Never has a war illustrated the moral turpitude of a ruling class more than the war unleashed by the US and Britain on Iraq in 2003. Such a transparent and egregious example of the projection of imperial power calls to mind Caesar’s campaign to pacify Gaul between 58-51BC. As with the Gallic Wars, waged by the most famous of all Roman emperors and his legions against the tribes of ancient Gaul, Bush and Blair’s war was waged against a country rich in natural resources located in a region of the world strategically vital for an imperialist power intent on hegemony.
Yes, undoubtedly, Saddam Hussein was a dictator whose brutality was well known, including the use of chemical weapons against his own people – specifically against the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 during the closing days of the Iran-Iraq War. But does anyone seriously believe that Saddam’s record of brutality against Iraq’s Kurds, Shiites, or anyone else who dared defy his writ was the motive behind the most devastating war ever waged by a rich first world country against a poor country since Vietnam?
The immorality of the war on Iraq is only compounded by the fact it came after thirteen years of the most devastatingly punitive economic sanctions ever applied to a nation, responsible for the premature death of two million Iraqis, roughly half a million of them children under the age of five. Former US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, when asked during an interview if the death of so many Iraqi children was a price worth paying for containing Saddam, replied that “we think the price is worth it.” A more apt description was provided by US congressman David Bonior, when he described the sanctions responsible for the death of so many children as ‘infanticide masquerading as politics.”
In the words of Joy Gordon, the sanctions destroyed “nearly all of Iraq’s infrastructure, industrial capacity, agriculture, telecommunications, and critical public services.”
By the time Bush decided to “finish the job” that was left unfinished by his father, who had allowed Saddam to remain in power after the First Gulf War of 1991 succeeded in forcing Iraqi troops out of Kuwait, Iraq was a country whose military had been so degraded and denuded it could offer only the pale imitation of resistance to the onslaught of the largest, most powerful and technologically advanced military the world had ever known.
Using the terrorist attack committed by al-Qaeda against the United States on September 11, 2001 as pretext, George W Bush and the coterie of neoconservative hawks that filled key positions within his administration, set about a strategy of projecting US military might in order to assert and solidify US economic, military, and geopolitical hegemony of the Middle East. Underpinning the strategy was the neocon response to the previously mentioned demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. Known as the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), it brought together a group of likeminded neoconservative ideologues, who, imbued with a sense of triumphalism over the West’s historic victory over its Cold War enemy, were determined to take advantage by ensuring that US economic, political, and cultural values – embodied in free markets, deregulation, and the primacy of the dollar – would go on to become universal values. Indeed, for them the US was the world and the world was the US, synonymous with progress, civilization, and stability. In other words, 9/11 came as the golden opportunity to spread 21st century Western Enlightenment values to ‘the other’ courtesy of cruise missiles, F-16 fighter-bombers, Apache helicopter gunships, and tens of thousands of Kevlar-helmeted US soldiers.
As Michael MacDonald writes, “The geopolitical motive for the war was to entrench American power, and the neoliberal motive was to implant global capitalism in Iraq and its neighbors.” However, the neoconservative mindset was such that those objectives were embarked upon not as the forced imposition of foreign ideals onto a hostile population, but instead as ideals that were and are a “godsend to the world.”
Put another way, we are talking about a messianic, god given mission to reshape the world in America’s image under the rubric of American exceptionalism.
Blair’s role in this was as willing lieutenant, determined to do his superior’s bidding and thereby win his approval and, with it, esteem. In him Britain had a prime minister with a Manichean worldview in which the Christian and democratic West had an obligation to confront and defeat evil and tyranny in service to humanitarianism; what Kipling famously described as “white man’s burden.”
The war in Iraq proved a seminal moment in history, the ramifications of which the Iraqi people, people across the region, and also throughout the West continue to suffer to this day. Rather than liberate Iraq, the war and ensuing occupation destabilised the country, producing not peace and democracy but a brutal and ongoing sectarian conflict, societal collapse, and the death or displacement of millions of people. Meanwhile, rather than face the consequences or be held to account for his role in the war and the disaster it has wrought, Tony Blair has gone on to amass the kind of fortune associated with Crassus, selling his services to all manner of unsavoury regimes, corporations, and causes.
“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world,” Albert Camus warns us. In 2003 Tony Blair was loosed upon the people of Iraq. His guilt – along with the guilt of a British Establishment that willingly followed his lead in attaching itself to Washington’s coattails – is written in their suffering and the suffering of generations as yet unborn.
Video from the huge rally in London on Saturday 2nd July
On Thursday 23rd June the unexpected triumph of the Leave campaign can only be read as a rebuke to the authority of the political class. Certainly racism and anti-immigrant prejudice informed many voters, but that was far from the only motive for so many people rejecting the overwhelming consensus view of experts and professionals who counseled caution.
What credibility did George Osborne have in saying that leaving the European Union would jeopardize the prosperity and strength of the UK economy, when millions work on zero hours contracts, or with only a few hours through agencies; when a million people rely upon food banks; when there is a crippling housing crisis; when there is both a growth of in-work poverty, and also a brutal and inhuman regime of sanctioning the unemployed; when thousands of graduates are burdened by an unimaginable yoke of debt.
For people who cannot afford the bus to go and sign on, what did it matter that they might lose the theoretical opportunity to take a job in Milan or Berlin. When people see their local employers advertising vacancies only in Poland or the Czech Republic, without giving them an opportunity to apply, then the employment law protections enshrined in EU law may as well be dust in their mouths.
The arguments from anti-Corbyn rebels in the Labour Party make scarce sense. The vote to Remain had to be won amongst those angry and alienated, and who are highly skeptical about the EU. The argument from Corbyn that the EU is far from perfect, but on balance it was still better to remain, was one carefully calibrated to engage with potential swing voters in the referendum.
The plotters know that Corbyn is not responsible for losing the referendum. As Angela Eagle herself explained on 13th June, “Jeremy is up and down the country, pursuing an agenda that would make a 25-year-old tired. He has not stopped. We are doing our best, but if we are not reported it is difficult.”
However, it takes a staggering lack of self awareness by Labour MPs, many of whom failed to convince the electors in their own constituencies to vote Remain, to fail to see that the referendum revolt against the politics of “business as usual” also rejects them, and the whole culture of the Portcullis House bubble; it rejects the incestuous linkeage between conspiring careerists and establishment journalists.
At the very moment when the prospect of Brexit threatens to rip up employment rights, when the economy might be overwhelmed by catastrophe as business confidence is lost, and investment decisions are postponed and cancelled. When the falling pound jeopardizes thousands of jobs in UK companies who buy on the world market in US dollars. At a time when not only 3 million EU citizens in the UK are unsure of their future, but there is a terrifying rise in racially motivated hate crime. At this very moment Labour shadow cabinet members indulge in an orchestrated fiasco of resignations, and student union antics. It is beyond contempt.
And who is the mighty, unifying figure who they suggest can bring the party back together as an alternative to Corbyn. Angela Eagle!? Does anyone seriously think that Angela Eagle, particularly if she is elected in a process that makes the assassination of Julius Caesar look quite proper and dignified, will have the authority and stature to unite the party, to appease the sense of betrayal from members and activists? Is Angela Eagle, who has not even carried the support of her own constituency party, the person who can bring back alienated Labour voters who are listening to the simplistic siren song of UKIP?
It is a far cry from the 1976 contest, when 6 giants sought the leadership. Michael Foot, Anthony Crosland, Tony Benn, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and James Callaghan.
The statement from General Secretaries of 10 of the 14 affiliated unions issued yesterday is not quite a ringing endorsement of Corbyn. However it is withering in its scorn for the rebels of the parliamentary party, who have played parlour games at the moment when their nation, and their constituents needed them most to act as a unified and determined opposition.
The current crisis within the Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply regrettable and unnecessary. Last week’s vote to leave the European Union presents the entire labour movement with unprecedented challenges. Above all, we need to be fighting to preserve our members’ jobs, already under threat in several industries and across the public sector as a consequence. The government is in crisis, but already serious debates are taking place and decisions being made which profoundly affect the interests of working people.
Under these circumstances, our members and millions of others will be looking with dismay at the events in parliament. It cannot be right to seek to denude the Labour front bench at this time, when the government more than ever needs to be scrutinised and held to account by an effective and united opposition that does the job it is paid to do.
Jeremy Corbyn is the democratically-elected Leader of our Party who secured such a resounding mandate less than ten months ago under an electoral procedure fully supported by Labour MPs. His position cannot and should not be challenged except through the proper democratic procedures provided for in the Party’s constitution. We urge all Labour MPs to abide by those procedures, and to respect the authority of the Party’s Leader.
While we have stated that we believe a Leadership election would be an unwelcome distraction at this time of crisis, if one nevertheless occurs through the proper procedures we would expect all parts of the Party to honour the result and pull together in the interests of the country, and working people in particular. The only party that can win for working people is a strong and united Labour Party.
Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite the Union
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
Tim Roache, General Secretary, GMB
Dave Ward, General Secretary, CWU
Brian Rye, Acting General Secretary, UCATT
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA
Mick Whelan, General Secretary, ASLEF
Matt Wrack, General Secretary, FBU
Ronnie Draper, General Secretary, BFAWU
Chris Kitchen, General Secretary, NUM
Each trade union will make its own decisions, by the appropriate processes according to their own rule books.
However, the rightful scorn against the MP plotters, will I am sure be a factor in those decisions; and while many trade union activists and officers may have some reservations about Corbyn; the alternatives look far worse.
The referendum decision to leave the EU has created the greatest period of economic uncertainty for Britain since the 1947 Sterling crisis. The UK weathered that storm mainly due to the decisive political leadership of Sir Stafford Cripps as Chancellor, and a political context where a Labour government had accumulated significant goodwill, not only through its welfare and housing policies, but also due to an industrial policy that was seen to benefit Labour’s core, working class voters:
The government  effectively used the Distribution of Industry Act of 1945 to promote employment. A staggering four million men and women were demobilised from the armed forces by the end of 1946, yet the Board of Trade, first under Cripps, and later under Harold Wilson made aggressive use of Industrial development Certificates to force modern, new industry into area of unemployment, like the North East, South Wales and Central Scotland, and then provide these new industries with remission of rents, zero rates, and interest free loans.
The North East of England had unemployment of 38% in 1932, by 1948 this stood at 2%; over the same period Scotland saw unemployment fall from 35% to 4.5%, and Wales saw unemployment fall from 41% to 5.5%. The UK national average unemployment by 1951 was just 1.8%. Although there was only limited forward planning, government direction effectively produced full employment, and intervention against the market’s bias towards the South East of England spread the benefits across the UK.
Indeed, the feeling that the Labour government was on the side of ordinary working people was so tangible, that when Cripps cut the food ration to below wartime levels in 1947 to address the Sterling crisis, this was supported by Labour voters.
How very different from the drift of the economy towards the South East in the Blair/Brown years, and the growing feeling of being “left behind” from Wales, Scotland and the English Regions. As Kevin Morgan from Cardiff university noted some years ago:
“As the UK’s most over-developed region, the south east is the chief source of inflationary pressures, hence UK monetary policy tends to be calibrated to the over-heated conditions in this core region rather than the ‘under-heated’ conditions in the less developed regions of the north and the west. In a celebrated public relations gaffe the Governor of the Bank of England, Eddie George, actually conceded this point when, asked if job loss in the north was an acceptable price to pay for the control of inflation in the south, he was reported to have said ‘yes, I suppose in a sense I am’. ”
The Sterling crisis in 1947 did not cause a political crisis, and because there was no political crisis its historical significance has been underestimated. Significantly, the Labour Party stood together in the national interest, despite bitter divisions in the Cabinet over Cripps’s response.
Coming to the modern day, the Labour Party in opposition needs to present itself as an alternative government, but just as importantly the role of the main opposition party in a parliamentary democracy is to seek to influence the decisions of government, and shape the political debate.
Given the potentially economically catastrophic vote to leave the EU last Thursday, an outcome that most Labour Party members, and most Labour voters opposed; and which was opposed by the overwhelming majority of affiliated trade unions; then it is essential that the Labour Party quickly develops a policy of how to deal with the fall out.
It should have been obvious that the task for the Labour Party was to keep the media focus on the lies and false promises from the leading Brexit campaigners; and it should have been obvious that the task for the Labour Party was to exploit the division in the Conservative Party and the paralysis of the lame-duck Cameron administration. It should also have been obvious that it was necessary to keep the party unified behind those tasks.
The meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday 27th June should have been an opportunity to develop a strategy to deal with the Brexit crisis, and to speak up for the interests of the millions of those that the Labour Party exists to represent whose economic prospects are now less secure.
Instead, we saw an exercise of self-indulgent narcissism, with the Westminster bubble concerns of professional politicians trumping the very real fear and anxiety that ordinary people are feeling.
As GMB General Secretary, Tim Roache, said in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote:
We’re in uncharted waters. The government needs to act straight away to secure jobs and keep the economy moving – too many working people are still carrying the can for the last economic crash, they can ill afford another one.
What happens next cannot be the preserve of a government elected with 37% of the vote or potentially a Prime Minister who was never elected at all. The British people have spoken, many of them frustrated with business as usual, choosing to leave the EU because of the impacts of the flexible labour market and the pursuit of free trade above all else.
Our place in the world cannot be one based on a Tory Party free-for-all, free market philosophy. A race to the bottom which prioritises the removal of trade barriers and the flexible labour market above all else will fail working people and the very voters who made their decision yesterday.
The Prime Minister must act now, on a cross party basis, to heal and represent the whole county. Not just the rifts in his Party. That means an urgent plan to protect jobs and a guarantee that no workplace rights will face the axe.
Tim is undoubtedly right to say that an urgent plan is needed to protect jobs, resolve uncertainty over workplace rights. It is an entirely reasonable expectation from the trade unions that the parliamentary party should also have understood that those were the urgent priorities.
I think it is no secret that many in the trade unions are not uncritical supporters of Corbyn. There is a very real question mark over whether Corbyn’s undoubted appeal to a politically engaged minority can translate into the mass electoral appeal that can win a general election. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry have failed to engage substantively with the question of how tens of thousands of skilled, well paid and organized jobs in manufacturing and shipbuilding could be protected were the Trident successor programme to be cancelled, as they desire. But clearly even for those who may be more critical friends of Corbyn, now was the time for the party to unite behind him.
The disdain with which rebels in the Parliamentary Labour Party disregarded the statement from General Secretaries of 12 of the 14 affiliated trade unions, indicates turning their backs on the ethos and traditions of the Party. The General Secretaries, speaking in the interests of some 3 million working people, said:
The Prime Minister’s resignation has triggered a Tory leadership crisis. At the very time we need politicians to come together for the common good, the Tory party is plunging into a period of argument and infighting. In the absence of a government that puts the people first Labour must unite as a source of national stability and unity.
It should focus on speaking up for jobs and workers’ rights under threat, and on challenging any attempt to use the referendum result to introduce a more right-wing Tory government by the backdoor.
The last thing Labour needs is a manufactured leadership row of its own in the midst of this crisis and we call upon all Labour MPs not to engage in any such indulgence.
Let us be clear, whatever failing there may have been with Labour’s campaign to stay in the EU, the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership saw most Labour voters backing remain – a figure between 63% and 70% depending upon the polling. The inchoate expression of alienation against the political class that led to so many voting Leave, against what objectively are their own best interests, did not grip working class communities in the last 9 months of Corbyn’s stewardship of the party.
The wounds go deeper, and further back. The bond of trust between the Labour Party and much of the electorate was broken by the deceit that led the UK to participate in a criminally irresponsible war in Iraq. The economic policies that led to a million manufacturing jobs lost since 1997 undermined Labour’s credibility to speak for many communities in the English regions, and the other nations of the UK.
The triangulation and spin meant that Labour’s message was increasingly attuned to swing voters in marginal constituencies. This was particularly damaging over the issue of immigration, where de facto the last Labour government encouraged migrants due to the economic benefits, while simultaneously some figures in the Labour party indulged in dog-whistle collusion in anti-migrant sentiment. The failure by Blair and Brown to deal with the UK’s growing housing crisis, and their unwillingness to ensure that Employment Law was strong enough to prevent unscrupulous bosses abusing migrants to push down wages in entry level jobs, meant that many working class people have real-life, negative experiences associated with migration. There are many areas where increased population has not seen the necessary, corresponding increase in housing, schooling and health capacity. There are many areas where increased population has not seen the necessary. corresponding increase in housing, schooling and health capacity
These are just some of the reasons why Labour lost the elections of 2010, and 2015. Long before Jeremy Corbyn even thought he might one day be leader of the party.
The Labour Party now has a challenging landscape to confront. The type of message and the type of party that plays well in Scotland or Wales is different from the North of England, which is again different from London, and different from the pockets of Labour support in the rest of the South of England.
Not only are those Labour MPs indulging in the circus of destabilizing Corbyn letting down people in the constituencies they were elected to serve, and failing to act to promote stability which is their duty in the national interest; they are utterly deluded that there is any alternative leader waiting in the wings that has the stature or appeal to solve Labour’s problems. They are deluded if they think that a Labour leader who had been more enthusiastic about the EU would have been better able to reach out to skeptical and disengaged voters.
They are also deluded if they think that their exercise of fiddling while Rome burns is the way to appeal to voters of any stripe. They are risking blowing the Labour Party up into civil war at exactly the time when the people that the Labour Party was established to represent more than ever need the Party to be strong and united.
By Luke Davies