Thursday, 16 June 2011

Stop the War Coalition Conference on Afghanistan last Saturday

Last Saturday I attended an excellent conference organised by Stop the War Coalition with first class speakers from various backgrounds. It was noticeable that there were 300 people present and a many new young activists. I particularly found the speeches of Tariq Ali, Dave Swanson and John Hillary of War on Want, which have produced a first class booklet on the war in Afghanistan. I also met Greg Muttit, who has written a book on Iraq entitled 'Fuel on the Fire. Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq.' Tariq Ali's quote from Churchill's book on his early career as a British imperialist officer in Afghanistan was masterly. As Tariq said, at least Churchill was an honest imperialist whereas the current crew dress up their interventions in Afghanistan and Libya in the language of human rights and democracy when their aims are the same old imperialist ones. Tariq's claims about the attack on the naval base in Karachi are also startling and a real wake up call about what is happening in Pakistan. As many said at the conference we are being drip fed propaganda from the war party and not hearing a lot about the underlying facts, such as the real situation in Pakistan. Even Al Jazeera, with its ownership by Quatari interests, cannot be trusted to report fairly about what is happening in Libya.

Greg Muttit said that he would be very interested in speaking at the Green Party conference comparing the interventions in Libya and Afghanistan.

John Hillary drew the connections between the war in Afghanistan and poverty and geostrategic exploitation.

The poems by the young Yemeni poet, Sanasino, were also very powerful.

The session I chaired on Parliamentary Campaigning had Jeremy Corbyn MP and Carol Turner, Coordinator of the Afghanistan Withdrawal Group, whose Co-Chair is Caroline Lucas. Carol pointed out that sending postcards and emails to MPs is important. Other members of the Afghanistan Withdrawal Group are a Lib Dem MP who is Vice Chair and Jeremy Corbyn is the other Vice Chair. Daniel Poulter, a Tory MP is also a member as is the leader of Plaid Cymru. They hold open public meetings in parliament and the next one is due on June 28th.

Jeremy Corbyn pointed out how Orders in Council were used by the Prime Minister to bypass parliament and that he and other MPs were trying to ensure that all wars required a full vote in parliament beforehand. He said that the only reason why Blair had allowed a vote on the Iraq war was because he believed that he would imprison Labour MPs in the war by binding them to the decision. He also pointed out that there were more backbench days now and that an effective method of lobbying was to get an MP  to put down an Early Day Motion - this was indicative of the external lobby. He himself received 1000s of emails per week lobbying him on various issues. His volume of correspondence had increased substantially. In the 80s he had received on average 200 letters per day. He also, quite interestingly, said that mass email campaigns irritate MPs considerably but that they are effective. It was best if such emails emanated from constituents.

Jeremy also said that the Foreign Office Briefing on Libya was highly informative and well worth reading. He also recommended Library Briefings on the parliamentary website - google House of Commons Library and notes on various issues could be found there. Many of these were free of the propaganda element and far more informative.

There was a suggestion from the floor about organising a conference on an alternative foreign policy for the UK and Jeremy thought that this was well overdue. The anti-war movement was often too reactive whereas a new vision for a foreign policy was required. He also sent his best wishes to Brian Haw to mark a decade of his protest at Parliament Square.

I came away from the conference feeling inspired and much better informed and more convinced than ever that the anti-war movement is vital in this country.

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