It is the anti-war demonstration on 12 December, not Hilary Benn's speech which is likely to prove historic
There are demonstrations and then there are demonstrations. The Stop the War march in London next Saturday will not simply be a show – a demonstration – of opposition to an unpopular war.
It can be an “event” – something which impacts on a chain of other factors so as to affect the course of politics in Britain. It is part of a rising curve of anti-war activity deploying all sorts of democratic tactics, of social struggles against austerity and racism, and of an intensifying political atmosphere. There is a national political crisis – and it is getting deeper:
1 This Tory war depends on the crutch of pro-war MPs in the Labour Party. Cameron said he could not proceed without a parliamentary “consensus”. Hilary Benn led 66 Labour MPs to give him the illusion of consensus.
2The Blairite MPs represent little but the parliamentary seats they have. That is why they are clinging to them for dear life for fear of democratic accountability. Their champion – Liz Kendall – got 4.5 percent of the vote in the Labour leadership contest.
Oldham was a terrible defeat for the Tories – their share of the vote halved. It was also a defeat for the Labour right which was talking up the prospects, and therefore the vote, of UKIP, which is now in a deeper crisis than before the by-election.
Oldham was a defeat for “the war party”.
3 Most people in Britain do not support the war. The number who do is falling. Many of those opposed are getting angry.
4Three quarters of Labour Party members and 70 percent of its MPs are against the war. The Tories’ pro-war crutch in the labour movement is very weak. No British government has gone to war before with such a domestic political weakness.
The official opposition in parliament, plus the SNP, oppose the war. That has grave implications for the British state and for this government.
5Cameron had to invent a 70,000-strong phantom army to sell the war in parliament. He could not admit what Obama has done de facto this week by sending an “expeditionary force to Iraq and Syria”.
The compelling logic of the bombing campaign is a ground war and ground troops. Cameron refused pointedly in parliament to rule out ground troops, but there is enormous opposition to sending them.
Now the 70,000 lie is being exposed by senior British generals across the pages of even the Murdoch press. It was not until after the Iraq War and the fall of Baghdad that Tony Blair’s 45 minutes lie was seen as such in official politics.
6Unlike Iraq 2003 this will not be “shock and awe” which can apparently bring a swift end to the crisis in Syria or “finish ISIS”. There will be no deliverable “results”. But bombs will be delivered on civilians. And there will be further political crises like the Turkish downing of a Russian plane as the bombing continues.
7Also unlike 2003, the anti-war movement has not made its case on the streets for a year and then not succeeded in the parliament. Instead, Cameron has rushed to war just as the anti-war movement is starting to mobilise.
8Again unlike 2003, there has been bombing of Syria for a year by the US, Russia and others, and things have got worse. They will get more worse – and we may, tragically, feel the consequences in Europe also. There will be no “Saddam Hussein” moment, when either his statue is pulled down or he is pulled out of a rathole.
9Reports from all over Britain – from Stop the War, from its component parts, from activists of all kinds – and all indications of public opinion concur: there is a sense of democratic revolt against the war and against the government.
The anti-war opinion this time seems to be growing as British planes are bombing. It is certainly hardening.
Firmly pro-war support, however, is depending on right wing, racist themes about “Muslim terrorism”. Hilary Benn’s “liberal interventionism” has little social resonance. It excited only the echo-chamber of the London media. Cameron’s war, much more than Blair’s, is suffused with racism, authoritarianism and the politics of the hard right.
The Tories tried to pose as the party of the centre at their conference. They have launched a war from the hard right of British politics.
10Therefore – Saturday 12 December is not a show of our individual and moral opposition. Though both of those are true – it is not in our name. Reports from rebel groups opposed to both ISIS and the Assad regime show it is not in their name either.
Saturday 12 December is not an annual date in the diary. It is a dynamic and hard blow struck into this ramshackle basis on which Cameron has embarked on Iraq #2.
Political support for this war is a combination of a hard right wing minority and the weak prop of a minority of Labour MPs who represent very little in mass politics or social forces.
The media is bad. But it was forced to report the demonstrations this week, wasn’t it?
That’s because the scale of opposition is such that they want to acknowledge it by way of a safety valve letting off pressure and lowering the temperature back to normal. That is also what the attempt to divert popular feeling over the war into baseless claims of MPs who have voted to drop bombs on people being bullied is designed to do.
We can raise the pressure and the heat against the war, against the government and against pro-war MPs.
Next Saturday really can make a difference. Cameron thought he was being very clever by tying the question of bombing directly into the politics of Britain – the Tory party, the Labour party – and by raising the stakes through accusing opponents of being “terrorist sympathisers”.
The Oldham election result shows how stupid that was – as stupid as the 70,000 lie. He has forgotten just how weak the support for his government was at the general election. It was just 24 percent of the electorate.
If we break his war – his government’s assault on working people in Britain will be hobbled too.
That is the context for the new politics we saw over the summer, combined with mass mobilisation and social struggle outside of parliament, to start to win real change for working people: not in 2020, but now.
Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.
More articles from this author
- The struggles are fusing: Greece protests rage against authoritarianism
- Starmer's flag fetish: win the middle ground, don’t chase it
- Vaccine nationalism: a plague on all our houses
- Impeachment will not defeat Trumpism
- We need to learn from the mistakes of Brexit past
- Keir Starmer's Brexit opportunism
- Why is the US election so close? - video