Saturday, January 27, 2007

This war must end

Today I spoke at the School Students Against War Conference on behalf of Labour Against The War. SSAW are a pretty remarkable organisation - they're completely run by school students and have organised antiwar school walkouts across the country. A whole new generation of lifelong activists is being trained up by organisations such as SSAW - and that's something that should give our movement reasons for optimism.

As the Conference reminded me, the war in Iraq radicalised thousands of young people. Huge numbers of us took to the streets, not least on that cold Saturday back in February 2003. The antiwar movement has dispelled the myth that today's young people have become somehow depoliticised. The problem is, of course, that Blairism has so associated the Labour party with war (among so many other things) that, up until now, most young lefties would not have dreamt of joining the party. Let's be honest: if you're a young, idealistic activist committed to fighting for peace and justice, why would you join a party whose leadership has allied with the most rightwing American regime in modern history to bomb Iraq back into the Stone Age? Such is the tragic damage that New Labour has done to our party: after all, these are the very young people who would almost instinctively have joined the party a generation ago.

That's why this Conference gave me such hope. When I raised the suggestion of joining the party in order to support an antiwar candidate for the Labour leadership, I expected hisses and boos. Instead, there was applause at the idea. Several speakers from the floor made the same suggestion. This alone is evidence of the success of John McDonnell's leadership campaign. Young activists who just a few months ago would have preferred to stick burning matches in their eyes than fill in a Labour party membership form are now enthusiastically joining. If the Labour party is to exist in any meaningful sense in the years to come - and if the current terminal decline in membership is to be reversed - then we depend on winning over such inspirational, dedicated young activists.

Below is a summary of the speech I gave on the war on terror at home:

Over the past few years, the rulers of Britain and the United States have used the atrocities of September 11th and July 7th to justify an onslaught against civil liberties and rights that people have struggled and fought for over the centuries. What we've seen over the past few years is a concerted effort by New Labour to strip us of basic democratic rights.

Attacks on civil rights are not new. For example, Thatcher and the Tories stripped working people of their rights in the 80s, leaving British workers with fewer rights than anywhere else in the Western world.

Since September 11th, we've seen a series of legislation taking away our rights and giving more power to the state. In 2001, for example, new laws allowed foreigners to be detailed as terrorist suspects indefinitely. In 2003, the time that a terrorist suspect could be detained was doubled to 14 days. In 2005, control orders of alleged terror suspects were introduced – which effectively grant the ability to place people under house arrest without charge.

Last year, laws were passed allowing the state to arrest people for supposedly "glorifying" terrorism. New Labour pushed to increase the time that terrorist suspects could be held without charge to 90 days – effectively internment, and a level which would have left us with the same level as South Africa under apartheid. The government were defeated, but still managed to get away with 28 days.

Anti-terrorism laws have been used to routinely harass peaceful protesters. Most famously, Walter Wolfgang was held by police under the Terrorism Act 2000 for heckling Jack Straw at Labour Party Conference. The idea that an 80 year old pensioner could be a terrorist is of course ridiculous – as the police well know. At the same conference, hundreds of others were stopped under the Act.

As the war against Iraq approached, the police arrested protestors at the Fairford military base nearly a thousand times – purely to intimidate and harrass anti-war activists.

New Labour is also intent on introducing ID cards – which will give the state a register with details of the entire British public,
effectively putting us under lifelong surveillance at great cost.

As we all know, these attacks on civil liberties have disproportionately attacked Muslims. Since September 11th, we've seen a tide of Islamophobia whipped up by the tabloid media. At the same time, the state's harassment of Muslims and more broadly Asians has increased. After the July 7th attacks, stop-and-search of Asians increased twelve fold.

We witnessed the horrific assassination of Charles de Menezes by the police on July 22nd 2005 – who then lied through their back teeth about the events leading up to the shooting. We've also seen, for example, the Forrest Gate raid – where the police shot an innocent man and dozens of cops farcically spent a week searching a tiny house for a supposed chemical weapon.

And of course, there's Belmarsh – the British Guantanamo – where people are held without charge and are going literally insane because of their circumstances.

These attacks on civil liberties and rights are not new. Throughout history, states have used the supposed existence of a national emergency to justify attacking people's basic rights.

New Labour claims that these attacks are making Britain safer. Nothing could be further from the truth. At a time when Muslims are demonised in the press, at a time when they continue to languish in overwhelming poverty and suffer disproportionately from unemployment, these attacks on their rights – such as humiliating stop-and-searches – only further radicalise parts of the Muslim community. Indeed, it deepens the feeling of many young working class Muslims that the British state is at war with Muslims generally.

The real reasons behind terrorism are clear. New Labour's murderous foreign policy has radicalised an entire generation. In the past few years, New Labour has participated in the invasion of Afghanistan, stood by Israel in its brutal occupation of Palestine, tacitly supported its barbaric invasion of the Lebanon, and of course joined the invasion of Iraq. Young Muslims have been radicalised by the manifest injustice, and indeed terrorism of British foreign policy – in combination with other reasons, like poverty, unemployment, and a rising tide of hatred against Muslims.

The terrible truth is this – so long as the current British foreign policy remains, thousands more will die abroad and, undoubtedly, here. Attacks on civil liberties are not the solution - a change in foreign policy is.

Nothing has done more to boost international terrorism than the war against Iraq. Bush and Blair remain al-Qaeda's most important recruiting sergeants. Part of the justification for attacking Iraq was that al-Qaeda had a presence there – a lie. Following the invasion, we can now be in no doubt that Iraq is crawling with al-Qaeda – some of whom will no doubt attempt to strike Britain one day.

I also want to turn to the sheer hypocrisy of Western imperialism. We should all condemn terrorism wherever it happens. The deaths of 52 innocent civilians on July 7th was a terrible crime. September 11th – and the murder of 3,000 innocent civilians – was again a disgusting act of terrorism we should all condemn in the strongest possible terms.

But what about the even bloodier acts of Western terrorism? Before September 11th, around a million Iraqis had been killed because of Western sanctions. Since the invasion of Iraq, according to the Lancet, 655,000 Iraqis have been slaughtered. Furthermore, thousands of Palestinians have been murdered by Western ally Israel.

American terrorism has been responsible for the deaths of literally millions of civilians since World War II. The killing fields of Vietnam and Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East, testify to that.

To end with, I want to plug John McDonnell's campaign. John is standing for the Labour leadership against New Labour. He is committed to fighting against the so-called War on Terror both at home and abroad. He will restore all the civil liberties taken away by New Labour. He will end the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and stand against Israeli aggression in the Middle East – which, as we know, are the main causes of terrorism. A victory for John will mean peace in the Middle East, the restoration of our civil rights, and the end of Britain's status as an international terror target.

Therefore – and I know this controversial – I urge all of you to join the Labour party, if only to have a vote for a candidate who will end this murderous war. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Brown is the new blue

It's funny what people will delude themselves into believing. Ever since the Tories were booted out of office back in 1997, a myth has persisted that a Brown premiership will somehow represent some sort of break with Blairism. An entire industry seems to have been created by the British media dedicated to analysing "codewords" uttered by Brown which reveal his supposed real intentions when (if) elected. A coalition of so-called "Brownites" has long argued that Brown's leadership will represent a real change - either because of naivety, sycophancy or desperation.

You've got to pity Brown. What does the co-founder of New Labour have to do to convince people that he is wedded to the same neo-liberal, pro-war agenda as Blair? Brown himself is more than happy to brag about. Take this quote boasting about his neo-liberal credentials:

"I have introduced most of the Private Finance Initiative, sold off air traffic control, made a controversial decision on the London Underground, set up the Gershon review to sack or make redundant 80,000 civil servants, made the Bank of England independent and introduced the most widespread competition reforms this country has ever seen."

Indeed, Brown is the architect of New Labour's privatisation agenda. Last year, Brown announced a £26bn expansion of PFI across 200 public sector projects. It's PFI that has allowed private contractors to milk our public services dry. Even before the current crisis, PFI was ravaging the NHS: the first wave of PFI schools suffered bed reductions averaging 30% and staffing level cuts of 25%.

The "contoversial decision on the London Underground" was the disastrous decision to part-privatise it. As he boasted, it was his initiative to massacre civil servant jobs - a decision he announced to Parliament without any consultation with the workers he was sacking.

In the one major policy dispute between Blair and Brown since 1997 - over pensions - Brown attacked Blair from the right. While even Blair pledged support for the proposal to re-establish the link between earnings and pensions (granted that this was along with a rise in the retirement age), Brown opposed the policy on grounds of “affordability”. Despite an eventual agreement between them, which allowed the Government to announce its response to Turner, there is widespread suspicion that Brown will renege on the supposed deal as soon as he is installed in Number 10.

Since his pledge last year to run a Blairite administration if he becomes party leader, Brown has veered to the right with increasing confidence. He supports another attempt to introduce de facto internment through 90 days detention. He has made it known that he is willing to review the £3,000 cap on annual tuition fees for students – which, if lifted, would open the floodgates to an internal market in higher education.

Last year he echoed Margaret Thatcher’s call for a “property-owning democracy” when he described his vision to “build a home-owning, asset-owning democracy.” No wonder the Washington Post on 14th May said to him bluntly: “You don’t sound like the socialist you are portrayed to be.” His response was clear: “I’m a free trader. I’m pro-open markets,” adding that “the economy that I admire most is the American economy.” This echoed many earlier comments in which Brown has professed his admiration for what he regards as the more entrepreneurial US economy while repeatedly calling for Europe to “adjust its social model to combine flexibility with fairness” through “wholesale economic reform.”

There are sinister signs that Brown is willing to pander to racist prejudices in order to win power. As well as some of the empty jingoistic policies he has floated, such as the establishment of a ‘British day’, he argued on Radio 4’s Today that “people who come into this country, who are part of our community, should play by the rules. I think learning English is part of that… I would insist on large numbers of people who have refused to learn our language that they must do so.”

And, of course, Brown is committed to wasting £25bn on Trident. Not only did he wholeheartedly support the war in Iraq, but he also committed Britain to yet more American-led wars - while in the same breath claiming Gandhi as one of his chief inspirations.

It's clear that the notion Brown will represent any shift to the left is, frankly, wacky at best. A vote for Brown will mean a vote for more privatisation, more wars, and more cuts. That's why I'm proud that SYN unanimously backed John McDonnell's campaign for the leadership. Indeed, a vote for John will be a vote for peace, workers' rights, free education, and publicly-funded democratically run public services.

It's time those in the labour movement still backing Brown to decide whether they're happy voting for a candidate who opposes Labour party and trade union policies - or a candidate who has spent his entire political career campaigning for those policies. So, who's it going to be?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ruth Kelly - isn't it time she was sacked?

Ruth Kelly doesn't seem to have understood her ministerial brief. You see, her position entails arguing for equalities. As it turns out, she's become the Cabinet's chief advocate against equalities. I'm sure George Orwell would be amused.

See here for the story in the Guardian

Something you can do about it.....

Ask your MP to sign EDM 142!!!! (details below)

Reports out today suggest that Ruth Kelly is close to promising that the new regulations on sexual orientation discrimination in goods, facilities and services will have exemptions for religious adoption agencies.

The Government is being lobbied heavily and MPs are receiving sackloads of letters from religious groups calling for the right to discriminate against lesbian, gay and bisexual people. MPs need to hear from those of us who want an end to such prejudice and discrimination. The exemptions being called for will mean LGBT people could be turned away from hotels, guest houses, soup kitchens and other services. We have fought so hard over the past three years on this issue; please ensure that you act today to preserve the rights of LGBT people to live their daily lives free from discrimination and harassment.

Act now to save these regulations!
Ask your MP to sign EDM 142

Desmond Turner MP has tabled Early Day Motion 142 on the subject, asking the Government to ensure that these regulations are passed in full, with only a doctrinal exemption. So far it has 114 signatures; it needs many more to get the attention of ministers. Have a look at the EDM here: .
Please urge your MP to sign the EDM. You can find out who your MP is by going to the website and entering your postcode.

Sign the petition on the Prime Minister's web site
Please also sign the petition on the PM's website, which you can access by following this link: Don't forget to confirm your signature when requested, otherwise it won't count!

Write to your MP
It' s always best to write a letter in your own words. However you can use the letter below as a template if you're pushed for time.
{insert name} MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA
Dear {Insert name}
Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations
I am writing to express my support for robust legislation banning discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the provision of goods and services.
I welcome Part 3 of the Equality Act 2006, which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services. However I am concerned that further exemptions to the regulations beyond the doctrinal exemption already proposed by the Government would themselves be discriminatory.
I also welcome the Northern Ireland Regulations and urge the Government to take the same approach for the rest of the UK - that any exemptions should only be for internal doctrinal matters such as baptism and confirmation. It should not be lawful to refuse lesbian, gay and bisexual people services offered to the public such as hospices, schools and adoption services.
Any watering down of these regulations would only serve as a green light for discrimination and would not deliver for lesbian, gay and bisexual people what religious groups and others already are entitled to.
Please pass on my views to the Government and let me know your views on this matter.
Yours sincerely
{Insert name}