Socialist Worker

Letting Bush and Blair off the hook

Issue No. 2026

What a cowardly bunch of timeserving lickspittles Labour backbenchers are. Last week they were offered the opportunity to vote for an official inquiry into the Iraq war.

Just 12 of them backed the motion, in a debate initiated by the Welsh and Scottish nationalists. Many Labour MPs with a strong anti-war record abstained in the vote, allowing Tony Blair’s government to win with a majority of 25.

If one steps back from the debate, this outcome seems completely ridiculous. In the US, George Bush is being hung out to dry by the establishment for the catastrophe that he and his henchmen have inflicted on Iraq.

And this side of the water, in the mother of parliaments, what do we get? Foreign secretary Margaret Beckett claiming that it would demoralise British troops serving in Iraq if the criminal process that landed them there were investigated.

This didn’t seem to bother Sir Richard Dannatt, chief of the general staff, when he publicly endorsed much of the anti-war movement’s case.

So why, then, did Labour backbenchers swallow the same old lies from the decaying, degenerate Blair regime? On the face of it, this is especially puzzling since it was revulsion against Blair’s slavish support for Israel’s Lebanon war that goaded many middle of the road New Labour MPs into rebellion, forcing Blair to concede that he would be going soon.

There are two possible explanations. The first is that, having extracted Blair’s promise to go, Labour MPs want his departure to take place without much fuss or reminders of the Iraq debacle.

As Andrew Rawnsley pointed out in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, after all the hullabaloo at the time of the Labour Party conference, “Gordon Brown now looks to be where he always planned to be - invincible and inevitable” as the probably uncontested successor to Blair. So, many Labour MPs must ask themselves, why rock the boat?

Party advantage

The second explanation is that politicians are usually guided by the search for narrow party advantage. Blair has been forced to set a date for his departure because Labour MPs are scared of losing their seats. But, when it came to last week’s debate, the backbenchers seem to have been strongly motivated to back the government because the inquiry call was initiated by the nationalist parties and backed by the Tories.

Next spring sees elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in which Labour will struggle to hang onto office against challenges from the nationalists. Party advantage in this case dictated not conceding any ground to Plaid Cymru and the SNP, let alone the Tories.

If these explanations are valid, they still don’t cast the Labour backbenchers in a very flattering light. There is endless bleating by mainstream commentators about the “disconnect” between politicians and voters and about popular disenchantment with politics.

Usually ordinary citizens are blamed, for being too interested in their personal lives and fixated on celebrity culture, the internet, and what have you. But Iraq highlights the responsibility of the political elite for the “disconnect”.

Consider the poll published last week that shows that 75 percent of British voters think that Bush poses a threat to world peace, significantly more than fear Kim Jong-il of North Korea or the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This is an astonishing shift in attitudes in a country that historically has been a bastion of the Atlantic alliance between the US and western Europe.

When Labour MPs collude with a discredited government to prevent it from being held to account over Iraq, they simply confirm to a population that is overwhelmingly against Bush and Blair that their views go without representation in the political process.

From this perspective, what the backbenchers did amounted to a betrayal of democracy. So it is all the more important that Respect develops into a political force that can help the voiceless to gain a voice. They certainly can’t expect any help from the demoralised, self-serving rabble that is today’s Labour Party.

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Article information

Alex Callinicos
Sat 11 Nov 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2026
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