The gnashing of Blairite teeth

June 16, 2015 at 10:38 am (democracy, elections, labour party, left, posted by JD, reblogged, Tony Blair)

by Phil Burton-Cartledge (reblogged from All That Is Solid)

kim blair ilIf since midday you’ve been plagued by that irritating background noise is, here’s what it is: the gnashing of Blairist teeth to the news that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign saw him lifted onto the Labour leadership shortlist. Those MPs who nominated him but are quite clear they do not support his pitch deserve a congratulatory pint. They understand much better than our “friendly” media commentators the nature of the party. Allow me to take this moment to explain why.

As you might expect, our chum Dan Hodges forecasts woe and plagues of crickets. Apparently Jeremy is “to the left of Karl Marx“, because opposing the bedroom tax and rallying against cuts is obviously more radical than smashing the capitalist state machinery and expropriating the expropriators. The left “don’t get it” – the general election result proves that the British electorate are not in the mood for their policy provision. They are a spent force the parliamentary party has to indulge, and only a thorough drubbing on a policy platform they like will ram the message though their dogmatic skulls.

Dan’s starting position, as it has always been, is that Tony Blair found the shiny baton of electoral success. Gordon Brown fumbled the hand over in the relay, and when it came to Ed Miliband’s lap he didn’t think to pick it up. For Dan, Labour’s route back to power is dull, grey, technocratic politics because what the electorate expects are boring, risk-averse, but basically competent managers. Any whiff of left-wingery frightens the horses. In my view the self-evident truths Dan and his co-thinkers subscribe to are simulated nostrums specific to the Westminster matrix, repeated and transmitted ad nauseum by sympathetic media figures to the point where it’s the received political commonsense. The problem is, it’s wrong.

Let’s be sure about this. Labour didn’t lose the election because it was “too left“. No one gave Labour the body swerve because of the mansion tax, the energy price cap, an increased minimum wage, the pledge to build more houses, and the abolition of the bedroom tax – not least when these policies were popular with the voting public.

Labour lost for two main reasons. First, on economic competence. The Tory argument that you can’t secure the NHS without securing the economy absolutely cut through. And the second was insecurity – how Labour will cave to a SNP set on milking the (English) taxpayer, rendering these islands defenceless, and imperil the union. It’s a political vein you can expect the Tories to tap again and again. Therefore the situation Labour finds itself in is a very difficult one. How can it simultaneously appeal to enough Scottish voters, enough English swing voters, and enough “traditional” voters flirting with UKIP. That difficult discussion demands all minds and all wings of the movement to be involved. This is why I’m glad Jeremy is on board, it means the left will have its say throughout the summer of leadership debates.

I’m sure Dan and his co-thinkers think the left have nothing to contribute and should have had their entry barred to the contest. Allow me then to talk the language they understand. At the general election, the Green Party won 1.1m votes. As James O’Malley points out, if just 2,984 of them had voted Labour instead in the relevant key marginals, there would be no Conservative majority government now. Let us suppose that the narrow contest they coveted had taken place. Thousands of left recruits, many of them recent, would have departed from the party. A larger cohort of some left-leaning voters hoping to see their values and hopes reflected in the leaders’ debates would also have been put off. Where would they have gone? Perhaps to the Greens, perhaps to a lefter-looking Liberal Democrats. The Blairites may be happy to see the back of these “wrong sort” of members and voters, but in so doing they would also say goodbye to a clutch of seats. It’s not 1997. Left Labour-leaning people do have somewhere else to go which, incidentally, is why Labour under their favoured Miliband was unlikely to have fared any better.

Another point that Dan and friends might also wish to mull over. While beginning under Kinnock, since Blair took over the party there has been a centralisation of organisation and a diminution of policy input from constituency parties. Gone are the days where policy was determined by the floor of conference, and now it’s mostly a managed affair for keynote speeches and the like. If there was more in the way of member-led democracy, then perhaps – just perhaps – the left would have found an outlet in policy debates. Instead they created a logjam which meant the only way the left could get its voice heard is by running a leadership candidate. If the Blairists don’t like it, tough. This is a situation two decades in the making, and their finger smudges are all over its blueprints.

So the debate we’re going to have, the proper soul-searching debate so many from across the party paid lip service to in the days following the general election is happening. Good. Let’s get on with it.

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McCluskey: Labour does not need backstabbing Blairites

February 2, 2015 at 5:31 pm (apologists and collaborators, elections, Jim D, labour party, reformism, Tony Blair, Unite the union)

Above: bought-and-paid for traitor Milburn

I was about to to write something about these treacherous scumbags, but Lennie’s saved me the trouble. I’d only add that Milburn (who failed to declare an interest when he sabotaged Labour’s health announcement) should be expelled immediately, and Hutton, Mandelson and Blair himself, put on notice that they will follow if they continue to undermine the Party in the run-up to the election.

I put this proposal forward in all seriousness, and it would have the incidental benefit of shutting-up all those who accuse Ed Miliband of “weakness.”

Even Blairite commentators have been taken aback by these people’s arrogant, bare-faced disloyalty.

Anyway, here’s what Lennie (not someone that Shiraz always agrees with) has to say, according to a Unite press release:

Labour Does Not Need Back-stabbing Blairite Grandees>

With the days counting down to the most important general election in generations, the leader of the UK’s biggest union, Unite, has condemned those within the Labour party who are undermining Ed Miliband’s leadership.

Denouncing the politicians of Labour’s past as >Blairite grandees, Len McCluskey urged Ed Miliband not to be deterred by these

Addressing the union’s 1200 strong officer and organiser core in Birmingham today (Monday, 2 February), Len McCluskey warned that the Tories’ immense spending power, allied to their wealthy backers and a loyal media, means the country faces a one-sided campaign in May placing a duty to democracy’ on the union to support Labour:

“The electorate is today poised between fear and hope. Fear is the basis of the UKIP menace – blame someone else for all the problems, usually immigrants or foreigners, and seek refuge in an imagined past.

“But it is hope that is blossoming today as we have seen in last week’s magnificent election result in Greece. Labour needs to bottle some of the Syriza spirit and take that anti-austerity agenda to the people here.

“What it doesn’t need is the Blairite grandees – the people who sucked the life out of the last Labour government – attacking every progressive impulse, like the mansion tax and saving our NHS.

“So I say to Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and John Hutton: stick to counting your money, and stop stabbing Labour in the back.

“And I say to Ed Miliband – have the courage of your convictions and ignore these blasts from the past.”

Len McCluskey continued: “This is a fight for the future of our society, for the poor and vulnerable. A fight for everyone squeezed by the crisis and the cuts, and for everyone who believes that Britain has gone badly wrong, and who wants to live in a fairer country.

“The Tories are plotting a reduction in the scope and role of the state which even Thatcher could only have dreamed of, taking us back to the days of the 1930s, under the pretext of balancing the books without, of course, asking the rich or big business to contribute. They want to tear to bits every advance working people have secured, every protection we have built up, over the years.

“Let me say today – it’s not going to happen. If a government with the backing of less than one voter in four tries to deny the rights of a movement of millions, we will treat that with the contempt it deserves. And if we are pushed outside the law, so be it. If Unite is ever to die, it will not die on its knees.”

On working for a Labour victory, McCluskey said:  I’ve asked our Executive to provide donations to Labour’s election fund totalling £2.5m so far. More will most likely be needed.

“I regard this as doing our duty to democracy.

“Let the Tories get their millions from hedge funds and from shadowy dinner clubs of big businessmen. Our money is clean, transparent to the public, democratically-sanctioned and honestly accounted for. It’s the pennies of our members each week, not the ill-gotten gains of the ruling elite.

“There can be no doubt that Labour’s commitments will make a huge difference – there’s no need to be mealy-mouthed or half-hearted about this – and will provide a platform for tackling the crippling inequalities in our society.”

If we lose the election, we understand how much harder that life will be for the people we serve.

“That’s why I’m appealing to each and every one of you – step up to the plate. Get behind your union and its political strategy, and get behind a Labour victory in May. Answer the Party’s call. Do not stand aside from this battle, or let any doubts and reservations paralyse you.

“We are now facing the fight of our lives.”

For further information, contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861

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A tip to Ed: expel Blair!

January 4, 2015 at 10:51 pm (class collaboration, elections, Jim D, labour party, Tony Blair)

Despite his typically dishonest denial, there is no doubt that in his interview with the Economist, Tony Blair said that he expects the Tories to win the next general election, unless Labour shifts dramatically to what he calls the “centre ground” (ie the right).

Blair said he expected to see an election “in which a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, with the traditional result.” Anne McElvoy, public policy editor of the Economist, conducted the interview, and she’s quite clear on what Blair meant, writing in the Guardian: “For the avoidance of doubt he was also clear that this would mean a Tory victory.”

Less than six months before the general election, with Labour maintaining a slim lead over the Tories, this amounts to rank treachery. Ed Miliband is not doing well in the polls, generally scoring less well than the Labour Party itself. At a stroke, he could establish his credentials as a decisive leader and also put Blair and his acolytes in their place once and for all: by moving Blair’s expulsion for bringing the Party into disrepute. I put that forward as a serious suggestion, in the firm belief that it would be both a principled and a popular move.

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Gordon Brown: tragic traitor

December 1, 2014 at 9:36 pm (Gordon Brown, labour party, reformism, Tony Blair, tragedy)

Above: Brown and Blair

Gordon Brown is in many respects a tragic figure: a man who lived and breathed politics, but when he finally achieved his burning ambition, blew it in spectacular fashion.

He also has had some real tragedy in his personal life.

By most accounts, a brooding, resentful character and (according to some) a bit of a bully, he can also (again, according to some) be very entertaining in private and is very loyal to his friends. Compared to his erstwhile friend, the superficial chancer Tony Blair, Brown is a deep and thoughtful character. In contrast to the lightweight and eclectic Blair, he is a man of the labour movement. – which makes his role in creating the foul aberration that was New Labour somehow more treacherous than that of the ideologically footloose semi-Tory Blair.

Brown’s splendid role towards the end of the Scottish referendum campaign gave us a momentary glimpse of just what a principled and passionate  figure he could have been. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a traitor even to the reformist tradition in which he stands, but part of me can’t help liking him and even feels some pity for him. Perhaps, away from mainstream politics he’ll make some amends for New Labour and do some worthwhile campaigning on issues like girls’ rights, that are clearly very important to him and his wife Sarah. I certainly hope so, because I really want to like and respect him.

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The treachery of Mandelsnake

September 26, 2013 at 10:08 am (capitalism, economics, Jim D, labour party, profiteers, reformism, Tony Blair)

“As a result of the speech, I believe that perceptions of Labour policy are in danger of being taken backwards.  At the business department I tried to move on from the conventional choice in industrial policy between state control and laissez-faire. The industrial activism I developed showed that intervention in the economy – government doing some of the pump priming of important markets, sectors and technologies – was a sensible approach” – Peter Mandelson

Above: puppet of big business

It was, of course, inevitable that Ed Miliband’s modest proposal to freeze energy prices for 20 months would induce howls of outrage from the big six energy profiteers and their mouthpieces – one of whom performed exactly the same service for the banks not so long ago.

Scare stories  about the lights going out, and thinly-veiled threats of an investment strike, were entirely predictable from the energy giants, the City, the right-wing media and the Tories.

But doesn’t poor Miliband have the right to expect at least a discreet silence from people who – on paper at least – are in the Labour Party? Obviously not. Loathsome Lord Mandelsnake has emerged from the woodwork to denounce the plan and accuse Miliband of going “backwards” – by which the Snake presumably means being slightly less craven towards big business than he and his boss Mr Blair were when they were in government.

Actually, Miliband’s proposals are pretty weak: what he aught to be promising (especially now in the face of the blackout and investment strike blackmail) is simply to renationalise all power generation and distribution.

And Miliband needs to understand that there is a group of unreconstructed Blairites like Mandelsnake, organised by the ‘Progress‘ outfit, who are absolutely determined to thwart even the slightest suggestion of a leftward shift in Labour policy and don’t give a damn if the Party loses the next election.

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The Blairite plot against unions in general and Len McCluskey in particular

July 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm (class collaboration, democracy, elections, labour party, reblogged, reformism, Tony Blair, unions, Unite the union, workers)

The best-informed comment so far on Falkirk. Re-blogged from Left Futures

By Jon Lansman

The contents of the secret report into what happened in Falkirk have now been revealed. Seumas Milne in the Guardian comments that “given the thin gruel offered up by way of evidence” it’s not hard to see why it hasn’t been published. Nevertheless, the report does find that Unite is not directly responsible for what took place, which makes the direct attack by Ed Miliband on Len McCluskey even harder to understand (“Len McCluskey should be facing up to his responsibilities. He should not be defending the machine politics involving bad practice and malpractice that went on there, he should be facing up to it“). And the paucity of evidence of “serious wrongdoing” makes it even harder to understand now why the matter was reported to the Police than when we previously commented, unless it was a deliberate attempt to escalate the conflict still further to justify a fundamental reform of the party-union relationship.

According to Seumas Milne:

The most significant allegations are that a handful of members were signed up without their knowledge (by family members), and that “there are discrepancies in the signatures” of four others (suggesting some may have been forged).

It isn’t right to sign up family members to a political party without their knowledge but it undoubtedly happens in every winnable constituency in the country in every party. It clearly isn’t what Unite intended, and you can’t expect Unite’s leaders to have been aware that it happened.

Nor is it right to “forge” signatures but, if the person concerned wanted and intended to join the party, it isn’t “serious wrongdoing” . This is the action of one or two individuals rather than Unite and it certainly isn’t something to waste police time over.

So we can now see why Unite centrally had no idea what they had done wrong. And what was done wrong certainly doesn’t justify the biggest-ever shake up of the party-union relationship by a Labour leader. And yet some people on the right of the party are still claiming:

For all the talk of democracy and the new politics, this was only ever about dealing with the fall-out from Falkirk.

That is nonsense. I was at the Progress annual conference at Congress House in London on 11 May. An afternoon workshop entitled “How do we get a parliament that looks more like Britain?” had a constructive debate about the lack of working class MPs whose participants had included our own Michael Meacher and Steve Hart, then Unite’s political director, but, by the day’s end, that all fell apart. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Mirror’s McGuire on Falkirk

July 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm (democracy, elections, Jim D, labour party, police, Tony Blair, Tory scum, unions, Unite the union, workers)

At last some sense about Falkirk in the mainstream press:

Kevin Maguire

Kevin McGuire, Daily Mirror:

Falkirk Labour selection: Party must calm down not melt down or Tories will  be only winners

6 Jul 2013 01:15

Cops should be catching muggers, burglars, rapists and murderers – not  deciding who may or may not be a member of a political party

Ed Miliband and low rent Tory MP Henry “who?” Smith deserve a rocket for  wasting police time.

Dragging the boys and girls in blue into Labour’s Falkirk selection row is a  ludicrous abuse of the police.

Cops should be catching muggers, burglars, rapists and murderers – not  deciding who may or may not be a member of a political party.

Internal rules should be investigated internally, preferably with the report  published.

Instead Labour is a party suddenly suffering a nervous breakdown, dis-United  when it should Unite.

The battle over Falkirk is a war extending way beyond who will stand for  Labour in that seat.

“Red Ed” is unwisely seeking to use it as a moment to prove he isn’t in the  pocket of unions who helped crown him Labour leader.

Blairites in the Shadow Cabinet, particularly Jim Murphy and Douglas  Alexander who backed Ed’s brother David, want to change Labour’s direction.

So too does Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, although “Red Len”  thinks it should swerve left not right.

McCluskey, a quietly spoken Scouser, accused Miliband of twisting Falkirk  into a Tony Blair Clause IV moment to impose his authority as leader.

There is something in that, as there is in McCluskey’s jibe that Miliband is  allowing the Tories to call the shots.

The Conservatives are loving it and Grant Shapps’ smugness reminds me I must  chase up the investigation into his get-rich-quick internet scheme under the  alias “Michael Green”.

Labour needs to calm down, not meltdown in the summer heat.

The only winners are the Tories. David Cameron will be laughing into his  Pimm’s.

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The Blairite line on Falkirk

July 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm (Jim D, labour party, middle class, MPs, reformism, Tony Blair, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Enemy Intelligence

Just so we know what we’re up against…

Below is what the Blairite scum are thinking, including their plan to help the Tories’ campaign to make Labour unelectable unless the union link is broken:

Tony Blair and Tess Jowell together. Jowell today defended her former boss. Picture: Getty

Above: Blair and acolyte Tessa Jowell

By Philip Collins (The Times, July 5):

Who is the next person in the following sequence and why does it matter? Thomas Johnston, Alfred Balfour, William Baxter, Dennis Canavan, Eric Joyce. It matters because the identity of the nest Labour MP for what is now the constituency of Falkirk has become a grave test of Ed Miliband’s leadership.

Labour’s lead has drifted down in recent weeks. The public is resilient on the reality of austerity. The economy is slumbering back to growth and George Osborne, the Michael Fish of economic forecasting, remains ahead of Ed Balls as a credible chancellor. Then, at PMQ’s [last] week, David Cameron battered Mr Miliband about the Unite union’s attempt to fix the selection [for] the new MP for Falkirk.

There are two huge obstacles in the way of Mr Miliband becoming Prime Minister and they are dramatized together in the obscure shenanigans in Falkirk. The first is that he has not persuaded the electorate that he cuts it as a leader. The second is that he is not trusted with the public finances or thought to understand the need for fiscal discipline. If the evil ghosts of Tory central office were themselves drafting the script to show Labour at its worst they could do no better than to portray Mr Miliband [as] losing control of his party to a public sector union that demands there be no more cuts.

It is all very well for Mr Miliband to say, as he often has, that he is not the sort of leader who wishes to pick a fight with his party. He seems, though, not to have realised that his party, or at least that section of it that gave him his victory over his brother, is picking a fight with him. This is not an arcane internal dispute. It is a toxic story for Labour and Mr Miliband has to stamp on it at once. Focus groups now talk about the Labour Party as if new Labour were a mirage. The image they offer is the pre-Blair default setting of an assembly of losers.

The resignation … of Tom Watson MP, from the Shadow Cabinet was a small gift to the good people.. It was dispiriting that, according to Mr Watson, Mr Miliband at first refused to accept his resignation. Mr Watson should never have been close to the Shadow Cabinet in the first place. he is too divisive a figure, too closely associated with Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, with whom he once shared a flat. Whenever a dog barked in the night of Labour politics, one thought always occurred: Mr Watson, I presume.

The fake jocularity of Mr Watson’s resignation letter (the written equivalent of a Mickey Mouse tie) was an attempt to pretend he wants to spend more time at music festivals but the reference to Falkirk suggests that Mr Watson finally sensed that the walls were coming in on activities known about but [that] few have been prepared to voice. However, the control that Unite exercises over parliamentary selections will not cease just because Mr Watson no longer has to spend his Tuesday morning in Shadow Cabinet listening to Stephen Twigg not quite being in favour of free schools.

The leak of the Unite stategy document from January 2012 has given the game away.  Unite’s plan is to counter-attack its own party, to make it more class-bound, more expressly left-wing. It is a strategy of the most monumental electoral stupidity, as if the only thing that forced 37 per cent of the nation to vote Tory in 2010 was the absence of a wildly left-wing alternative. The plan will proceed, as in Falkirk, by fixing the selections for Unite candidates.

The specious Unite defence of its conduct is that it wishes to see more working-class people in Parliament. In truth, Unite operates an ideological test as well as a class identity test. I doubt today’s equivalent of Ernest Bevin would pass the ideological examination. There would be no place for Alun Milburn or Alan Johnson, working class men who don’tthink in the straight line required.

The truth is that those who would wield power without intelligence do not want free-thinking original working-class people, of whom I am sure there are plenty who do need to be brought through the system. They want people who will understand that trade union sponsorship comes at the price of complete loyalty. Above even the desire to defend every perk and privilege of the public sector or to install an aimless form of class politics, what they most want is to be in charge. Like most control freaks, what they do with the power is by no means the whole point. It’s not enough for them to tell labour what to do. They want to be there, in control.

Mr Miliband will not stop this just by his belated action in ordering an investigation into Falkirk and preventing unions from paying in bulk for members. he needs to escalate the row and he needs to win. Ever since the Osborne Judgement of 1909, there has been an argument about the political levy that trade unions charge their members to fund the Labour Party. It is safe to say that Unite does not exactly rush to advertise the political levy. Labour has always wanted the political levy to be paid until people make a conscious choice to opt out. Successive Tory governments have said that members really ought to be forced to opt in.

A Labour leader confident of ruling his own party — and a Labour leader who does not have that confidence will never command the country — should make trade unionists who tick the box full individual members of the party, each with a vote in [the] leadership elections. That would break the power of the big barons, because affiliation fees would then come from individual Labour party members, not the union. The threat to withdraw the fees would no longer be meaningful.

The consequence of not acting is dismal. Labour cannot win an election projecting this sense of itself. And the Unite control of candidates is filling up the green benches with clones of Alfred Balfour, Labour MP in what is now Falkirk from 1945 to 1959. During his first eight years as an MP, Balfour did not utter a word. When he finally broke his silence he said simply: “People get up here from time to time and keep us here for hours on end, and I have said what’s the use of inflicting another torture upon the House? In the further six years he served, he never spoke again. A similar period of silence on Unite’s part would be appreciated. It’s time for Ed Miliband to speak.


Another media Blairite boasts of “My part in [Tom Watson’s] downfall

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Falkirk, Unite and Labour democracy

July 3, 2013 at 8:43 pm (democracy, Jim D, labour party, media, scotland, socialism, Tony Blair, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Above: how today’s Telegraph portrays McCluskey

Unite and its general secretary Len McCluskey make no secret of their wish to increase the number of working class people in Parliament and to extend union influence within the Labour Party. It’s spelled out in Unite’s Political Strategy document produced in January 2012, which is widely available within Unite and not difficult for anyone to get hold of.

Unite’s strategy for the Labour Party is entirely compatible with Party rules and amounts to little more than what other pressure groups (such as the Blairite ‘Progress’ faction) are doing. Except for one crucial consideration: the trade unions founded the Labour Party and are not just a faction but an organic element within the Party.

Now, it may be that Unite has made some mistakes in Falkirk in their efforts to secure the selection of Karie Murphy. Paying for union members’ first year of Party subs is not against Labour’s rules, but if (and I stress the “if”) it’s true that some of these people didn’t even know they’d been signed up, and/or that their membership was “back-dated” to allow them to participate in the selection process, that would indefensible and it may be that Unite will have to beat a temporary, tactical retreat. But even so, that should not deter Unite’s perfectly legitimate campaign to get members and supporters selected as candidates wherever possible.

And Unite should take no lectures on Party democracy from Blairite scum like Mandelson. Kim Howells and Jim Murphy: remember how in the nineties the Blairites undermined Party democracy, gutted the annual conference of any real power and imposed candidates against the wishes of Party members? These are the last people who should be sounding off about democracy, to Len McCluskey or anyone else.

Unite may have made some relatively minor errors in Falkirk. But their campaign to increase union influence within the Party is absolutely correct and entirely within Labour’s rules.

As Jon Lansman points out at Left Futures, The Labour Party rules on all selections for public office (Chapter 5 Clause 1) are quite clear:

persons wishing to stand as a Labour candidate … where not otherwise prevented… shall also be a member of a trade union affiliated to the TUC or considered by the NEC as a bona fide trade union and contribute to the political fund of that union. Any exceptions to these conditions must be approved by the NEC.

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Ten years on: yes, the Iraq war was wrong, but…

February 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, Galloway, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, John Rees, Lindsey German, London, New Statesman, protest, stalinism, SWP, Tony Blair, war)

Like many readers of this blog, I was there on 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, nor the slightly more forgivable solipsism of Laurie Penny (who at least has -or had- the excuse of youth). Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the Stop The War Coalition into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.

Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, puts his finger (in the present issue of the New Statesman – no link presently available) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively puts it down to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:

“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”

I can remember stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local Stop The War email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well as I recall:

The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To

By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)

I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?

Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.

What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?

It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.

As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.

Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?

Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.

I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.

Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.

It is not easy for me to write these words.

I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.

But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.

I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.

But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.

Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.

Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.

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