Labour’s shame in Iraq

Argus title : Illegal war lost Labour my vote

I confess it. I did not vote Labour at last week’s general election.

I did not take the advice of Labour friends who told me to “grit my teeth and vote”. I wish I could have done. It was touch and go up until the last moment, but when it came to it, I just couldn’t do it. 

On the face of it, it was an election like any other. I took my mother to the polling booth at the Church in Southdown Avenue. The sun shone and there was a gentle breeze. It was very peaceful.

I watched my mother make her cross and place her voting slip carefully in the box. My husband photographed us outside. He wanted a photograph for our daughter to emphasise the importance of women voting.

We chatted to the number-takers outside the station. My husband talked about cricket. The evening sun glinted through the leaves of trees. A squirrel ran across the road.

It seemed so ordinary, so normal. And yet it wasn’t. Everywhere I looked that evening the dead were waiting quietly – leaning on lampposts, sitting on the branches of trees, hovering by the polling boxes, watching as the election officials checked records and stamped voting slips.

There were ghosts in orange overalls, dead men in jeans and naked men cowering. And little girls in pink dresses led by wraithes in long robes and women in headscarves.

Lance Corporal Tom Keys, of the Royal Military Police, was there – marching on the Southdown Avenue to the sound of a band I couldn’t hear. Behind him were others, also in uniform.

The country was full of ghosts that day waiting to see what we would do.

Reg Keys, Tom Key’s father, stood against Tony Blair in Sedgefield, to protest about the illegal war and the death of his son in Iraq. Tom and 5 other military policeman were killed after being trapped without back up and with insufficient ammunition.

I remembered Reg Key’s anguished face from his protest at last year’s Labour Party Conference in Brighton, when, during Tony Blair’s conference speech, he climbed a mast on the West Pier shouting “I want an apology for the life of my son”.

Half mad with grief, he tied a noose about his neck and threatened to hang himself unless Blair telephoned him and said sorry to his “son and the nation for lying “.

Thankfully, Mr Keys was persuaded by police to come down. The Argus carried a photograph of him weeping like the child he was grieving.

Reg Keys regained his strength. His campaign against Blair attracted extraordinary support and gained 4252 votes, 10% of the total.

His words at the Sedgefield Count deserve to be remembered: ”If this war was justified then I would not be here today. If the war had been just I would have been grieving and not campaigning. If weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, then I would not have come to Sedgefield, to the Prime Minister’s stronghold, to challenge him on its legality. ”

He went on to dedicated his campaign to British servicemen who have been killed in this conflict, especially: “…those Royal Military Policemen…. who were abandoned and slaughtered in a filthy police station in Al Majar Al-Kabir”.

As he stood, caught in camera shot, in front of a motionless Tony Blair, he said “I hope in my heart that one day the Prime Minister will be able to say sorry to the families bereaved by this war, and that one day he will find himself able to visit in hospital the soldiers who have been wounded by it.”

It is remarkable that in a four week election campaign involving visits to every corner of the country, and despite the fact that Blair asserts his continued belief in the legality and moral rectitude of the war, he did not visit injured soldiers.

Presumably, he feared protests by soldiers and their families and criticism to the press of his conduct of the war. Perhaps, too, he did not want to remind voters that 88 British troops have died while 900 have been injured.

The Downing Street Press Office told me that Blair has visited injured troops, but that they have been “private” visits. When I asked how many visits had taken place and how many injured soldiers he had seen, I was told in no uncertain terms that that information would not be forthcoming.

There are many soldiers who would like to speak to Tony Blair. One is former territorial soldier Corporal Dave Corrigan, who served in the army for 22 years and was invalided out after being injured in Iraq.

Corrigan claims that Blair has made no effort to see him or other injured soldiers. He has expressed surprise at this for he believes he is the only injured soldier living in the Prime Minister’s constituency.

Corrigan says he is “not political in any way”, but now believes that he should not have been in Iraq. He says “it’s become horrendous….. We shouldn’t be there and we shouldn’t have gone there. I think it’s important that someone like me says that…..for the sake of the men and women left out there; that they shouldn’t be there, fighting an unjust war that was lied over.”

He goes on “I’m happy to serve my country, but for the right reasons. I’ve been amazed by all this that’s coming out in the news, about how it was all a lie, that there were no weapons, that it was illegal. I’m prepared to fight, but not because someone is so far up Bush’s rear end. He still can’t accept it, can he? I think he believes his own lies. He seems to have brainwashed himself.”

I didn’t want to let David Lepper down in the way I voted. Like his Kemptown colleague Des Turner he opposed the war and is a fine M.P.. However, he represents Labour and Labour retains Blair as its leader.

Though the party kept Blair’s picture off election materials – apparently in order to persuade us that we were voting for the party not Blair – the Prime Minister himself didn’t stay ‘on message’. Refusing to accept he had become an electoral liability he continued relentlessly to self-promote, making it clear that he was looking for a personal mandate.

“Vote for me” he said, not ‘vote for us’. I have no doubt that a large majority would have been interpreted as an endorsement of his actions.

When the Attorney General’s advice was leaked, revealing that he had had severe doubts about the legality of the war, Blair responded, not with an apology for withholding the full advice, but with protestations that his pursuit of (illegal) regime change had been morally justified.

To a country sick of lies and spin, he excused his actions and attempted yet more spin – taking the opportunity to present his deception as the action of a strong and decisive leader. He commented repeatedly “As prime minister I had to make a decision”.

Such presidential posturing cuts no ice with the organisation “Military Families Against the War”. John Miller, whose son Simon was killed with Tom Keys, said “Blair says he could not sit on the fence over Saddam, but he didn’t, he hid behind it and sent our sons to their deaths.”

Blair is not fit to be prime minister. He has taken us into an illegal war which has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. He has undermined our national sovereignty and made us a client state to an immoral US administration.

He has helped create a state of chaos in Iraq worse than the dictatorship which preceded it. He has exposed Britain to legal action for war crimes and placed us at greater risk of terrorist attack.

He has misled Parliament and his cabinet, while undermining our civil liberties and the rule of international and domestic law. He has supported the use in British courts of ‘evidence’ extracted by torture.

“Military Families Against the War” is assisting the families of 14 dead soldiers to take Tony Blair to court on the basis that the Iraq War was illegal and therefore – as the former legal adviser to the Foreign Office Elizabth Wilmshurst says – “a crime of aggression”.

I commend their courage.

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