From the Morning Star, March 21, 2003.
TONY BENN sees a crisis developing where democracy itself is under attack.
THE peace movement has been greatly encouraged by the huge vote against the war in the House of Commons last Tuesday [18 March] and those Labour MPs who voted for the war, whether out of loyalty to Tony Blair or because they believed in it, must now accept full responsibility for the consequences.
To put it plainly, every MP who went into the division lobby in support of the government put their own authority behind the military action that is about to take place.
Every one of them shares personal responsibility for the deaths of all those Iraqis or British soldiers whose lives will be lost, the terrible human tragedy that is about to unfold and the long-term consequences that will follow.
In a parliamentary democracy, governments depend on a majority of MPs in the Commons and, when the majority support it, they themselves become an integral part of the decision that has been reached and each must be ready to answer for what happens.
One argument that was put forward for voting for the war was that Britain has a special responsibility to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq after the bombing and, therefore, is bound to support the bombing to be sure that the reconstruction took place.
This seems to be the position that Clare Short adopted, after withdrawinq her promised and much-publicised resignation threat.
Another argument that was put forward was that the United Nations has a very important role still to perform in rebuilding Iraq under UN auspices.
But this would convert the UN into an ambulance followinq the armies, picking up the wounded, burying the dead and rebuilding the infrastructure which had just been destroyed, which would be a total distortion of the purposes for which the UN was created.
Certainly, the United States would be delighted if the UN could be converted from a decision-making body with a responsibility to uphold international law under its charter into an organisation which is brought in to clear up and pay the huge bills submitted by the US construction companies which have been promised all the profitable contracts that will be allocated.
Those who voted for the war also gave the green light to any country that might feel threatened by any other country to identify its new enemy as a "rogue state" and take pre-emptive military action to crush it.
This is exactly what the US and Britain have done and the ultimatum to Saddam calling on him to leave the country could legalise any similar demand by any other strong state against any weaker state with a leadership it disliked.
The Commons vote on Tuesday was deliberately timed to take place well after the decision to go to war had been announced and when all the troops were in position waiting for the orders to fire, so that it was far too late to have any real influence on a decision that had been taken months and months ago.
Arguments about the legality of the war are almost secondary, because each of us, whether or not we are in Parliament, has to decide whether we think it is morally right to launch this war and, in the end, conscience has to be our guide, particularly when we are told to kill.
Opponents of the war in Britain outnumber those who support it, but MPs voted for the war because Labour ministers were ordered to support the government and the Prime Minister relied upon Tory MPs to compensate for his failure to persuade a majority of his own backbenchers to support him.
There is now a grave crisis of representation which is undermining democracy itself, which is what the current demonstrations are all about.
The war propaganda pouring out on the television screens and in the media generally is intensely frightening, but, at least, our generation does have an opportunity to get information that is not controlled by the BBC or Rupert Murdoch or party spin doctors.
It is difficult for some older people to understand how many new outlets there are from which we can get relevant information and through which we can communicate with each other, but, today, there are a host of satellite TV and FM radio stations from which it is possible to pick up, with a dish or a cable, information which we could not get in any other way.
With the internet and, especially, with a broadband connection on our computers, we can now search for what we want, get it when we want it and make up our own minds.
E-mail has allowed the organisers of progressive political movements to keep in constant touch with each other, which is how the February 15 demonstrations came to be co-ordinated so brilliantly and how our international campaigns can be built up and strengthened.
Demonstrations do make a difference, since foreign ministers at the security council have alluded to public opinion as offering a case against war, just as Robin Cook said in his brilliant resignation speech, arguing that he could not contemplate supporting a war without international authority and popular support and that this government has ignored the UN and public opinion.
This is a time when our campaigns for peace need to be intensified and, by doing so, we may not only be able to save the lives of innocent people but also give our troops the real support that they need by demanding that they be brought home as soon as possible.
There is another march and rally in Hyde Park tomorrow [i.e. 22 March] and such demonstrations are going on all over the country because they offer us the hope which we need to carry on.
From the Eastern Daily Press, Tuesday, April 1, 2003:
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