vital that our armed forces know they can count on full public and parliamentary support as they go about their duty. I'm sure you agree. We owe it to them all. My party, along with people from all parties and from none, had strong reservations about this military action. But the House of Commons voted earlier this week and we have to accept that democratic verdict. There is nothing unpatriotic about having questioned the basis for this war but supporting our armed forces now battle is engaged. Britain's forces are the best in the world. Their courage, skill and professionalism is beyond doubt."

Kennedy of course continued to raise doubts about the war and the aftermath-but always, when the chips were down, in the context of supporting the US and British forces. So last month Kennedy responded to the massacre in Fallujah by demanding that Blair "demonstrate his influence in Washington by calling for a clear military and political strategy to deal with the violence in Iraq".

The Lib Dems may have irritated Blair at various points. But they have played the classic role of an umbrella with holes-they look alright until it starts raining. And then they're useless.

Domestic policies

The pro-business policies that expose the party of yellow Blairites

THE LIBERAL Democrats want to sound anti-war in order to soak up at least some of the people who are disillusioned with Blair. But they also want to show themselves "responsible" and "respectable" in order to prove they are fit to govern, and to attract cash from business figures and those who, grudgingly, backed the war on Iraq.

The Lib Dems also know that three quarters of their general election target seats are held by Tories. As he stepped down from the party leadership, Paddy Ashdown warned the Lib Dems that they must not be seen "simply as a left of Labour party" and Kennedy has followed his advice.

That is why their latest policy proposals have cut back on plans to tax the rich and called for more privatisation. It is also why in his latest shadow cabinet reshuffle Kennedy brought in hard pro-business figures such as Mark Oaten and Vincent Cable. They were described as "pseudo-Blairites" by Lord Greaves, a Lib Dem spokesperson. And the double-dealing on Iraq was repeated over Palestine.

Here Kennedy tries to sound critical of Blair and Bush. But in January this year when Lib Dem frontbencher Jenny Tonge said she could understand why Palestinians become suicide bombers, Kennedy sacked her.

Green Party

An anti-war alternative?

THE GREEN Party says, with justification, that it is an anti-war party. It rightly claims that it is a party that "has consistently and unequivocally opposed the Iraq war".

Greens marched against the war, its members spoke against it and the party eventually joined the Stop the War Coalition. But the Greens have also accepted the argument that the solution in Iraq is not immediate troop withdrawal and free elections. Instead the party calls for the United Nations to take over from the US.

The party said recently, "The Green Party has advocated that the UN takes the lead role in the rebuilding of Iraq and the development of democracy. Now it seems that Blair and Bush have belatedly come to the same conclusion."

Such a policy can play into the hands of those who want to rescue imperialism from its present crisis. The occupation will be no better if there are other thugs alongside the US troops.

Despite these serious policy weaknesses, the Green Party was genuinely against the conflict, unlike the Lib Dems. That is why, as soon as there were moves towards its foundation, Respect's leading figures approached the Green Party and worked hard to secure some sort of electoral arrangement to maximise the left of Labour vote.

Regrettably the Green Party reacted with deep hostility. A press release echoed the worst form of mindless witch-hunting by falsely claiming that "the electoral coalition proposed by George Galloway for next year's Euro-elections is a front for the Socialist Workers Party.

"The Galloway plan is being driven by the Socialist Workers Party and it looks like that party is a front for the hard-left revolutionary SWP." It went on to dismiss George Galloway as "a maverick representing the Socialist Workers Party".

The only people benefiting from such absurd taunts are Tony Blair, New Labour and the warmongers. The Respect coalition is much broader than the Greens, drawing in forces, from the trade unions to radicalised Muslims, that the Greens have never touched.

It is also built out of a mass movement rather than being a rather elitist group. That is why people against the war should vote Respect on 10 June.

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Article information

Sat 15 May 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1901
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