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Brent East’s Choice

Yasmin Qureshi

This is the text of a leaflet produced by Brent East Labour Party for the Brent Stop the War hustings on 26 April 2005. The LibDem candidate Sarah Teather, who had won the seat at a by-election in 2003, succeeded in retaining it on 5 May – at least partly on the basis of a protest vote against the Iraq war. As elsewhere, a section of the electorate sought to "punish Blair" by voting against a principled Labour opponent of the war and, instead, for a supporter of the LibDems’ at best equivocal line on Iraq. It might be noted that Moshé Machover (‘Thinking About Voting’) advocated a vote for Teather.

I WELCOME the opportunity of this Brent Stop The War meeting (26 April) to set out my views on the international situation.

I protested against the war and I marched against the occupation of Iraq, including on the recent demonstration on March 19. But at the election, protest is not enough. It is also necessary to be clear about the international context in which we find ourselves and to work out what strategy the anti-war movement should have.

The world is a much more dangerous place as a result of the USA’s unchallenged military domination. In their drive to retain the USA’s global economic dominance, the neo-cons in Washington are increasingly prepared to resort to military means to guarantee US control of access to the world’s resources. This is particularly the case in the Middle East, with its significant oil reserves.

As a consequence of this drive to maintain the superiority of the US economy, which involves confrontation with many predominantly Muslim countries, a racist view of Muslims and their religion is being promoted almost as a new cold war – the so-called "Clash of Civilisations".

This is the international context in which anti-war voters will cast their votes and determines what kind of position the Member of Parliament for Brent East should take on these matters. It means that we need a new MP in Brent East who will participate in the peace movement and be prepared to challenge Washington’s global agenda.

I have taken the view that the war is a sufficiently important issue that I would state my position on the war publicly and clearly and in a very large proportion of my election literature, including my very first leaflet following my selection as the Labour candidate, and this week with the latest Brent East Labour newspaper.

I have put this position into practice locally, addressing a public meeting against the occupation of Iraq organised by Brent East Labour Party, which was addressed by the Palestinian representative in Britain, Afif Safieh, the Chair of CND, Kate Hudson, and Ken Livingstone amongst others.

No more wars
Dealing with the Iraq war means continuing to build the strongest movement for peace and international justice.

We need to continue to push for the withdrawal of British and American troops; to ensure that anti-war opinion is sufficiently strong that it is impossible for Britain to participate in any ftirther military adventures proposed by George W Bush such as in Syria, Iran, or Cuba; and to confront the racism manifesting itself as Islamophobia that is being poured out against Muslims, portraying Islam as a uniquely evil and backward religion. We need to place at the centre of any movement for peace the need for justice for the Palestinians including Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

LibDem record
The LibDems seek to portray themselves as antiwar but they in fact supported the war from the day it started and backed both the occupation of Iraq and the deployment of more troops.

At the invitation of the anti-war movement Charles Kennedy spoke at the million-strong anti-war march on 15 February 2003, but he failed to use this platform to make a coherent case against the war, merely stating: "I have yet to be persuaded that the case for war against Iraq has been made."

The LibDems failed to set out the central reason for the war, which was and remains the strategic control of the Middle East’s resources including oil. In his book So Now Who Do We Vote For? writer John Harris asked Charles Kennedy if he agreed with Senator John Kerry that the war was a war for oil. Kennedy replied:

"Well, I wasn’t ... I didn’t think that this war was prosecuted on the basis of oil, although there may well have been ... erm ... er ... interests involved in that [sarcastic laughter]... I think the fundamental factor was much more as George Bush put it at the time, you know, that this was a case of... well, it was all wrapped up in everything post-September 11, everything going back to his father’s presidency of the United States, really, in many ways. And therefore focusing on just the oil issue or making that the principal issue ... although a lot of people were persuaded by that, I wasn’t sufficiently persuaded by that bit of the argument myself, at the time."

In the 2003 by-election the LibDems told Brent East residents to vote for them to protest against the war but six days after the by-election the LibDem front-bench spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Menzies Campbell, addressed the LibDem annual conference and backed sending more troops to Iraq, arguing: "I understand the concern that many people feel about the deployment of more UK troops but when the commanders on the ground ask for additional resources it is neither realistic nor fair to ask them to fulfil tasks for which they consider their present resources inadequate." [Speech to LibDem conference, 24/9/03]

This was a betrayal of the people who used their vote to protest against the war.

The LibDems have absented themselves from the peace movement since the invasion began.

The LibDem MP for Brent East has fully backed her party’s position of support for the occupation of Iraq and the deployment of more troops. She has not attended any of the national demonstrations calling for an end to the occupation. She has misled local people by claiming in her MP’s report-back to Brent East residents that she voted in Parliament against "further troop deployments in Iraq".

The only possible occasion that she can be referring to was a parliamentary debate on 17 May 2004 when she voted for a Lib Dem motion, which, far from opposing more troops, stated that more troops could be sent if "requested by United Kingdom commanders in Iraq". The resolution also stated that "any such [additional] troops should remain under United Kingdom operational command and within the area currently under United Kingdom control".

So the LibDem MP for Brent East actually voted for a motion that set out the terms for sending more troops, and voted for the continuing occupation of Iraq.

During the Parliamentary debate, LibDem Menzies Campbell elaborated on the motion, arguing that a "phased withdrawal" of UK troops should only take place after "an Iraqi Government have been democratically elected", thus ruling out any other interim arrangements.

It is simply is not an anti-war position to back a war once it has started.

Anti-war campaigners did not stop opposing the war in Vietnam once the war had started. They stepped up their efforts. Peace campaigners did not stop marching against nuclear weapons once Reagan and Thatcher had built the nuclear weapons bases. Internationalists have not given up their opposition to the blockade on Cuba just because it is still in place.

I have taken a clear position against the war, opposing the deployment of further troops and opposing the occupation. Unlike the LibDems I opposed the war both before and after it started.

The LibDem candidate for London mayor Simon Hughes sought votes by arguing that a vote for Ken Livingstone was a vote for "Blair’s mayor" and a vote for the war: Londoners disagreed. Indeed, if Hughes is to be taken at his word then he surely believes that Ken Livingstone’s re-election last year was a vote in favour of the war – which is patently absurd. In the mayoral election 47 per cent of Brent East residents voted for Ken Livingstone compared to 19 per cent for Simon Hughes. A vote for Livingstone was not a vote for the war. Nor is a vote for me. On the contrary anti-war voters should vote Labour in Brent East to strengthen the peace movement by positively voting for an MP who will actively work for peace and international justice, as opposed to the opportunism and half-heartedness of the LibDems.

The balance sheet of the opposition to the Iraq war is that Labour MPs formed the largest bloc of opinion within Parliament against the war whereas LibDem MPs backed the war as soon as it began. LibDem. leader Charles Kennedy met with George W Bush during his state visit whereas the Labour mayor of London organised an alternative "peace reception" to protest against Bush’s policies. Labour Party members such as Ken Livingstone and Tony Benn – who back my candidature in Brent East – played prominent roles in opposition to the war.

Labour’s roots in the labour movement and working class communities explains why so many internationalists are members of the party. These politics are a better choice for Brent East than those of the LibDems.

What kind of anti-war vote?
Over the last 18 months Brent East’s MP has backed her party’s support for the occupation of Iraq and the deployment of further troops. She has also misrepresented this position to the voters.

My election is backed by prominent anti-war campaigners such as Ken Livingstone, Tony Benn, Diane Abbott and Robin Cook. The Muslim Association of Britain, which co-organised the million-strong anti-war march, and supported Sarah Teather during the by-election, has this time endorsed my candidacy, stating my consistent opposition to the war as a major factor in their decision to endorse me.

Supporting my election will further strengthen the body of opinion in Parliament and within the Labour Party that will speak with a consistent voice for peace and international justice. Given the international context in which we now live the choice could not be clearer.