Families of British soldiers have told Socialist Worker they will set up a peace camp outside this week’s Labour Party conference in Manchester, despite attempts to ban them by the city’s council.
The council, which is controlled by Labour, claims the camp, organised by Military Families Against the War (MFAW), is unacceptable on “health and safety” grounds.
The families, relatives of soldiers who have died or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, were set to start building the camp in Manchester’s Albert Square on Thursday of this week.
Council leader Sir Richard Leese claimed the authority had a “proud record” of supporting protest and opposed the war on Iraq.
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon Gentle died in Iraq in 2004, told Socialist Worker, “It is really disgraceful. The council says Manchester is a ‘city of peace’, but it allows a warmonger like Tony Blair to go and speak there - while trying to ban the peace camp of the families of soldiers.
“They don’t want us to go and talk about our sons. We think that the Labour Party has got the council to do this.
“It is too embarrassing to Blair. He hides every time a British military family appears. But we are not backing down. We will set up our camp as we planned on Thursday afternoon.
“More families have been saying they are going to the camp now after the attempt to ban it. A family from Paris have phoned to say they are coming over to make their point.
“They have boys serving in the Nato force in Afghanistan.
“The people of Manchester are behind us. Our camp is major news in the city.
“A poll in the Manchester Evening News on Monday of this week showed that 79 percent of people supported our right to hold the camp.
“When Blair was in Israel he met the families of Israeli soldiers who had been kidnapped, but he has refused to meet us. It is one rule for some people, and another for other people.
“I hope Labour MPs come and stand with us and show their support.”
Rose has been a thorn in the side of Blair for some time. But some of the families involved in the Manchester protest are new to the anti-war movement.
Wendy McCartney said, “I will be attending the peace camp because I have a son in Iraq. I am from a longstanding military family.
“I am proud of that connection, but not so sure about the government’s decisions. We have a democratic right to question its decisions, which I feel we’re being denied.
“I am concerned with the way that the troops are being used, and bereaved families are ignored.”
Peter Brierley, who lost his son Shaun Brierley in Iraq in 2003, said, “I expected there to be objections to our camp, but the police are supporting the application.
“The council claim that there are health and safety problems over the lack of running water and toilets. But we have overcome these problems before.
“There have been MFAW camps in Trafalgar Square and outside Downing Street before. They have no legitimate reason to ban us.
“The only reason this is happening is that a Labour council is protecting Mr Blair. He is on the ropes and this is his last speech to a party conference. The Labour Party is closing ranks to protect Blair.
“We’re supposed to be in Iraq and Afghanistan transmitting democracy, but our rights are being taken away here. We have a right to demonstrate and complain about the government.
“We are trying to push the point that the troops should come home. There are almost daily casualties in Afghanistan and the majority of the population have turned against them.”
Lynda Holmes, whose son is in the army, said, “Blair will reap what he has sown. It is about time he got his comeuppance.”
She added that the attempt to ban the families’ protest had backfired. “So many people are hostile to the ban,” she said.
For more information and to send a letter of protest to Manchester City Council go to www.mfaw.org.uk