The argument about the significance of the 15 February 2003 anti-war march in London has been going on ever since – and got serious again with a flurry of polemics to mark the 10th anniversary earlier this year.
Peace News journalist Ian Sinclair’s oral history is part of that argument. The very fact that he spent years producing this book shows that he thinks the demo was very important, a point he makes explicit in his introduction.
He has put in an impressive amount of work – more than 70 face-to-face interviews, dozens of email exchanges and a trawl through the clippings – and The March That Shook Blair provides fascinating insights into the thinking of a lot of the key people in the anti-war camp. This includes several who are critical of the role of the Socialist Workers Party in the Stop the War Coalition, which organised the giant march. Future historians of the British left will mine this book shamelessly.
It isn’t perfect. It could have given more space to demonstrators who were neither involved in the organisation of the march nor old hands in the peace movement and the left. The left pro-war argument gets a look-in only through reproduction of old clippings. And there’s no room at all for waverers or people who fell out with Stop the War (of whom there are quite a few).
There could also be more to contextualise the anti-war movement of 2002–5. Yes, it was primarily a reaction to the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ after 9/11 and Tony Blair’s support for it – but that’s not the whole story. Most of the key players interviewed by Sinclair had been around for ages before, but few talk about their previous formative experiences – the collapse of the Communist Party and the Labour left and marginalisation of CND in the late 1980s, the 1990–1 Kuwait war, the giant left bust-ups over Bosnia and Kosovo, the Socialist Alliance.
All the same, this is an important document of political and social history. It deserves to be widely read – even if it’s not the last word.