The anti-war movement is on the front foot, and made its mark at Labour's conference
The Stop the War fringe meeting Why we need an anti-war government at Labour's conference was easily the biggest ever and the mood was electric. The huge turnout meant that the venue was far too small to contain everyone who wanted to attend the meeting, and scores of people had to be turned away because the room was too full. The atmosphere at the meeting reflected the enthusiasm of the attendees to defend Jeremy Corbyn's anti-war politics within the Labour Party.
The meeting covered a broad range of issues. Speakers pointed out how Stop the War’s warnings and views, already stated at the beginning of the “War on Terror”, have been tragically vindicated by the calamitous situation into which the war-makers have pushed the Middle East and the world - with millions in Iraq and elsewhere dead and displaced, while hundreds of refugees from these wars are drowning in the Mediterranean every week, and major new wars are brewing.
A number of speakers, including Unite's chief of staff Andrew Murray, Chris Williamson MP, Stop the War's convenor Lindsey German and the newly elected Labour NEC member Huda Elmi, highlighted the UK’s support for the Saudi aggression in Yemen, including through the selling of arms to the despotic Saudi regime. Over 5 million children are facing starvation in war-torn Yemen. As Huda Elmi remarked, the “War on Terror” is not working and is making life far more dangerous for millions around the world. Furthermore, she pointed out that a principled foreign policy is one of the easier public stands for Labour to make, and that Corbyn’s stance on Yemen is exceedingly popular.
Speakers also observed that Trump's belligerent presidency is creating a more violent and unjust world. The escalation of the wars by Trump and May was discussed, with the UK government recently sending another 1000 UK troops to Afghanistan, while Trump has been increasing the bombing, as well as the number of troops and bases in large parts of the Middle East, and is beating the drums of war over Iran. The UK establishment is keen to retain the role of a junior partner in US-led military interventions.
The vital role of the anti-war movement in changing British foreign policy was emphasised. Andrew Murray remarked that Stop the War is “perhaps the mightiest single tributary to the river that is taking us to an anti-war government”. Huda Elmi stated that "Stop the War is one of the greatest popular movements in British history" and that "millions have marched under its banner against war". Shadow Labour Minister fjonor Justice Richard Burgon MP also remarked on how social movements have led the struggle for social justice and peace. His speech discussed the need for the Labour Party to "be a beacon for peace, hope and reconciliation", in opposition to some Labour MPs who are “unwavering advocates of endless bombing” at the behest of the US. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP noted that anti-war politics are not an “extra” but are central to Jeremy Corbyn’s approach as a Labour leader, and that we need a government that is a force for peace. Stop the War's convenor Lindsey German also stressed that “Britain should be playing the role of peacemakers rather than being the bully of the world”. She also stressed the need to resist the conflation of support for Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism.
Speakers observed that Trump's belligerent presidency is creating a more violent and unjust world. The escalation of the wars by Trump and May was discussed, with the UK government recently sending another 1000 UK troops to Afghanistan, while Trump has been increasing the bombing, as well as the number of troops and bases in large parts of the Middle East, and is beating the drums of war over Iran.
The danger of the rise of the far right was also noted in a number of contributions. Lindsey German pointed out that Islamophobia has been fomented by the wars of the last 17 years, greatly contributing to the rise of the far right which has made life worse rather than fostering social harmony. Diane Abbott MP remarked that Trump's presidency has also supported the rise of racist and authoritarian forces in society.
The discussion from the floor raised a number of related issues, including the counter-productive character of the governments’ “counter-extremism” Prevent programme, which has had the effect of criminalising Muslim communities and turning people away from political engagement on issues related to Palestinian rights and anti-war politics.
Stop the War’s fringe meeting was an excellent initial anti-war intervention in the discussion that is currently taking place within the Labour Party and in wider society around Corbyn’s anti-war and anti-imperialist policies. It is a prelude to a major campaign to bring the anti-war argument into Constituency Labour Parties across the country.
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