Corbyn’s chimes of freedom give hope beyond the Blairite lies

blair

YOU usually only get the true measure of a person when you meet them face to face.

And so it was for me when I first interviewed erstwhile Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, soon after his election victory in 1997.

I had briefly met Mr Blair two years earlier in Glasgow while he was celebrating Labour’s landslide wins in the local council elections. He was triumphant, beaming and pressing flesh in every direction. The Scottish faithful loved him.

I had helped elect him and his Labour Government on 1 May 1997, thus ending 18 years of Thatcherism and Majorism and the class-ridden Tory ruination of our country.

Like millions of others I was now hopeful for a brighter and more socially equal future… after all, things could only get better!

So when, in early December I was asked by my news editor at the Sunday Sun (a North of England Sunday tabloid, not to be confused with the poisonous rag the Sun on Sunday!) if I would like to interview the new Prime Minister on his return to his Sedgefield constituency, I jumped at the chance.

On a sunny Saturday morning, armed with a hand-held tape recorder and full of questions, I made my way to the Labour Club at Trimdon in County Durham.

The club was full with the local faithful and many more had gathered outside. Here was the return of the conquering hero.

Looking tall in a dark suit, white shirt and equally dark blue tie, Mr Blair addressed the audience inside the club about his hopes and plans for a New Labour Britain.

It was typical political rhetoric, the type I had heard many times from other party leaders. But Blair was convincing and comfortable in the knowledge that he was among friends.

He finished to a standing ovation and began to mingle with party activists.

I approached his agent John Burton and requested a few minutes of the PM’s time for an interview which I could guarantee we would run the next day.

Ten minutes later John tapped me on the shoulder and told me Mr Blair was ready for ‘a chat’.

So I faced our new leader, introduced myself and asked him about his proposed cuts in benefits to lone parents. He noticeably winced at this first question, and in words which would not be alien to David Cameron, he said: “I think most people understand that we have got to reform the system. Because if you are spending more on benefits than you are on schools, hospitals and law and order put together, there is a problem.”

Asked if stalwarts in his constituency shared many fellow Labour MPs’ fears over benefit cuts, he became slightly more agitated.

He said: “Look, I have always said that whenever you are doing change then it is always difficult to begin with. We have got to make these reforms and I think people will accept them as changes we have to make.”

Then in words which could have come straight from Conservative Central Office he gave a stark indication that the disabled and sick would be the next to face an overhaul of their benefits.

“We spend more on disabled and incapacity benefits than we do on the entire school system in the UK,” he told me, before adding: “Benefit fraud – estimated at £4 to £5 billion a year – is enough to build 100 large hospitals.

“If we achieve these reforms then it will be a magnificent legacy that the New Labour Government has left us in a new millennium.”

We talked for another ten minutes before the Prime Minister moved away to the safety of his constituency friends.

This was my political watershed.

Personally I felt my interview with Mr Blair was enlightening for many reasons.

Primarily because during the course of the conversation, Mr Blair avoided any eye contact and instead looked right through me, as if reading from an auto cue.

Secondly, because these were not the words, or message to the poorest in our society, that I was expecting from a new Labour Prime Minister. A Prime Minister charged with turning back almost two decades of Conservative pillage and division.

And finally, when all else failed, Mr Blair seemed to rely on cheap soundbites and a pre-learned script.

There was not one ounce of sincerity in anything he said.

He had lost me!

And over the next four years, the actions and policies of Mr Blair’s New Labour government confirmed my worst fears.

While I still voted Labour in the June 2001 General Election, I had lost all confidence in this light blue successor to Thatcher or any dreams of a more equitable Britain.

The events of post 9/11, Mr Blair’s unswerving support of the moronic George W Bush, the illegal invasion of Afghanistan and the lies over the justification for war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, finally nailed it.

I felt that like many, I had been caught in a web of lies and propaganda and lost in a smokescreen of rhetoric and deceit.

The poor were poorer, the rich got richer, and the innocent victims of Blair’s wars lay charred and dead.

So by 2005, for the first time in my life I did NOT vote for any party or political leader.

Under Thatcher, Major, Blair and Cameron our country had been sleep walking into a world of personal greed, arrogance and self-importance with totems such as The X Factor, Top Gear, designer clothes labels and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Human kindness, gentleness, peace, society and social justice were jettisoned for a winner takes all mentality and a scapegoating of the homeless, those claiming benefits, Muslims, asylum seekers and the poor in general.

All of this was underpinned by our malicious gutter press who daily smeared and pilloried anyone who dared question the status quo or suggest alternatives.

And the Labour Party, which should have been standing and campaigning for a more just society crumpled into a Tory Lite modelled in the image of war monger Tony Blair.

Following Cameron’s election victory in May 2105 I published a lengthy report stating that the Left “must begin now to unify around a leader or leadership we can all trust, organise and start the fightback, or we wave farewell to any hope for a fairer and better future.”

Deep inside I cried a million tears as I thought it was a vain hope.

Then something dramatic, wonderful and unexpected happened.

Last September’s landslide election of Jeremy Corbyn as the first truly socialist leader of the Labour Party since Clement Atlee was a pivotal moment in British politics.

And profound moment for me personally.

Two months ago I re-joined the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn’s messages of justice, care, peace and equality caught the hearts and minds of millions and a world away from the capitalist greed of Tony Blair and his minions.

The world was turning again and people became engaged with their own future and the power that collectively we can wage for a better tomorrow.

Now as Jeremy Corbyn is under daily assault from those same minions and their friends in the media, we must dig deep and ensure his re-election as leader on 24 September.

#Together4Corbyn

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind An’ the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales For the disrobed faceless forms of no position Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts All down in taken-for-granted situations Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

(Bob Dylan, 1964)

 

 

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The right wing incontinence of the Progress plotters

IT is more than 30 years since former Labour leader Neil Kinnock began his attack on Militant – as a left wing ‘Party within a Party’ seeking to undermine core Labour values.

Within six years Militant had been proscribed by Mr Kinnock and banned from ever being part of the Labour Party.

Now in 2016, his son Stephen Kinnock is part of a sinister group known as Progress – a right wing ‘Party within a Party’.

More sinister and undermining than Militant ever was.

And Mr Kinnock Junior is now talking openly about a right wing breakaway from the Labour Party – working title: Continuity Labour (or should it be Incontinence Labour?) if Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected Leader in September.

Progress is the Blairite power behind the core group of MPs plotting, since last year, to oust Mr Corbyn.

Progress runs on £260,000-a-year funding from Lord Sainsbury.

He used to fund the Labour Party, giving over £6.3 million between 2005 and 2010. But he stopped funding Labour when Ed Miliband got elected. Angry at Miliband’s shuffle to the left, Sainsbury went on a rich man’s strike.

But he didn’t just take his money and go home. Instead of funding Labour, he funds Progress, whose job is to keep Labour right wing and Blairite. Its income since 2010 is about £1.5 million.

Progress, through its website, its weekend school, its meetings at Labour’s conference and its activist network push the candidates and policies Sainsbury likes.

Tristram Hunt is a particular Sainsbury favourite — he was Lord Sainsbury’s personal spokesman before he became a Labour MP.

Hunt was working for Sainsbury when Progress was formed out of the money left over from the original campaign to make Tony Blair leader of the party.

Sainsbury originally got Derek Draper to run Progress.

He soon disgraced himself and Labour by claiming he could get influence with the New Labour government for corporate lobbyists.

Despite this early link to a lobbying scandal, Progress still relies on money and contacts from lobbyists, alongside Sainsbury’s cash. In fairness, Progress is more open about its income than it used to be. Its website advises that in 2014 it relied on money and support from Bellenden Public Affairs, a lobbying firm that represents privatisers like Serco and NHS outsourcer Care UK.

Progress also took money from Lexington, another lobbying firm whose clients include Interserve, another major privatiser, and the “Giant Vampire Squid” of banking, Goldman Sachs. The City of London Corporation put some cash into the Progress operation as well.

Progress is deeply committed to pro-privatisation and pro-corporate policies. It has also campaigned to reduce trade union influence in the Labour Party.

During last year’s Labour leadership election Progress supported Liz Kendall for Labour leader and Tessa Jowell for mayor of London.

Progress could not pick a candidate for deputy leader — which shows how deeply Progress is embedded in the parliamentary party. The three deputy leader candidates — Caroline Flint, Ben Bradshaw and Stella Creasy — are all Progress members, so they couldn’t choose which one to back.

Progress’s attempts to shift the party towards privatisation and other business-friendly policies favoured by their funders aren’t hard to find.

But they don’t get reported that much because most national journalists both rely on Progress members for their stories and agree with their Blairite arguments.

Only now are people waking up to the sinister nature of Progress’s coup attempt to unseat Jeremy Corbyn.

Paul Flynn MP (Newport) condemned the plotters as:

“Orchestrated treachery. Resignations on the hour by the future Blair Tribute Party. Self-indulgent party games as steel jobs are in new peril.”

Even former SNP leader Alex Salmond – a politician I know personally and someone steeped in honesty – called out the Progress plotters.

The mass resignation of senior Labour MPs over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is a “disgusting, organised coup”, he said.

But their plotting has been an open secret.

An article in the Telegraph dated the 16 June detailed that the Progress led

“Labour rebels hope to topple Jeremy Corbyn in 24-hour blitz after EU referendum.”

Further evidence that these Labour MPs have been plotting against Mr Corbyn and would have assailed his leadership regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell described the MPs in Progress as a “narrow right-wing clique”, “conservative” and “hard right”.

“They all come from a sort of a narrow right-wing clique within the Labour Party based around the Progress organisation,” he said.

“I don’t think they’ve really ever accepted Jeremy’s mandate. I’m afraid they have to recognise that Jeremy got elected with the largest mandate of any political leader from any political party in our history.

“I’m afraid they haven’t respected that leadership election result.”

In 2012 the GMB openly accused Progress of being a “party within a party”.

It unsuccessfully submitted a resolution to Labour’s annual conference in September that year to try to “outlaw” the group.

The Labour Party said it would consider the GMB motion but stressed that it was “not in the business of excluding people”. A cruel irony considering what it is now doing to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.

“We are a party that is reaching out to people, gaining new supporters and offering real change for the country in these tough times. The Labour Party is a broad church and we are not in the business of excluding people,” said a party spokesman at the time.

The GMB expressed concerns that Progress was operating to undermine the party, accusing it of attempting to sabotage Labour’s London mayoral campaign.

A motion passed at the union’s congress in 2012 accused “prominent members” of Progress briefing against Ed Miliband and said was responsible for persuading Labour’s front bench “to support cuts and wage restraint”.

It went on to say: “Congress notes that Progress advances the strategy of accepting the Tory arguments for public spending cuts.

“Congress believes that such factional campaigns to undermine Labour candidates, and to soften opposition to Tory policies, endanger the unity of the party and the movement in our fight against the coalition government.”

Progress hit back claiming there was “no evidence whatsoever” of its members briefing against the Labour leader, and that any attempt to suggest it had not backed Ken Livingstone for London mayor was “uncomradely”.

Detailed research carried out by Walking The Breadline adds more detail to just who is who within Progress:

Progress is chaired by Alison McGovern. Its vice-chairs are fellow Labour MPs Jenny Chapman, Stephen Doughty, Julie Elliott, Tristram Hunt, Dan Jarvis, Liz Kendall, Seema Malhotra, Toby Perkins, Lucy Powell, Steve Reed, Jonathan Reynolds and Nick Smith. Its honorary president is former Minister Stephen Twigg.

Progress is constituted as a private company limited by guarantee, with a legal board of directors in 2012 consisting of Jennifer Gerber, Jonathan Mendelsohn, Robert Philpot and Stephen Twigg.

Prior to 2015, Progress was chaired by John Woodcock – the same MP who viciously attacked Jeremy Corbyn during the Trident debate last week.

Prior to 2012, Progress was chaired by MP and former Minister Stephen Twigg, and the honorary president was Alan Milburn, the former Secretary of State for Health. Jonathan Mendelsohn was its treasurer.

Current members of the Progress strategy board include: Baroness King of Bow, Gloria De Piero MP, Nick Smith MP, Phil Wilson MP, Cllr Florence Nosegbe (Lambeth), Cllr Claire Reynolds (Tameside), Cllr Rachel Hodson (Doncaster), Cllr Paul Brant (Liverpool) Cllr Mandy Telford (Cumbria), Hopi Sen, Joan Ryan and Joe Mann.

Since its inception Progress has had a number of operational directors: Derek Draper (former aide to Peter Mandelson), Darren Murphy (former Special Adviser), Patrick Diamond (former Special Adviser), Jennifer Gerber, Jessica Asato (acting director), Richard Angell (acting director), Robert Philpot (retired October 2014) and Richard Angell.

Progress donations and sponsorship since 2001:

Lord Sainsbury – £2,022,500

Lord Montague (trust) – £875,500

Pfizer/Pharmacia – £52,287.50 (Owen Smith’s former employer)

Sir Frank Lowe – £49,999.98

Lord Bhattacharyya – £20,000

John Mendelsohn – £10,000

Sovereign Strategy – £12,000

Network Rail Infrastructure – £5,875

Total donations – £3,059,673.16

It is also worth noting that Conor McGinn MP who alleged bullying against Jeremy Corbyn might have overlooked mentioning this fact.

Kate is Chair of the Young Fabians, the under-31s section of the Fabian Society and Political Adviser to leadership contender Owen Smith MP.

Seema Malhotra who last week accused aides of Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell of violating her security and effectively breaking into her office after her resignation, is also a member of Progress, as is Ruth Smeeth who accused Mr Corbyn of  anti-semitism three weeks ago.

To sum up, these right wing Blairite plotters, who undermine democracy at every turn, must now be put on notice: We are watching you, have noted your actions and your time as a Labour MP is numbered:

  • Alan Johnson (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle)
  • Alison McGovern (Wirral South)
  • Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
  • Ann Coffey (Stockport)
  • Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)
  • Caroline Flint (Don Valley)
  • Chris Leslie (Nottingham East)
  • Chuka Umunna (Streatham)
  • Conor McGinn (St Helens North)
  • Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central)
  • Frank Field (Birkenhead)
  • Gloria de Piero (Ashfield)
  • Hilary Benn (Leeds Central)
  • Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East)
  • Jamie Reed (Copeland)
  • Jenny Chapman (Darlington)
  • Jess Phillips (Birmingham Yardley)
  • John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness)
  • Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge)
  • Julie Elliot (Sunderland Central)
  • Keir Starmer (Holborn & St Pancras)
  • Kevan Jones (North Durham)
  • Liam Byrne (Birmingham Hodge Hill)
  • Liz Kendall (Leicester West)
  • Lucy Powell (Manchester Central)
  • Margaret Hodge (Barking)
  • Maria Eagle (Garston)
  • Michael Dugher (Barnsley East)
  • Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
  • Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East)
  • Phil Wilson (Sedgefield)
  • Ruth Smeeth (Stoke on Trent North)
  • Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston)
  • Stella Creasy (Walthamstow)
  • Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South)
  • Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon)
  • Stephen Twigg (West Derby)
  • Steve Reed (Croydon North)
  • Toby Perkins (Chesterfield)
  • Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central)
  •  

Bombing Syria and Killing Innocence – Now is the Time to Stand Up and Be Counted

Blog pic War

AS Parliament prepares to debate air strikes in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron will assure the Commons that such bombings are unlikely to lead to civilian casualties while he makes the case for immediate military intervention.

Who is he trying to kid?

Over the past few days Tory defence spokesmen have argued that British missiles are now so sophisticated that they don’t cause many civilian casualties as “collateral damage”.

What a sinister phrase that is – it is lawyer’s language for saying where hundreds of innocents would have been killed previously, now it is merely a few dozen.

But we already know the US led air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians up to August this year. An estimated 460 further deaths have occurred since then.

So as a socialist and card carrying member of the Labour Party I ask why our official parliamentary opposition is suddenly not on the side of innocent people and humanity?

Twelve years ago, many Labour MPs disgracefully marched into the lobbies side by side with Iain Duncan Smith’s Tories to vote for an illegal war in Iraq.

Jeremy Corbyn and 138 other Labour MPs stood up for the membership of the Party and voted against them.

The war proved to be an absolute disaster for Iraq, for Britain and for The Labour Party and has forever tainted Tony Blair as a war criminal.

But now it seems some Labour MPs – including many in the Shadow Cabinet – are going to repeat their mistakes and vote with David Cameron to bomb Syria?

Do they have such scant regard for peoples’ lives.

As George Galloway wrote this morning: “The price will now be paid in Syrian blood, and not only their blood.”

And turning on the pro war members of the Labour Shadow Cabinet, he added: “No shadow cabinet members position is worth the bones of a single Syrian civilian or the blood of a single British serviceman or woman, or the lives of a single member of the public here in Britain.”

There appears to be something about launching bombs or missiles from afar onto cities and people that appeals to our military and political leaders.

Our leaders are careful to distinguish between the explosives we drop from the sky and “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD), which only the officially-designated enemies are depraved enough to use.

Our government speaks alarmingly of WMD, defining them as nuclear, chemical and biological in nature, and “indiscriminate” (meaning their use can’t be limited to military objectives) which they now spuriously claim ISIS is seeking, as opposed to the likes of US and British “precision” cruise missiles.

This is alarming, given the well-known extensive damage to non-military targets, including numerous residences, schools and hospitals, even from “smart” bombs, in every conflict from Afghanistan to Iraq and Libya over the past 12 years.

Moreover, our own warmongers do not apply the term “weapons of mass destruction” to other weapons we have regularly used, such as depleted uranium and cluster bombs, which can be, and often are, highly indiscriminate.

Advocacy groups have now highlighted the thousands of civilian casualties likely to result from airstrikes this year alone as Mr Cameron, prepares to make his case for attacking ISIS in Syria.

Airstrikes in populated areas of Syria and Iraq caused 3,165 civilian deaths and injuries in the year up to August, according to Action on Armed Violence (AOAV).

One of the attacks investigated was on Fadhiliya, Iraq, on 4 April where witnesses and local politicians said a family of five had died, including a pregnant woman and an eight-year-old girl.

It follows the widely reported US bombing of a hospital run by NGO Doctors Without Borders, killing 22 people and injuring dozens more.

Increasing scrutiny on civilian casualties may now hopefully impact the debate over whether Britain extends its bombing mission against ISIS from Iraq into Syria.

In 2013, David Cameron was humiliated when 30 Tory rebels joined with Labour and other parties to oppose bombing forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn, suffered a backlash after urging Labour activists to pressure MPs (including Shadow Cabinet members) against supporting airstrikes.

Despite this, Mr Corbyn continues to enjoy strong support among Labour’s grassroots membership with 75% of party members calling for the MPs not to vote for airstrikes in Syria.

This means those who have expressed support for bombings may find themselves at odds with their own constituency membership.

Labour MPs who still plan to support the Tories are courting deselection before the next election, to be replaced by candidates who more accurately reflect party policy (which is to block air strikes, let’s not forget).

But more to the point, our intervention and bombing in Syria is not aimed at alleviating the suffering of Syrians or addressing the root causes of the conflict, and it’s not even about ISIS.

The immense humanitarian crisis wrought by the civil war in Syria, says Middle East expert Samer Abboud, is lost in the discussion around the Syrian conflict.

Humanitarian conditions are getting worse, not better, as the conflict persists.

“There is such an obsession with ISIS and an irrational fear of Syrian refugees in the West that encourages us to ignore the very real suffering of Syrians who have to live while spectacular and exceptional violence surrounds them,” he says.

“While there seems to be international consensus around confronting ISIS and in the utility of military force to do so, the growth of the coalition fighting ISIS to include Russia, France, and potentially Germany and the UK, is not a positive development in the Syrian conflict.

“The expansion in the number of countries bombing Syria further internationalises the conflict and creates more layers to this already complicated and multilayered conflict.

“When France began its bombing campaign against ISIS in retaliation for the Paris attacks, its targets included a medical clinic and an uninhabited forest.

“One wonders why these were chosen as targets.

“There is no institutional or economic heartland that a bombing campaign could destroy that would have an immediate impact on the group’s ability to capture and retain control of territory.

“The aerial campaigns also avoid the heart of the problem, which is the material and ideological structure that sustains ISIL.

“ISIS does not acquire its wealth through large-scale development projects, nor is there a robust productive capacity in ISIS-controlled areas that is connected to regional markets.

“Most of their material resources come from donations and support from regional actors as well as a sophisticated system of predatory economic activity that encourages the group’s fighters to loot and tax the Syrian population to acquire the resources to sustain their activities.

“How can a bombing campaign undermine the material basis of ISIS when so much of it is structured around predatory behaviour?

“Let us not also forget that, for the most part, ISIS’s military strength is based on small arms.

“The reliance on small arms means that ISIS has expanded in Syria with relatively limited resources. Moreover, as we have seen in the attacks of the past two months, including the use of an improvised pop can as a bomb placed on the Russian plane [which crashed] in Sinai, ISIS relies on limited resources that are not susceptible or vulnerable to aerial bombardment,” he adds.

So where to now then Mr Cameron?

Already the most powerful air forces in the world are bombing the Islamic State. Even were it the right thing to do, the RAF could add little to their so-far ineffective efforts.

Everybody agrees that ISIS can only be defeated by a ground army which can secure some support from the people of the region itself.

Not finding one, Mr Cameron has invented a mythical 70,000-strong opposition army – his own version of Tony Blair’s infamous “45 minute warning” over Iraq.

This has rightly drawn widespread disbelief – to the extent that this “army” exists at all, it is largely fighters aligned with either al-Qaeda or the Turkish neo-fascist “Grey Wolves”, who are hardly “moderate” and will never turn against ISIS.

The truth is that there needs to be a peace agreement between the Assad regime and its opponents leading to a transitional administration which could then take on ISIS.

But for years, David Cameron has worked against such an agreement.

Former Tory MP and respected journalist Matthew Parris agrees.

He wrote in The Times: “Jeremy Corbyn is right. Joining the bombing in Syria will do nobody any good. And the funny thing is, I think that in its heart Britain knows that.”

We do, and now is the time to stand up and be counted.

Pol Pot, Palestine and Pilger

ON Friday I signed off my fortnight of continuous writing about the ongoing slaughter in the Middle East with a tribute to my journalist hero John Pilger.

And I make no apologies by beginning this week with Mr Pilger once again.

Following the ISIS outrages in Beirut and Paris, John has now updated this prescient essay on the root causes of terrorism and what we can do about it.

I believe it is essential reading:

 

From Pol Pot to ISIS: The Blood Never Dried

IN transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing of Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”.

As Barack Obama wages his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Francois Hollande promises a “merciless” attack on the rubble of Syria, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.

As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again.

A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.

According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B-52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.

The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They leveled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left giant necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air.

The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told… That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”

A Finnish Government Commission of Inquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.

ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of at least 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism.

The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common.

Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.

Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of ‘Shock and Awe’ and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey.

The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”

ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington, London and Paris who, in conspiring to destroy Iraq, Syria and Libya, committed an epic crime against humanity.

Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies, making accomplices of those who suppress this critical truth.

It is 23 years since a holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege.

Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.

Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”.

The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.

Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”

Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”

In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.”

When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.” Last year, a not untypical headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.

Here was Hain demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”.

The day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce.

Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria? Instead, there is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Hollande, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They seem to relish their own violence and stupidityso much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally,  the government in Syria.

This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:

“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces… a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”

That was written in 1957, although it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes.

In 2013, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria… Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate… This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and now Russia.

The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of Nato, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS.

Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.

A truce – however difficult to negotiate and achieve – is the only way out of this maze; otherwise, the atrocities in Paris and Beirut will be repeated. Together with a truce, the leading perpetrators and overseers of violence in the Middle East – the Americans and Europeans – must themselves “de-radicalise” and demonstrate a good faith to alienated Muslim communities everywhere, including those at home.

There should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear.

Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.

More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed a torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered.

The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq, and the Nato and “coalition” crimes in Libya and Syria. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”.

Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”.  Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst and stop denying ourselves the truth will the blood begin to dry.

Follow John Pilger on twitter @johnpilger

 

We gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing

YESTERDAY’S landslide election of Jeremy Corbyn as the first truly socialist leader of the Labour Party since Clement Atlee is a profound moment in British politics.

Like thousands of other like-minded people, I am still shaking with emotion and trying to get my head round what has really happened.

For decades our country – and most of Europe – has been sleep walking into a world of personal greed, arrogance and self-importance with totems such as The X Factor, tanning studios, Top Gear, designer clothes labels and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Human kindness, gentleness, peace, society and social justice were jettisoned for a winner takes all mentality and a scapegoating of the homeless, those claiming benefits, Muslims, asylum seekers and the poor in general.

All of this was underpinned by our malicious gutter press who daily smeared and pilloried anyone who dare question the status quo or suggest alternatives.

When Cameron’s far right Conservative Party was elected in May this year I genuinely feared for our collective futures.

Here we had the election of a UK government compiled of self-seeking rich Tory elitists who care more about their mansions and banking friends than about people.

And their shopping list for change was truly terrifying as this is unshackled Conservative government promised to:

  • Rip up the Human Rights Act, which underpins our legal system and protects all our basic freedoms and those of persecuted minorities.
  • Spend £100 billion on replacing Trident with new nuclear weapons, which at the push of a button could wipe out millions of lives and pollute our planet for tens of thousands of years.
  • Make £12.8 billion of cuts to welfare, leaving the poorest, the oldest and the weakest in our society facing the bleakest of futures. In turn this will ensure the need for a food bank in every town and extend child poverty ensuring suffering and a loss of opportunity for millions.
  • Begin a phased end to council housing, thus pushing up rents in the private sector and making families homeless. Once again – as under Thatcher – we will see a surge in rough sleeping and begging.
  • Will enact tougher sanctions on migrants, involve the UK in further illegal wars in the Middle East and trigger an increase in racism and Islamophobia.
  • Extend zero hours contracts, thus massaging the unemployment figures and leaving thousands of the poorest people without any job security.
  • Legislate for more private schools which will imbed the class system even deeper in our society, rather focus on improving our state schooling system.
  • Escalate and accelerate the privatisation of the NHS, so medical care will depend on wealth and power rather than need.
  • Then redraw constituency boundaries so these same corrupt capitalist elitists stay in power for another 20 more years.

And the Labour Party, which should have been standing and campaigning against all this, crumpled into a Tory Lite modelled in the image of war monger and former leader Tony Blair.

Just over 18 months ago I had turned my back on Labour as a real alternative and joined Left Unity in a vain attempt to change things.

But outside the Labour Party the Left is too splintered and divided to succeed electorally, rather than uniting to defeat the greed and corruption of capitalism.

Following Cameron’s election victory I said the Left “must begin now to unify around a leader or leadership we can all trust, organise and start the fightback, or we wave farewell to hope for a fairer and better future.”

Well the fightback has now really begun.

And I must admit I never thought it possible.

But we had a hint that it may be possible by the political events in Scotland. There the electorate woke up to years of Tammany Hall politics and Establishment lies and en-mass elected 56 SNP MPs dedicated to social justice, welfare, investment and non-nuclear proliferation.

But other than the SNP standing candidates in English and Welsh constituencies, how could a similar popular uprising spread south?

Well along came Labour back bencher and peace campaigner Jeremy Corbyn – the rank outsider, who only just managed to get the 36 nominations from MPs needed to stand in the leadership election.

Then over the summer this gentle political firebrand, who appears more like a superannuated university lecturer than a Prime Minister in waiting, packed out meetings and hustings the length and breadth of this country with his simple messages of an end to austerity, an end to nuclear weapons and an end to needless wars over oil in the middle east and beyond.

His messages caught the hearts and minds of millions.

These are some of his primary beliefs:

  1. The UK’s financial deficit should be paid off – but not through spending cuts and not to an arbitrary deadline. Instead, a Corbyn government would fund its reduction via higher taxes for the rich and a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion. “Quantitative easing for people” could be used to invest in housing, energy, transport and digital projects.
  2. Britain’s railways should be renationalised. Energy companies should also be under public ownership. He is “totally opposed” to fracking. However, he says deep-mine coal pits in the north of England could be reopened.
  3. Far more allotments would be good for the UK and councils and builders “should be doing their best to ensure that every new development includes some allotment space”.
  4. Talking to militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah is necessary to win peace in the Middle East. And arms embargo should be imposed on Israel. Mr Corbyn, who is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that Palestinian refugees should be given a “right of return”.
  5. Replacing Trident would be a costly mistake. Jeremy Corbyn says plans to replace the nuclear missile system should be ditched. He believes the project’s £100 billion price tag could be better spent “on our national well-being“.
  6. A National Education Service modelled on the NHS should be established. Under Mr Corbyn, state-funded academies and free schools would be forced to return to local authority control while university tuition fees would be scrapped and replaced with grants. He would look at ending the charitable status of public schools, although he accepts this would be complicated and might not happen immediately.
  7. Labour should not support air strikes against ISIS in Syria. Mr Corbyn, who is national chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, believes innocent Syrians would suffer and the supply of UK and US arms and funds to ISIS should be cut off instead. He wants to see “illegal wars” replaced with a “foreign policy that prioritises justice and assistance”. This would ameliorate refugee crises. In turn, the arms trade should be restricted. Mr Corbyn would like to see the “brilliance and skill of those in the arms industry be converted for peaceful purposes
  8. Rent controls should be re-introduced, linking private rents to local earnings, and more council houses should be built. Mr Corbyn also believes that council tenants’ right to buy their homes should be extended to private sector renters.
  9. Remaining in the European Union but with changes. Mr Corbyn says he is not content with the EU as it stands, but wants to stay to fight for a “better Europe”. He also opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal.
  10. Ireland should be united and returned to Irish rule. Mr Corbyn has long supported British withdrawal from Northern Ireland.
  11. Protect trade unions in the face of Conservative plans to overturn almost 100 years of workers’ rights with new legislation.
  12. A national maximum wage should be introduced to cap the salaries of high earners. He would also introduce a windfall tax on former state assets such as the Royal Bank of Scotland.
  13. Every child should have the chance to learn a musical instrument or act on stage. Mr Corbyn’s arts policy also includes directing a greater proportion of funding to local projects, widening access and protecting the BBC.
  14. Private Finance Initiative deals with the NHS should be ended by using government funds to buy them out.
  15. A “serious debate about the powers of NATO” is needed, but Mr Corbyn says there is not “an appetite as a whole for people to leave”. He also says open eastward expansion of NATO would lead the Russian military to conclude that it had “to expand to counteract NATO”.

All in all, a brave new world indeed.

In his victory speech, Mr Corbyn said: “We go forward now as a movement and a party bigger than we have ever been in a very, very long time, stronger than we have been for a very long time, more determined than we have been for a very long time, to show to everyone that the objectives of our party are intact, our passion is intact, our demand for humanity is intact.”

So at last we have our charismatic leader who with friends in the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru can offer a true progressive alliance and a way forward for us all.

Hope is renewed.

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind An’ the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales For the disrobed faceless forms of no position Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts All down in taken-for-granted situations Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

(Bob Dylan, 1964)

All he believes are his eyes and his eyes, they just tell him lies

blair

YOU usually only get the true measure of a person when you meet them face to face.
And so it was for me when I first interviewed erstwhile Prime Minister Tony Blair, soon after his election victory in 1997.
I had briefly met Mr Blair two years earlier in Glasgow while he was celebrating Labour’s landslide wins in the local council elections. He was triumphant, beaming and pressing flesh in every direction. The Scottish faithful loved him.
I had helped elect him and his Labour Government on 1 May 1997, thus ending 18 years of Thatcherism and Majorism and the class-ridden Tory ruination of our country.
Like millions of others I was now hopeful for a brighter and more socially equal future… after all, things could only get better!
So when, in early December I was asked by my news editor at the Sunday Sun (a North of England Sunday tabloid, not to be confused with the rag the Sun on Sunday!) if I would like to interview the new Prime Minister on his return to his Sedgefield constituency, I jumped at the chance.
On a sunny Saturday morning, armed with a hand-held tape recorder and full of questions I made my way to the Labour Club in Trimdon in County Durham.
The club was full with the local faithful and many more had gathered outside. Here was the return of the conquering hero.
Looking tall in a dark suit, white shirt and equally dark blue tie, Mr Blair addressed the audience inside the club about his hopes and plans for a New Labour Britain. It was typical political rhetoric, the type I had heard many times from other party leaders. But Blair was convincing and comfortable in the knowledge that he was among friends.
He finished to a standing ovation and began to mingle with party activists.
I approached his agent John Burton and requested a few minutes of the PM’s time for an interview which I could guarantee we would run the next day.
Ten minutes later John tapped me on the shoulder and told me Mr Blair was ready for ‘a chat’.
So I faced our new leader, introduced myself and asked him about his proposed cuts in benefits to lone parents. He noticeably winced at this first question, and in words which would not be alien to David Cameron, he said: “I think most people understand that we have got to reform the system. Because if you are spending more on benefits than you are on schools, hospitals and law and order put together, there is a problem.”
Asked if stalwarts in his constituency shared many fellow Labour MPs’ fears over benefit cuts, he became slightly more agitated.
He said: “Look, I have always said that whenever you are doing change then it is always difficult to begin with. We have got to make these reforms and I think people will accept them as changes we have to make.”
Then in words which could have come straight from Conservative Central Office he gave a stark indication that the disabled and sick would be the next to face an overhaul of their benefits.
“We spend more on disabled and incapacity benefits than we do on the entire school system in the UK,” he told me, before adding: “Benefit fraud – estimated at £4 to £5 billion a year – is enough to build 100 large hospitals.
“If we achieve these reforms then it will be a magnificent legacy that the New Labour Government has left us in a new millennium.”
We talked for another ten minutes before the Prime Minister moved away to the safety of his constituency friends.
This was my political watershed. Personally I felt my interview with Mr Blair was enlightening for many reasons.
Primarily because during the course of the conversation, Mr Blair avoided any eye contact and instead looked right through me, as if reading from an auto cue.
Secondly, because these were not the words, or message to the poorest in our society, that I was expecting from a new Labour Prime Minister. A Prime Minister charged with turning back almost two decades of Conservative pillage and division.
And finally, when all else failed, Mr Blair seemed to rely on cheap soundbites and a pre-learned script.
There was not one ounce of sincerity in anything he said.
He had lost me!
And over the next four years, the actions and policies of Mr Blair’s New Labour Government confirmed my worst fears.
While I still voted Labour in the June 2001 General Election, I had lost all confidence in this light blue successor to Thatcher or any dreams of a more socially fair country.
The events of post 9/11, Mr Blair’s unswerving support of the moronic George W Bush, the illegal invasion of Afghanistan and the lies over the justification for war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, finally nailed it.
I felt that like many, I had been caught in a web of lies and propaganda and lost in a smokescreen of rhetoric and deceit.
The poor were poorer, the rich got richer, and the innocent victims of Blair’s wars lay charred and dead.
So by 2005, for the first time in my life I did NOT vote for any party or political leader.
That was nine years ago. Now sadly, just two weeks after the sad death of one true democratic socialist Tony Benn, I am still casting around for something and someone to believe in.
The fight for peace, social justice and the protection of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society must continue, but I don’t believe one of our major political parties now has the will to do that.

You’re the one that reached me you’re the one that I admired

blog tony benn
THE death of Tony Benn is a watershed in British politics.
He was the last truly great parliamentary socialist, and a man of courtesy, decency, principle, integrity and vision.
And he was a true hero of mine.
During my years as a newspaper journalist I was fortunate enough to interview Tony three times, and each interview was a joy.
Unlike many of his contemporaries – including former chancellor Denis Healey and ex PM Jim Callaghan – he did not waffle over his time in office or make excuses and like younger MPs he did not obscure with sound bites or spin.
Instead he told things as they were and imprinted his vision of equality and fairness in words of insight and candour.
The interviews were all in the 1990s, so during the latter time of his 50 years as a member of parliament, but he was still fresh and relished argument and fought for justice.
After each interview I felt like I had been speaking with a friend.
And I have another reason for loving Tony Benn.
In 1994, 41 MPs signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons praising my year-long investigation into the link between the test firing of depleted uranium tank shells and local clusters of cancer.
The same tank shells provided a link to Gulf War Syndrome in the first Gulf War.
Some of my political heroes signed that EDM including Alan Simpson, Ken Livingstone and Dennis Skinner. But the sixth signature on that motion was Tony Benn. His name next to mine was like a personal shield of honour. A treasure I will keep till the grave.
Tony was true fighter for ordinary working people from the moment he was elected an MP in 1950. He was a privileged and educated aristocrat turned man of the people.
From his successful fight to remain in the Commons upon the death of his father Viscount Stansgate – a Viscountcy which Tony was to be forced to inherit – through to the Hovercraft, Concorde, TSR2, nuclear power, special edition postage stamps, tape-recording his own interviews and speeches, he was every inch the dashing, eloquent and unafraid hero.
Tony Benn was one of the few British politicians who became more left-wing after having actually served in government.
When Labour lost power in the 1979 General Election, Tony became the authentic voice of the radical left with the press coining the term Bennite to describe the policies espoused by those resisting attempts to move the Labour Party to the middle ground.
As such, he became a bogeyman for the right in British politics, with delegates to Conservative conferences displaying Ban the Benn badges in the style of CND’s Ban the Bomb logo.
Later in life he became a folk hero as well as a campaigner for a number of causes, particularly opposition to UK military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was blamed by many for contributing to Labour’s lack of electoral success during the 1980s.
Tony Benn was a totem for those who rejected the shift to the right widely seen as necessary if the party was to regain power.
This shift was eventually completed under Tony Blair, who pushed through the abandonment of clause IV and redefined Labour as a party comfortable with privatisation and free market economics.
Tony Benn was unrepentant in his opposition to the changes saying: “We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”
With a typically memorable turn of phrase, Tony then signalled the end of his parliamentary career in 1999, when he announced he would not be standing for re-election at the next general election. Asked whether he would be taking his place in the House of Lords, the former Viscount Stansgate replied: “Don’t be silly.”
His final speech to the House of Commons as MP was an appropriately eloquent farewell, in which he talked widely on his view of the role of parliament and the wider question of democracy.
He said: “In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person – Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates – ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.
After his retirement from parliament, Tony became the public face of the Stop the War coalition.
In one edition of BBC TV’s Question Time, his exchanges with US Republican John Bolton included this broadside: “I was born about a quarter of a mile from where we are sitting now and I was here in London during the Blitz. And every night I went down into the shelter. 500 people killed, my brother was killed, my friends were killed. And when the Charter of the UN was read to me, I was a pilot coming home in a troop ship: ‘We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.’ That was the pledge my generation gave to the younger generation and you tore it up. And it’s a war crime that’s been committed in Iraq, because there is no moral difference between a stealth bomber and a suicide bomber. Both kill innocent people for political reasons.”
He died and will forever live as the Honorary President of the Stop the War Coalition, leading the greatest mass movement in British history. He was the greatest leader Labour, and Great Britain, never had.
Tony’s legacy must now be a catalyst for the left and working people.
The UK is the sixth richest country on Earth, but now has half a million people dependent on food banks; wages haven’t fallen for so long since the Victorian era; the next generation faces being poorer for the first time in a century.
“The flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that you can build a better world” is what drives social change.
Appropriately Tony Benn once said: “Modern Britain does not lack anger, but the left’s real mission is surely hope. Charismatic and inspiring leaders will inevitably be mourned. But the injustices that drove them don’t die, and so neither will the need to continue their fight.”
Rest in Peace Tony, you were a legend in your own time.