The crucial events that led to the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain are now classified, proven and documented. Tony Blair and his New Labour cohorts, backed by their Conservative allies, lied without shame to drag a reluctant country to war. A dung-heap of “facts” was manufactured by Alastair Campbell and hurled at television and the print media. Those who questioned them were traduced and harassed. The million and a half who marched to try to prevent the war were ignored. Iraq was occupied. Despite the rushed and half-baked elections, a savage chaos still grips the country. The Archbishop of Canterbury remains silent. After the 2001 election, but well before 9/11, Rowan Williams offered the following advice to the nation: “Without the perspective of religion our whole politics is likely to be in deep trouble.”
The cost of the Iraqi adventure was heavy. According to a team of medical investigators sent by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians died. Torture, encouraged from above, became a fact of life. Perhaps some good liberal apologist for Blair will soon explain how democratic torture is much nicer than authoritarian torture. Perhaps the belligerati could take this further. Ian McEwan’s next novel could sensitively depict dilemmas of a liberal torturer faced with the barbaric Orient. Why not? We live, after all, in a world where illusions are sacred and truth profane.
Meanwhile, as some (non-Labour) MPs contemplate impeaching Blair for lying and other misdemeanours, a general election draws near in Britain. What are we going to do? If Blair wins this election (as appears likely), he will claim, like Bush, that the country supports him in these difficult times. It is for this reason that those who opposed the war must think carefully before they cast their votes. Abstention is not a serious option. The aim should be to return an anti-war majority to the House of Commons. This requires tactical and intelligent voting in every constituency.
Normally, people vote to assert their political sympathies. But this is not a normal general election. It will be the first opportunity to punish the warmongers and, given the undemocratic voting system, the votes cast for the Greens, Respect and others will have no impact, with a possible exception in Bethnal Green and Bow, east London, where George Galloway confronts the warmonger Oona King. It is possible that in some constituencies the Green/Respect vote could ensure the return of a warmonger, as we have seen in the odd byelection. So why not treat this election as special and take the politics of the broad anti-war front to the electoral arena? If the result is a hung parliament or a tiny Blair majority, it will be seen as a victory for our side.
Blair has led this country into more wars than Thatcher and Major combined. He is responsible for more deaths than his Tory predecessors and with fewer popular votes to back him. In 1992, the year Neil Kinnock was defeated by John Major, the Labour vote was 11.5 million. In 2001, New Labour’s indecent majority was based on a popular vote of 10.7 million. Turnout dropped from 71% in 1997 to 59% in 2001. The rival claimant to the throne, Gordon Brown, provided a hallucinatory explanation: people were so relaxed and happy under New Labour that they couldn’t be bothered to vote. Psephology beckons, Gordon. In reality, it was the collapse of the Tories that distorted the results. New Labour’s massive majorities have been based on mass abstentions and a blatantly undemocratic electoral system.
The assault on civil liberties mounted by Blair and Blunkett is far more serious than the appalling internment without trial that Edward Heath instituted during the Troubles. The tribal notion that New Labour is somehow qualitatively better than the Tories is pure sentimentality. It is not supported by the facts. With the abandonment of anything resembling traditional social democracy, New Labour has concentrated on intrigue, treachery and infamy. How else can one characterise the long Blair-Brown struggle for mastery of No 10?
Despite the fact that politics has evaporated inside New Labour, the demonstration had its impact. A total of 139 Labour MPs voted against the war. Robin Cook resigned from the cabinet. Clare Short was pushed out. George Galloway, the most consistent opponent in parliament, was expelled from the Labour party. The Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru voted against as well. In constituencies where there are MPs belonging to the anti-war faction, one should vote for them despite disagreements on many other issues. In the warmonger constituencies we should vote tactically. In my north London constituency, the MP is Barbara Roche: pro-war and pro everything else this wretched government has done. I don’t simply want to vote against her. I want her to be defeated. That is why I will vote Liberal Democrat.