The crucial events that led to the occupation of Iraq by the US and Britain are now classified, proven and documented. Blair and his New Labour cohorts, backed by their Conservative allies, lied without shame in order to drag a reluctant country to war. A dung heap of ëfactsí was manufactured by Alastair Campbell and hurled at the media. Those who questioned the justification for war were traduced and harassed. The million and a half who marched to try and prevent the war were ignored. Iraq was occupied. Despite the rushed and half-baked elections there, a savage chaos still grips the country.
The cost of the Iraqi adventure has been heavy. In October a team of medical investigators sent by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore reported that, up until then, more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died because of the invasion. Torture, encouraged from above, became a fact of everyday life. Perhaps some good liberal apologist for Blair will soon explain how democratic torture is much nicer than authoritarian torture. Perhaps the belligerati could take this further. Ian McEwanís next novel could sensitively depict the dilemmas of a liberal torturer faced with the barbaric Orient. Why not? We live, after all, in a world where illusions are sacred and truth profane.
Meanwhile, as some Members of Parliament (all non-Labour) contemplate impeaching Blair for lying and other misdemeanors, a general election draws near in Britain. What are we going to do? If Blair wins this election (as appears likely) he will claim, like Bush, that the country supports him in these difficult times. It is for this reason that all those who opposed the war must think carefully before they cast their votes. Abstention is not a serious option. The aim should be to return an anti-war majority to the House of Commons. This requires tactical/intelligent voting in every constituency.
Normally, people vote to assert their political sympathies. But this is not a normal general election. It will be the first opportunity to punish the warmongers. Given the undemocratic voting system, votes cast for the Greens, Respect and others will have nil impact, with the possible exception of Tower Hamlets, where George Galloway confronts the pro-war Oona King. It is possible that in some constituencies the Green/Respect vote could ensure the return of a warmonger, as has happened in certain by-elections. So why not treat this election as special and take the politics of the broad anti-war front into the electoral arena? Vote Lib Dem. If the result is a hung parliament or a tiny Blair majority it will be seen as a victory for our side.
Blair has led this country into more wars than Thatcher and Major combined. He is responsible for more deaths, and that with fewer popular votes to back him. In 1992, the year Neil Kinnock was defeated by John Major, the Labour vote was 11.5 million. In 2001 New Labourís indecent majority was based on a popular vote of 10.7 million. Turnout had dropped from 71 per cent in 1997 to 59 per cent in 2001. Gordon Brown provided a hallucinatory explanation: people were so relaxed and happy under New Labour that they couldnít be bothered to vote. Psephology beckons, Gordon. In reality, it was the collapse of the Tories that distorted the results. New Labourís massive majorities have been based on mass abstentions and a blatantly undemocratic electoral system.
New Labour’s redistribution of wealth has favoured the wealthy. The assault on civil liberties mounted by Blair, Blunkett and Clarke is far more serious than the appalling internment without trial that Edward Heath instituted in Ireland.
So, in constituencies where there are MPs belonging to the anti-war faction, we should vote for them ñ despite disagreements on many other issues. In the warmonger constituencies we should vote tactically. I intend to do so. In my north London constituency the MP is Barbara Roche: pro-war and pro everything else this wretched government has done. I donít simply want to vote against her. I want her to be defeated. That is why I will vote Lib Dem.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X and the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, Verso is publishing an updated edition of Streetfighting Years, Tariq Ali’s memoir of the 1960s