Manoeuvres at Labour Party conference showed contempt for democracy here and in Iraq.
For the third year in succession, Labour's annual conference has allowed Tony Blair to get away with it on Iraq. Voting down a resolution which called for an early date for British troops to withdraw, delegates refused to look reality in the face. Short term interests - the need for a united conference, especially on the day of the Hartlepool by-election and shortly before a projected general election next May - took precedence over long term Labour interests, let alone the interests of the Iraqi people. For the presence of foreign troops and the occupation of Iraq is making their lives worse.
The delusional and the criminal
The vote also wilfully ignores events and evidence which has surfaced in recent weeks that brands Tony Blair as lurching between the delusional and the criminal. UN secretary general Kofi Annan declared that he believed the war was illegal - a welcome if belated judgment. There is increasing evidence that the reason for war was always regime change, and that the British government colluded to sell the war on a different basis. Foreign Office documents leaked to newspapers last month (and promptly gagged) revealed that the decision to go to war was agreed by Tony Blair in spring 2002. Blair, his advisers and diplomats knew that they could not sell the war on regime change, so they developed the argument that Britain was under threat from weapons of mass destruction, and then tried to sell this to the British public and parliament.
This alone must surely rate as an illegal act, and one which justifies the use of the term 'war criminal' to describe Bush and Blair. But there is much more to it than that. The whole process of the government producing a dossier detailing the supposed existence of WMD; of going to the UN to give a seal of approval to US and British warmongering; of sending the UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq - all this was an elaborate charade. We were not sold the war on a false prospectus accidentally, as Tony Blair would now like to claim, but quite deliberately.
Now the Iraq Survey Group (the US body sent in because they didn't trust the UN to find weapons) is reporting that there are no WMD in Iraq - a statement that should at the very least make the prime minister hang his head in shame, given his repeated predictions that such weapons would be found. No such luck. Instead he is ploughing on with a policy which is as mad, bad and dangerous as ever.
Nowhere is it more dangerous than Iraq, set on fire by the policies of the occupying powers. Blair now admits that Iraq has become a 'crucible for terrorism'. But who turned it into one? The answer is revealed by the report of the Commons foreign affairs committee which in late July said that Iraq had become a 'battleground for Al Qaida', and that the risk of terrorism might have been increased by the war to overthrow Saddam. 'It would be difficult to resist the argument that the threat has increased,' said Labour committee chair Donald Anderson.
Hundreds of Iraqis are dying every week. Towns and cities across the country are now in the hands of the resistance and are facing bombardment from US forces. Western soldiers are dying in increasing numbers - over 1,000 US soldiers and a growing number of British soldiers in the south. The numbers will only increase. Civilians too are endangered, threatened with kidnap and execution. Blair's refusal to intervene in the case of the British hostage Ken Bigley stands in contrast to the attitude of most other governments, and is itself a product of his intransigence over the war.
The resistance in Iraq is growing in scope and intensity, with daily attacks on the occupying forces. The US and British governments would like to reduce the resistance to the Tawhid and Jihad group around Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. They are claiming its base in Fallujah justifies the daily bombing of innocent civilians. But this is only a fraction of the resistance, which is only doing what every national liberation and resistance movement has done - fight against occupying armies which have no right to be in their country.
In this, every socialist and anti-war activist should support them. The best way to do so is to campaign for the troops to get out of Iraq. This argument was decisively rejected by Labour's conference, but in doing so it put itself at odds with public opinion and with any justice for the Iraqis. A recent poll showed 71 percent of people in Britain wanted a firm date for troop withdrawal.
The troops are making things worse in Iraq. Every day stories of death, torture and harassment come out of Iraq. The pictures from Abu Ghraib prison shocked the world, but such brutality is still continuing - according to many Iraqis, the up to 300 women prisoners whose release is being called for in exchange for Ken Bigley are subject to abuse, including rape. The troops represent a foreign occupying power which will continue to be resisted and resented.
While they are denied elections and the right to run their own country, Iraqis will fight. The government of Iyad Allawi is nothing more than a puppet which would last no time at all if the troops pulled out. The arguments of those around him are therefore self serving - that there would be chaos if they go is a bit rich coming from people who have presided over growing chaos since the occupation.
Those Iraqis here who say the troops cannot withdraw are not speaking for the majority of Iraqis, who - according to all surveys of opinion - now want the occupation to end. They are also ignoring not just the violence but the denial of democracy. How can there be true democracy with foreign troops on Iraqi soil, with newspapers being closed down, al Jazeera banned from the country, and trade unions and other campaigners harassed?
Drawing a line, moving on and all the other exhortations from Blair means more death, violence and no democracy for the Iraqi people. This is what Labour's conference has voted for, and is a denial of democracy to the many union members whose mandate has been ignored, to the majority of British people who want to end the occupation and to the Iraqis themselves. In the real world of politics it will do Blair and Labour no good at all. If anything opinion has hardened as the occupation has continued, with more people now committed to troops out, and many more realising that they have been lied to by the government.
It remains the faultline in British politics. A Financial Times poll recently placed foreign policy, rather than schools or hospitals, as the most important issue in Britain today. Tony Blair has done that by becoming the most warmongering Labour leader ever.
Labour is paying the price electorally - all the anti-war parties are gaining at its expense. Respect's growing support in elections, and its remarkable gains in Tower Hamlets - where Labour was pushed into third place in two by-elections - demonstrate how the Labour vote is collapsing in its core areas. Gordon Brown's inability to stick the knife into Blair (despite the fratricidal briefings that are most press coverage), the union leaders' failure to reflect their members' interests and Labour's collective refusal to take its head out of the sand will allow Blair to limp towards another election.
The anti-war movement is gaining new strength from the situation. Even the families of service people, already killed or endangered in Iraq, are speaking out and campaigning to bring the troops home. Ken Bigley's brother Paul has endorsed the 17 October demonstration. Trade unionists, peace activists and ethnic minorities are coming out again to mobilise.
Labour's conference only deepened the agony in Iraq - and speeds the erosion of Labour support, while the anti-war movement grows. Even the most devoted Blairite cannot relish the prospect of a re-elected George Bush (if this is indeed the outcome on 2 November) dragging Tony in his wake into more bloody adventures in the name of the war on terror.