Socialist Worker

How leaders tried to stifle war debate

Issue No. 1820

A HARD anti-war position was very nearly voted for at the Labour Party's conference in Blackpool on Monday of this week. If just a few big unions had changed their votes then Bush's most trusted ally, Tony Blair, would have had his war policy totally rejected by his own party. Some 40 percent of the conference voted to totally reject any military action against Iraq.

The motion won backing from a third of delegates from local Labour parties and half of the delegates from trade unions. The vote was even more remarkable because the anti-war position was not given anything like a fair hearing. During the debate there were 21 speeches directly on the question of war and Iraq.

Fifteen of those called were in support of the leadership's line. There were just six for the anti-war motion. The gap is even greater because Labour's leadership had speakers from the platform who get more time to make their contributions than ordinary delegates. These included Shahid Malik, Geoff Hoon and Jack Straw. Not one of the anti-war union leaders were called. MPs like Jeremy Corbyn were not allowed to speak.

No wonder delegate Gary Heather from Islington won loud applause when he complained about the conduct of the debate. Party managers rushed round trying to shore up backing for Blair. They argued it would be disastrous if he was defeated again, having already lost over privatisation.

The leadership had also hurriedly withdrawn a statement from the party's executive on the war, fearing it would be defeated. The statement had called on the government simply to 'work within the United Nations'. It did not mention avoiding military action if the UN refuses to endorse a war.

US lining up bribes

WAR IS OK if the United Nations backs it. That was the message from some of the speakers at the Labour Party's conference this week. But the US is cooking up a series of dirty deals to win backing for its plan to blast Iraq. It wants to win over the other states that dominate the United Nations Security Council.


The Financial Times revealed this week that the US has privately promised Russia a share of Iraq's oil industry if it backs the war. The Russian government is owed £4.5 billion in unpaid loans to Iraq dating from the 1980s. The US is promising these will be paid if it succeeds in getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, gave a nod and a wink last week to Russian military action against Chechen rebels.

He said of Russian attacks on Chechen fighters sheltering in Georgia, south of Russia, 'Russia will have to make its own determination as to what it has to do in its own self defence, and I would not lecture the Russians.' The Russian army has already killed tens of thousands of Chechens. Sections of the Russian state hope to effectively reoccupy Georgia as part of a drive to re-establish control over areas lost in the early 1990s.


China is another permanent member of the UN Security Council. The US has ignored the Chinese state's repression of minorities in the west of the country. Bush recently labelled as 'terrorists' a group wanting independence for part of western China. George Bush is also refusing to condemn the authoritarian states of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, where the US has established military bases over the last 12 months.

'I WAS moved by the demonstration on Saturday, when hundreds of thousands of people came together to say no to war. People remember Vietnam and what happened when the US tried to impose a government on another country. Not in our name do we want war on a Third World country. Not in our name do we want the deaths of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children.'
Loraine Monk, Kingston and Surbiton constituency

£13 billion for killing

THE LABOUR leadership were careful to camouflage their pro-war line by making constant references to upholding the United Nations. They also had to repeatedly pledge their support for the application of all UN Security Council resolutions, especially those which call for a Palestinian state and an end to Israeli military incursions.

Their other argument was that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant comparable to Hitler and that inaction is like appeasement of fascism in the 1930s. The leadership persuaded delegates to back a motion that says British policy should be to go through the UN and that force should be a last resort to enforce UN decisions.

Rhondda MP Chris Bryant ludicrously claimed that, far from being Bush's poodle, it was the other way round. 'Tony is in charge,' he declared. Defence secretary Geoff Hoon revelled in how many guns and bombs New Labour is making available to the military. 'We are making an extra £3.5 billion available,' he said. 'This is the largest sustained increase in defence spending for 20 years. Will the Tories match this?'

Hoon boasted that New Labour will lavish £13 billion on two aircraft carriers and Joint Strike Fighter planes.

'Bombing means civilian deaths'

AS CHRISTABEL Gurney from Regents Park constituency introduced the anti-war motion she said she opposed war whether it was authorised by the UN or not. She said the UN was being used as a distraction from the truth. 'It has never followed in the case of Turkey or India or Israel that a breach of UN resolutions has been followed by invasion,' she said.

'The US administration is threatening and bribing the members of the UN Security Council to support a motion on weapons inspectors that is so tough it is bound to be rejected. Nelson Mandela was right when he said that Bush wanted military action against Iraq to please the US arms and oil industries. Saddam Hussein is not mad. If he ever did attack the West there would be overwhelming retaliation.'

Eileen Sinclair from Cunninghame South constituency said she was 'ashamed' of Labour's foreign policy. 'Let us be clear what war on Iraq will mean. It will involve bombing anything and anybody that looks like it could be connected with weapons production. Inevitably there will be many civilian deaths. We are told by Bush that things changed after 11 September. It didn't change for the millions infected with HIV or for the children in poverty or for those who do not have clean water or for those whose countries, such as Afghanistan, are littered with landmines and ordnance. We could start trying to right these wrongs, by refusing to spend billions on bombing Iraq. Yes, Saddam Hussein is bad. But he was also bad before, when the West was supplying him with arms to use against Iran. The Iraqi people themselves with the pressure of the world behind them must depose Saddam Hussein, not us with bombs. How can we object to nuclear weapons when every day a British Trident submarine is at sea bristling with such weapons?'

Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax, also spoke in the debate, saying, 'Saddam Hussein is not threatening this country. If he moved one yard outside Iraq then the US would annihilate him.'

London demo reported all over world

'SATURDAY saw London's most impressive peace demonstration since the anti-nuclear protests in 1981.'
Le Monde, France

'NO TO war. 350,000 people in London reject Bush's war plans.'
La Jornada, Mexico

'A MULTI-ETHNIC sea of people took to the British capital to show their opposition to war in Iraq in what many saw as the biggest peace demonstration ever.'
El Pa's, Spain

'IN THE biggest march yet against Tony Blair's policy on Iraq 150,000 people demonstrated according to the police, between 250,000 and 400,000 according to the organisers.'
Página 12, Argentina

'NO WAR, we are English.'
Il Manifesto, Italy

'LONDON SEES its biggest peace demonstration since World War Two.'
La Vanguardia, Spain

'THE BIGGEST anti-American demonstration in 30 years.'
Nea, Greece

'MORE THAN 300,000 participants on this peaceful march, described as one of the biggest anti-war and pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Europe.'
Al-Sharq al-Aswarf, Arab daily

'PROTESTERS MADE an effigy of US president Bush in the form of a tank driver, with another effigy of Tony Blair as a vulture on Bush's shoulders.'
Iranian state news agency IRNA

'DEMONSTRATORS held placards saying, 'No to aggression against Iraq, no war in our name, freedom for Palestine'.'
Al-Thawra, Iraq

'350,000 PEOPLE demonstrated in what is considered to be one of the biggest peace demonstrations in Europe.'
Al-Arab al-Yawm, Jordan

'IT WAS one of the biggest British protests since the end of World War Two.'
Al-Jazeera, Arab satellite channel

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Article information

Sat 5 Oct 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1820
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