Tony Blair, in the name of peace and democracy, go

Tam Dalyell tells us why he agrees with the Linlithgow Constituency Labour Party association motion recommending Tony Blair reconsider his position as leader of the party because of his support for a war against Iraq

April 1, 2003
6 min read

I agree with this motion. I also believe that since Mr Blair is going ahead with his support of a US attack without unambiguous UN authorisation, he should be branded as a war criminal and sent to The Hague.

I have served in the House of Commons as a member of the Labour Party for 41 years, and I would never have dreamed of saying this about any one of my previous leaders. But Blair is a man who has disdain for both the House of Commons and international law. This is a grave thing to say about my party leader. But it is far less serious than the results of a war that could set Western Christendom against Islam.

The overwhelming majority of international lawyers, including several who advise the government (such as Rabinder Singh, a partner in Cherie Booth’s Matrix Chambers and visiting law professor at the London School of Economics), have concluded that Blair’s decision to sanction military action in Iraq without proper UN Security Council authorisation is illegal under international law. The UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith disputes this.

The UN charter outlaws the use of force with only two exceptions: individual or collective self-defence in response to an armed attack, and action authorised by the UN Security Council as a collective response to a threat to peace.

At the moment, there are no grounds for claiming the need to use such force in self-defence. Moreover, the prime minister’s assertion that, in certain circumstances, a vetoed resolution becomes ‘unreasonable’ and may be disregarded has absolutely no basis whatsoever in international law.

The doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence against an attack that might arise at some hypothetical and unforeseeable future time has no basis in international law.

Neither Security Council Resolution 1441, to which Mr Blair constantly refers, nor any prior resolution authorises the use of force in the present circumstances. This puts the prime minister and those who will be fighting in his and president Bush’s name in a vulnerable legal position.

Already lawyers report that they are getting phone calls from anxious members of the armed forces. Blair accuses opponents of war of ‘appeasement’ in spite of the fact that, in many cases, their active opposition to Saddam’s dictatorship well pre-dates his. But if anyone is the ‘appeaser’ it is Blair: in his support for the US government in its long-planned pre-emptive attack on Saddam.

It is clear that the extremists who have hijacked the US government are pursuing plans hatched as long ago as 1991 to gain control over Iraq’s oil reserves and, equally important, to eliminate an obstacle to US-Israeli political dominance over the Middle East.

I am not anti-American. I was a member of the executive of the British-American parliamentary group. I share at one remove four times over a grandmother with former US president Harry S Truman, and I hope to accept the invitation to attend the celebrations to mark the anniversary of Mr Truman’s birthday on 8 May in Independence, Missouri.

But many of us in this country think the fundamentalists now running the White House are using the support of a British Labour prime minister as a fig leaf against their critics and against opposition to war in the US.

It is useful for these people to say to their opponents: ‘But a BritishLabour prime minister supports us.’ If Britain had made it clear months ago that we would not be party to a US attack on Iraq, that the US was acting entirely on its own, I think US public opinion itself might well have stopped this war from ever being contemplated.

Many of us in the Labour Party who are opposed to war believe that Blair has misunderstood the pressing danger. It comes not from Iraq, but from terrorism. If there is a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, it is this: Osama bin Laden hates Saddam Hussein. On at least two occasions bin Laden’s organisation has tried to assassinate Saddam.

The effect of this war, however, could well be to bring the pair together. Far from this being an effective war against terrorism, it is a war that will strengthen terrorism. I don’t think that Mr Blair really understands the horrors of 21st century warfare.

In 1994 I visited Baghdad (all expenses paid by me) and saw the carbonated limbs of women and children who had been impregnated against a wall by the heat of just one cruise missile. In the coming war, we are told that 800 cruise missiles will be launched just to soften up the enemy. We are told that the US intends to use incapacitating bio-chemical and depleted-uranium weapons.

We are also receiving information that the US intends to use war in Iraq as an opportunity to test out a whole range of new weapons: cluster aviation bombs with self-guided munitions and pulse bombs being examples.

The UN was created in response to the indiscriminate horror of modern warfare in the 1940s. The UN’s charter describes its role as saving ‘future generations from the scourge of war’. Surely, that means that all those who claim to uphold the UN charter should pursue peaceful solutions to their limits?

The draft work plans of the UN weapons inspectorate make clear that the inspectors believed they could have made real progress down their non-violent path to disarmament. The Labour Party will not tolerate a leader who takes the country into an avoidable war.

From our archive: Five years on

Five years ago Red Pepper published a number of articles on the Iraq war, we’re reprinting a selection here covering the period March to June 2003

Regime change without war

Those of us who oppose war should not allow ourselves to be seen as defenders of the status quo in the Middle East says Mary Kaldor

No more demockery

We failed to stop the war but another world is still possible writes Hilary Wainwright

The warfare state

Now that the fog of war has lifted David Beetham assess the implications for British democracy


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill