It’s action stations for the anti-war movement as reheated imperial aggression through the prism of Donald Trump makes a bold return, argues Lindsey German
You would think Iraq never happened. Suddenly we are told that there is intelligence to prove that Iran was responsible for the attacks on two tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow and extremely busy channel between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula. This intelligence comes from the US security services, and seems largely to consist of one grainy video of a boat removing a landmine from a ship, plus the negative assertion that only a state actor could have carried out the attack.
Why should anyone believe this? Especially since the attack took place on a Japanese and a Norwegian ship just at the time when the Japanese prime minister was in talks with the Iranian government on Japan’s first ever visit to the Islamic republic in over 40 years.
After all, we have had two decades now - and much longer if we look back for example to the Gulf of Tonkin clash which led to US escalation in Vietnam - of incidents being used as pretexts for war which have turned out to be very different from how they appear. Most pertinently, we were told lie after lie about the intelligence ‘proving’ that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They were all false, yet everyone from Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell to Colin Powell swore that they were true.
More recently nearly every MP in the House of Commons voted in 2011 for a bombing campaign of Libya which was dressed up as stopping a humanitarian disaster in Benghazi. Rather than bringing humanitarian relief it led to 30,000 dead, regime change and a brutal civil war which continues to this day. In 2015 parliament again accepted the lies of David Cameron that there were 70,000 fighters in Syria willing to fight on the West's side, and voted for a bombing campaign which only increased the misery of that war.
In every one of these cases, Jeremy Corbyn stood out against the rush to war. He has done so again this week. Cue every contender for the Tory leadership attacking him for lack of patriotism, anti-Americanism and general treachery. But Corbyn has a much better record on war than any of them. They huff and puff about the temerity of not automatically believing intelligence, but they and their party have acted like gullible fools, going to war without a second thought. Corbyn and a small number of allies have been proved right on these questions.
Rather than reduce the threat of war to electioneering soundbites, let’s look at the reality. The immediate incident over the two tankers is not the beginning of conflict but the outcome of a longstanding dispute which has been greatly escalated by Trump and particularly his advisers Pompeo and Bolton. Both of these, but especially Bolton, support war on Iran to bring about regime change and replace the Islamic republic with a pro-US government.
The roots of the present crisis lie in the decision by Trump to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran, a move which has been opposed by European governments, including Britain. The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed by Iran, the five permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany and the EU. Iran would not develop nuclear power and potentially weapons in return for a lifting of sanctions on the Iranian economy. Trump’s decision to scrap the deal just over a year ago has led to a re-imposition of US sanctions which are having a devastating effect on Iran’s population, causing real hardship, and Iran has recently said it will resume its nuclear power programme in response.
Despite widespread criticism internationally of Trump’s actions, the effect of them is to deal a severe blow to Iran’s oil industry. These economic sanctions are a prelude to war, a war about which Trump may be nervous but egged on by Bolton and Pompeo is moving inexorably towards. Military conflict will be at very high cost. Iran is a major military power with allies across the region, so its enemies – the US, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel – will face attacks on different fronts.
Already the price of oil is rising and the shipping companies fear much greater disruption and higher insurance costs as the chokepoint of Hormuz becomes a centre of conflict. The war in Yemen is already spilling over into Saudi Arabia.
In these circumstances, Jeremy Corbyn’s approach is right. We’ve had enough of tin pot warmongers who promote their own ‘bravery’ to advance their political careers while sitting in Westminster and letting the people of the Middle East suffer the consequences of endless war.
Mad, bad and dangerous to know
I don’t want to spend much time on the candidates for Tory leadership. What a crew, from the louche liar who is the outright favourite to the ridiculous Rory Stewart. Whatever their differences, their values are shared, and formed through Eton, the army, and screwing the rest of us. Stewart characterised this as restraint abroad and prudence at home. The erstwhile ‘subjects’ of the British empire might regard his view of restraint as rather different from theirs.
But the main problem with the whole bunch is that they seem to think it is perfectly ok for them to elect a leader – chosen by around 100,000 people out of a population of 65 million – who will become prime minister with absolutely no notion of putting this to any kind of wider vote or of taking into account the fact that the Tories only command the support of a small minority of the electorate. The Tory membership is overwhelmingly male, older, wealthy, white, lives in the south of England – totally unrepresentative of the British population.
Let’s consider the facts. The Tories came out of the 2017 election as the biggest single party but without an overall majority. They command such a majority only with the support of the appalling DUP, which cannot form an administration in Northern Ireland and whose loyalty has been bought by huge amounts of largesse that we pay for. The two most recent elections in May showed Tory support plummeting – as a result of the Brexit shambles and of their austerity policies. In any normal circumstances, Theresa May would have resigned months ago given her abject failure to win successive parliamentary votes.
Now we have the race for her successor. What a travesty of democracy it is. It should be obvious a new leader should face a general election, but the Tories and their allies carry on insouciantly – aided massively by the fixed term parliament act, which makes bringing down a government much harder. The media is of course going along with this. We are told the leadership race is to choose the next prime minister, which is not strictly true. It is to find the next Tory leader who then has to command a majority in a hung parliament.
The next leader will be in hock to the Tory right over Brexit, which is now threatening to defect to the Brexit party. The only solution to all this is a general election. In any normal time, this would be the cry on the lips of nearly everyone. But fear of a Corbyn-led Labour government prevents this. We don’t know the outcome of such an election but it is the only democratic way to proceed.
Yet there is also a wider malaise which goes beyond mainstream politics. The poll published in last Sunday’s Observer shows how despondent people in Britain are. People are hurting across society, but much more among working class people who suffer austerity and job insecurity.
‘Class was a clear dividing line; 72% of those from AB social grades felt positive about their personal lives compared with 57% of those from DE households. Similarly, only 54% of those in social grade DE are optimistic about their physical health, compared with 71% of ABs. “The people we elected think we’re too stupid to understand what’s going on, there’s condescension and no respect for us,” said one Remain voter from Leicester’.
One of the ways this can be challenged is maximising the self-activity of working-class people. We desperately need more of the Grenfell demos, the strikes of civil servants and hopefully car workers, the protests over library closures and NHS sell-offs. These different actions raise the profile of issues, build the self-confidence and solidarity of those involved and force the government and vested interests they support onto the back foot. We will need much more of this in the face of a Johnson government.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Time for the big picture - election briefing 19 November
- Fire, floods and emergencies: these are what the election is about - election briefing 18 November
- Immigration: it’s not about statistics, it’s about racism – election briefing 15 November
- Unelected judges deny the right to strike - election briefing 14 November
- Bolivia: whose side are you on? - election briefing 13 November
- The nasty parties unite to stop Corbyn - election briefing 12 November
- The world turned upside down - election briefing 11 November