Socialist Worker

More than 50,000 protesters tell Blair it's Time to Go

by Anindya Bhattacharyya
Issue No. 2019

A Tony Blair reaper looks over the die in (Pic: Richard Searle)

A Tony Blair reaper looks over the die in (Pic: Richard Searle)

Between 50,000 and 60,000 protesters converged on Manchester city centre today for the Stop the War Coalition's 'Time To Go' demonstration on the eve of the Labour Party's annual conference.

Marchers from Penzance to Aberdeen were united in their demands to get British troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan - and for Tony Blair to get out of 10 Downing Street.

There was a strong regional turnout for Stop the War's first national demonstration outside of London, with large contingents from across the north west of England, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Some 1,000 protesters travelled down from Scotland in a fleet of coaches.

Many of the protesters were young people like Louise Marsland and Hannah Clarke, who came down from Preston with a group of students.

'I'm really impressed with the size of the demo,' Louise told Socialist Worker. 'I don't know who will follow Blair, and I don't know how they will clean up the mess Blair has made. But this has gone too far and it has to stop now.'

Hannah said, 'I came to the demo because I've been reading the papers all week and it made me really angry. My brothers have been in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blair is George Bush's lapdog - he should go now.'

The demonstration started at lunchtime with an opening rally in Albert Square, before heading off on a circular route around the Labour conference's city centre venue.

The march was marked by blazing sunshine and a series of street theatre events, including a mass 'die in'. Other protesters dressed up as 'Butcher Bush' or carried coffins to symbolise the deaths of thousands across the Middle East.

The closing rally was addressed by speakers including Tony Benn, Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition and Rose Gentle from Military Families Against the War. Trade unions were represented by Tony Woodley, general secretary of the T&G, and Unison's deputy general secretary Keith Sonnet.

MPs addressing the crowd included Respect's George Galloway, and Labour left wingers Michael Meacher, Alan Simpson and Jeremy Corbyn. Tommy Sheridan MSP also spoke, representing the new Solidarity movement in Scotland.

For several speakers it was their first time addressing a Stop the War rally. Richard Horton, editor of the medical journal The Lancet, spoke out fiercely against the government's policies of imperial war.

The Lancet was the first journal to publish scientific evidence that over 100,000 civilians had died in Iraq as a result of the invasion - figures that were attacked and rubbished by the government.

Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said the money the government was wasting on war should be spent on education. She was one of several speakers to attack New Labour's moves towards privatisation in the NHS.

'The NUS is built on a foundation of internationalism,' she said. 'We want to send a message of solidarity to students, trade unionists and the people of Iraq.'

Several speakers underlined how the anti-war movement had a different vision of the world to that pushed by Bush and Blair. 'We stand for justice and liberation, while they stand for tyranny and oppression,' said Soumaya Ghannoushi of the British Muslim Initiative. 'But the future belongs to us, not them.'

One surprise speaker was Lauren Booth, journalist and half sister of Cherie Booth, Tony Blair's wife. She said Blair should be ashamed of himself for refusing to call for a ceasefire during Israel's recent assault on Lebanon. 'Yo Blair - it's time to go, Blair,' she added.

Don't forget The Stop the War Coalition has organised a Time for Change alternative conference in Manchester on Sunday 24 September to bring activists together after the protest. It will include speakers such as George Galloway MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Lindsey German, Moazzam Begg, Walter Wolfgang, Tariq Ali and many others. It is at Roscoe Building, University of Manchester, Brunswick Street from 10am to 6pm.

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Article information

Sat 23 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2019
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