David Cameron’s Conservative party led the vote in the British Parliament to authorise airstikes on Syria
by Yvonne Ridley
It is incredible that an internationally-renowned movement like Stop the War, which brings together the broadest coalition of peace activists drawn from all sections of multi-cultural Britain, is now coming under fire from a gaggle of disgruntled career politicians. The latter seem to have forgotten that at the height of its influence, Stop the War brought two million people onto the streets of London in 2003 to protest about the then pending and ultimately illegal invasion of Iraq. More than eight million other people across Europe, many of whom were inspired by STW, rallied in their own capitals, towns and cities.
I have not always agreed with the movement but on the night of 7 October, 2001, I swore that I would join its ranks, if I survived being bombed by Britain and America. Held as a prisoner by the Taliban, I sat in my prison cell in Kabul as more than 50 cruise missiles rained down on the Afghan capital following George W Bush’s launch of his “War on Terror”. Although I’d covered conflicts before, it was always from a safe distance. I was detached enough not to appreciate the full terror of war, but being bombed by your own country added a new dimension to the experience.
Cruise missiles can be felt and heard 20 miles away from where they land, so you can imagine the sheer terror I experienced locked in a Taliban prison with nowhere to run or hide as these massive weapons of death and destruction landed a few hundred yards from my cell. Suddenly the scary looking guys with big beards and big turbans who were guarding me no longer seemed that frightening.
Within a few weeks of being released, I told my story from a Stop the War platform in Trafalgar Square before 60,000 people who believed, like me, in the futility of the war in Afghanistan. While I would describe myself as a peace activist, like Jeremy Corbyn I’m neither a pacifist nor anti-West nor anti-American, but lazy journalists and the neocons still try to conflate all three into one convenient slur.
Since then, I’ve shared many platforms with a whole raft of politicians and activists to protest against the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and the never-ending injustices launched on the Palestinians, especially Israel’s brutal offensives against the people of Gaza which have happened throughout the past decade. My STW involvement – although not my support – was interrupted with the war in Libya; I still think that Western intervention was the right thing to do, having travelled the length and breadth of the country before and during the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. He would, in my opinion, have committed genocide against his own people in order to remain in power and I believe the same is true of the Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad. The West should have intervened when the brutal dictator began using chemical weapons against his own people.
There has been what can only be described as a witch-hunt against Stop the War coalition since its creation in September 2001. It has not changed its aims or its ideology since those early days and the leadership looks pretty much the same, although the late Tony Benn is sorely missed. Hilary Benn may have some of his father’s eloquence but he has inherited neither his compassion nor integrity; this was obvious when he gave his undiluted support to the Conservative government over the bombing of Syria.
STW has been proved right about the futility of the war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The evidence, if any is needed, are the millions of innocent people who have been killed, injured, widowed and orphaned on the basis of a tissue of lies and dodgy dossiers from Tony Blair and his government.
Despite attracting huge turnouts at nationwide protests the mainstream media has – until now – more or less ignored Stop the War. Even during the two million march in 2003, only the Guardian newspaper gave it front page coverage. So why is it now making headline news?
Well, there’s another war in the offing and the anti-STW headlines are aimed at the Labour leadership; more specifically, at Jeremy Corbyn and what he has come to represent. The Islington North MP has the largest popular mandate of any Labour leader; no one has been able to draw in as many new members as he has within a few short months, and there isn’t a politician in parliament who can draw in the crowds of young people the way that the veteran Corbyn can.
The Conservative government is beginning to wake up to the fact that there is a new style of politics in town these days which could cost them dearly in the next election. Ditto the “Tory Lites” — also known as Blairites — in the Labour ranks in Westminster fearful for their long term future as career politicians.
Those who inhabit the Westminster bubble are so out of touch with what is happening on the ground in Britain that they missed the annihilation of Scottish Labour, failed to predict the rise of the SNP and were stunned by the tidal wave that swept Jeremy Corbyn into power as the successor to Ed Miliband. Even now, they still believe that the issue of Scottish independence is dead and buried.
Despite all of this they again failed to predict the recent Oldham by-election result which saw Labour win an even bigger share of the vote than when the seat was held by the late, great and much-loved Michael Meacher. Amazingly, some of the Blairite MPs clinging on to their own seats told journalists that they secretly hoped that Oldham would fall to the far right UKIP because it would bring about the fall of Corbyn.
“No opponent in the Conservative Party has ever aroused such fixity of hatred and rancour as their newly elected leader,” commented Tariq Ali, one of the founders of Stop the War. “The bile is reserved for those who refuse to abandon social democracy. Realising that anti-austerity arguments are popular, the scoundrels have switched to ‘patriotism’, to defence issues, to the safety of the realm, sacralising the ridiculous Trident missiles in the process.” A serving general was wheeled on to breakfast shows to suggest that if Corbyn is elected as prime minister the British Army might mutiny, added Ali. “Since Corbyn is a founder member of Stop the War, the propaganda assault is essentially designed to weaken and destroy him.”
Those MPs who have launched vitriolic and misleading attacks in the media include the modest Tristram Hunt, Michael Dugher and Caroline Flint, as well as the equally modest Emma Reynolds. (And, let’s face it, all have much to be modest about.) They have been wrong about all of the wars that Britain has fought since 9/11 and the War on Terror; all face a battle to remain the elected representatives of their constituencies if the massive influx of new members starts to hold them to account. They have urged Corbyn to pull out of the Stop the War Christmas dinner on Friday night and attacked his links with the group.
Emma Reynolds was caught red-handed being economical with the truth on the BBC when she claimed that Stop the War had blamed the Paris attacks on Western military interventions since 9/11, adding that the group had compared Daesh with the international brigades who fought fascism in 1930s Spain. Normally, the anti-Corbyn MPs get a straight run and are left unchallenged by the BBC to say what they want, but Reynolds’s lies were exposed within seconds when Chris Nineham, another founder of Stop the War, told the BBC that she was telling “untruths” and was engaging in “tittle tattle and smears”. He then presented a few facts that left Reynolds tongue-tied and unable to respond with a coherent argument.
STW later issued a statement saying that it was coming under an “unprecedented attack” from Labour MPs and others opposed to Corbyn’s leadership of the party. It said that its views were now “being routinely misrepresented by the Tory government, the right of the Labour Party and sections of the media.”
The Labour MPs and peers launching attacks on Corbyn and Stop the War do have several other things in common; many are members and/or officers of the controversial Zionist group, Labour Friends of Israel, for example, and earlier this year some attended a £250-a-head dinner organised by major arms dealers and their supporters.
No wonder these neocons dislike Corbyn, the “Corbynistas” and the Stop the War coalition so much. The big question, though, is what on earth are they doing masquerading as Labour MPs? They certainly do not represent the views of their leader, nor do they reflect the views of the massive new intake of Labour members or even the party’s founding principles. Could these war-mongering politicians be running out of ammunition and, more seriously, time in office?