DELEGATES TO the Labour Party conference on Tuesday gave Tony Blair a standing ovation. He is going to use this as an excuse to wage war on Afghanistan. But Blair only got such support because people believed, wrongly, that he is a restraining influence on George W Bush and the US military.
Earlier delegates had underlined that there is no mandate to bomb Afghanistan to dust. In an emergency debate speakers who stressed peace and justice received rapturous support. Those who tried to sound warlike were met with frosty silence.
Andy Gilchrist from the firefighters’ FBU union condemned the suicide attacks but went on to say, ‘Any attempt to retaliate for the sake of retaliation must be resisted. So too must indiscriminate bombing. As firefighters we know about violence. There are usually root causes to vile acts. There are economic and social causes, unaddressed grievances. We must be clear how to tackle terrorism. Firstly we should support international law, and no country, not even the US, can cherry-pick on that one.’
In a clear reference to Israel he added, ‘The US should use its influence to make all states follow UN resolutions. We want non-violent solutions to political problems. We need protection from global warming as well as chemical weapons-and it is interesting to look at people’s positions on global warming.’
The speech was met by waves of applause-a vast outpouring of relief that somebody was stating clearly that peace and justice mattered. Stan Robinson, a delegate from central Suffolk and north Ipswich, won loud applause as he said, ‘The party must dedicate itself to renewed efforts to tackle poverty, racism, social deprivation and human rights. The international response to terrorism must be measured and relevant. Our motion also mentions asylum seekers. They should be treated with dignity and respect.’
Glenys Kinnock MEP began by praising Tony Blair and saying that she was sure he would ‘keep the human cost to the absolute minimum’. But she then added, ‘We must address the causes of conflict, poverty and ignorance. The people of Afghanistan have to be able to turn to us. We need to build homes, schools and clinics. The wealthy of the world must understand that if they don’t combat poverty they will build terrorism. Poverty does not excuse terrorism, but it does explain why some people are recruited to terrorism.’
The support for these speeches was in sharp contrast to the response at the end of the debate for defence secretary Geoff Hoon. Not a single delegate applauded as he proclaimed, ‘We will find the terrorists and bring them to account. We won’t allow them to act with impunity.’
The majority of Labour delegates are not against all military action. They will accept some use of force if there is also talk of humanitarian relief. Blair can, for the moment, ride that mood. He can unleash the horrors of modern firepower while posing as a champion of global rights and democracy. Most delegates are a world away from the warmongers and the enthusiasts for bombing.
The mood outside that conference hall is similar-little enthusiasm for revenge violence. This shows the possibility of building a big peace movement, and a huge demonstration next Saturday, 13 October.
Those of us who want no war have to explain to people like those in the Labour conference that any military action will strengthen the generals and the arms manufacturers, make social justice harder to achieve, boost racism and drive more people to terrorism.
If we want social justice we have to oppose all attacks on Afghanistan.
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