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Joe Bord © 2005

 

 
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[This is the second part of a two-part essay. Click here to return to Part One.]

The party whose official stance comes closest to this is the Liberal Democrats. By comparison, the Labour government’s opinion is that British forces will stay in Iraq ‘until the country is stabilised and the Iraqis themselves are able to take full responsibility for their own security.’ Additionally – and not quite coherently -British troops are at the disposal of the transitional government, and will stay as long as requested. In fact the latter condition gives the government some flexibility. Even if some violence continues, a request to exit could plausibly produce a withdrawal. The reality is that at present there is a confluence of interest between the parties elected in January and the occupation forces. In practice the Iraqi parties want US-British muscle to consolidate the transitional government’s position against the insurgency while the constitution is being sorted out. Once these mechanisms have been negotiated and power-broking deals have resolved fundamental issues (Kirkuk, the secular-religious balance, federalism) there is every reason to expect that the transitional parties will begin to be more critical of the occupation. This will be the moment of truth – probably around the end of 2005. Neo-conservative interests will press for an entrenchment of colonialism in Iraq: the securing of military bases, economic deals etc. The British government has to be ready to signal that Iraqi democracy will have the power of decision.

We should be under no illusion that if Tony Blair is returned with a large majority, this is unlikely to happen. The Blairites would be quite prepared to follow the Bush administration into an indefinite occupation, citing Cyprus and other long-term military commitments. It is rather more difficult to predict how the Conservatives would respond. A Tory patch-up with the White House would see them support an extension of the occupation in the same way as they originally backed the war. On the other hand they could be tempted by the prospect of defeating a third-term Labour government. In any case, there has to be a large enough mass of non-Blairite Labour and Liberal Democrat MP’s to force a constitutional withdrawal.

One hundred and thirty-nine out of four hundred and thirteen Labour MP’s returned at the 2001 general election voted against the war on the 18 March 2003. Of these, fourteen are confirmed as retiring and one, George Galloway, has left the party. The anti-war Labourites are:

Labour rebels against the war:

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington) – fees, nhs, ter.
Graham Allen (Nottingham North) - nhs
John Austin (Erith & Thamesmead) – fees, nhs, terror
Tony Banks (West Ham)
Harry Barnes (Derbyshire North East) – Retiring, fees, nhs, terror
John Battle (Leeds West)
Andrew Bennett (Denton & Reddish) – Retiring, fees, nhs, terror
Joe Benton (Bootle)
Dr Roger Berry (Kingswood) – fees, nhs
Harold Best (Leeds North West) – Retiring, fees, terror
Bob Blizzard (Waveney)
Keith Bradley (Manchester Withington)
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West)
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park & Kensington North)
Richard Burden (Birmingham Northfield) - terror
Ms Anne Campbell (Cambridge) - terror
Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
Martin Caton (Gower) - fees
David Chaytor (Bury North)
Michael Clapham (Barnsley West & Penistone) – fees, nhs
Mrs Helen Clark (Peterborough) - fees
Tom Clarke (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Tony Clarke (Northampton South)
Harry Cohen (Leyton & Wanstead) – fees, terror
Iain Coleman (Hammersmith & Fulham) - nhs
Michael Connarty (Falkirk East) – fees, nhs
Frank Cook (Stockton North) - terror
Robin Cook (Livingston) - terror
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) – fees, nhs, terror
Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) – fees, terror
Tom Cox (Tooting) – Retiring, nhs
David Crausby (Bolton North East) - fees
Ms Ann Cryer (Keighley) - nhs
John Cryer (Hornchurch) - fees
Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) – Retiring, fees, terror
Ms Valerie Davey (Bristol West) - terror
Ian Davidson (Glasgow Pollok) – fees, nhs
Denzil Davies (Llanelli) – Retiring, fees
Terry Davis (Birmingham Hodge Hill)
Hilton Dawson (Lancaster & Wyre) - Retiring
John Denham (Southampton Itchen)
Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester)
Jim Dobbin (Heywood & Middleton) – fees, nhs
Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras) – fees, nhs, terror
Frank Doran (Aberdeen Central)
David Drew (Stroud)
Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
Clive Efford (Eltham) - nhs
Bill Etherington (Sunderland North) - fees
Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent Central) – fees, nhs, terror
Paul Flynn (Newport West) – fees, terror
Hywel Francis (Aberavon)
George Galloway (Glasgow Kelvin) - Left
Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) – fees, nhs, terror
Dr Ian Gibson (Norwich North) – fees, terror
Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath) - fees
Win Griffiths (Bridgend) – Retiring, fees, terror
John Grogan (Selby) – fees, terror
Patrick Hall (Bedford)
David Hamilton (Midlothian) - terror
Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East)
Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) – fees, nhs, terror
Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North) – fees, nhs
Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow)
David Heyes (Ashton under Lyne) – nhs, terror
David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) – Retiring, nhs
Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) – fees, terror
Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) – fees, nhs, terror
Ms Joan Humble (Blackpool North & Fleetwood) - fees
Dr Brian Iddon (Bolton South East)
Eric Illsley (Barnsley Central) – fees, nhs
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead & Highgate) – fees, nhs, terror
Ms Helen Jackson (Sheffield Hillsborough)
Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff Central) - fees
Dr Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak) – fees, nhs, terror
Martyn Jones (Clwyd South)
David Kidney (Stafford)
Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool Walton) – fees, nhs
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North & Leith)
David Lepper (Brighton Pavilion)
Terry Lewis (Worsley) – Retiring, fees, nhs
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) - fees
Iain Luke (Dundee East) - fees
John Lyons (Strathkelvin & Bearsden)
Mrs Christine McCafferty (Calder Valley) - fees
John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington) – fees, nhs, terror
Ms Ann McKechin (Glasgow Maryhill)
Kevin McNamara (Hull North) – Retiring, fees, terror
Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)
Ms Alice Mahon (Halifax) – Retiring, fees, nhs, terror
Jim Marshall (Leicester South) – fees, nhs
Robert Marshall-Andrews (Medway) – fees, nhs, terror
Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff North) - fees
Chris Mullin (Sunderland South)
Denis Murphy (Wansbeck)
Doug Naysmith (Bristol North West) – nhs, terror
Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley South)
Ms Diana Organ (Forest of Dean) - Retiring
Albert Owen (Ynys Mon) - fees
Ms Linda Perham (Ilford North) - nhs
Peter Pike (Burnley) - Retiring
Kerry Pollard (St Albans) - terror
Gordon Prentice (Pendle) – fees, nhs
Gwyn Prosser (Dover) - nhs
Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton North East) - nhs
John Robertson (Glasgow Anniesland)
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham Deptford)
Martin Salter (Reading West)
Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow Govan)
Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen North) – Retiring, nhs, terror
Philip Sawford (Kettering)
Brian Sedgemore (Hackney South) – Retiring, fees, nhs, terror
Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)
Alan Simpson (Nottingham South) – fees, nhs, terror
Marsha Singh (Bradford West)
Chris Smith (Islington South & Finsbury) – Retiring, terror
Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent) – Retiring, fees, nhs, terror
George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent South) - nhs
Dr Gavin Strang (Edinburgh East & Musselburgh) - fees
Graham Stringer (Manchester Blackley)
David Taylor (Leicestershire North West) – nhs, terror
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) – fees, terror
Paul Truswell (Pudsey) - nhs
Dr Desmond Turner (Brighton Kemptown) – fees, nhs, terror
Bill Tynan (Hamilton South) - Retiring
Rudi Vis (Finchley & Golders Green) - fees
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) - nhs
Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby) – fees, nhs, terror
Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton Test)
Alan Williams (Swansea West) - terror
Mrs Betty Williams (Conwy)
Mike Wood (Batley & Spen) – fees, nhs, terror
Tony Worthington (Clydebank & Milngavie) - Retiring
David Wright (Telford)
Dr Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne & Sheppey) - terror

The 124 anti-war Labour MPs who will be standing in the general election number more than twice the Liberal Democrat party in the Commons (currently at 55). Clearly, this is a diverse group of people. Yet it is striking that a substantial overlap exists between this group and the rebel list in other big Commons revolts. Thus, 72 Labour members voted against the government on tuition fees in January 2004 and 59 of these had also cast their names against the war. The overlap list is superimposed for ease of reference, and it can be seen that 48 such double-voters are standing in the general election. A variable geometry of revolt, taking the anti-war list as its basis, reveals a fluctuating but definite internal opposition to the Blairite leadership in critical divisions. Plausible samples are taken to be top-up tuition fees (72 rebels), foundation hospitals in May 2003 (65 rebels, 48 overlaps labelled ‘NHS’ on the key list, 39 standing again), and the recent prevention of terrorism bill in March 2005 (60, of whom 46 overlaps termed ‘terror’, 35 standing again). This method of comparison is only approximate because it does not catch MPs like Gwyneth Dunwoody who have repeatedly rebelled in divisions apart from the war. Nor does it count the abstentions that MP’s often use to convey disapproval. Still, analysis reveals seventy Labour members of Parliament excluding retirees who have opposed the war and at least one other controversial government measure in the current parliament. Thirty-six such Labourites have opposed the government on three out of the four surveyed issues. Sixteen demonstrated absolutely consistent opposition, again excluding those intending to leave the House.

This internal opposition is comparable in size to the Liberal Democrats, and frequently more extensive. The sheer weight of the overall Labour majority has masked its significance. The internal opposition does not have a figurehead or a formalised ideology. It is roughly concentrated around the twenty-seven members of the Parliamentary Labour Party Socialist Campaign Group. However, it goes a considerable distance beyond this club to take in frequent rebels such as Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson. The internal opposition has had some tangible successes: for example, improving the conditions under which the maintenance grant is to be reintroduced under the higher education act. Plainly, critics who have thrown up their hands at Blairite capture of the internal machinery of the party have underestimated the continuing importance of the Commons. Another way of putting this is to say that the balance within the Labour party in the House of Commons after the election will be every bit as important as the balance between the parties. The very fact that Blairism has neutered Conference and the so-called policy forums means that Blairite dominance over them is of limited relevance. The real brake to a Blairised Britain lies within the PLP and the informal networks of activists and trade unionists supporting socialist parliamentarianism.

   
   
   

 

 
   
         

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