Back in February 2003 people from all over the UK marched to protest the then proposed invasion of Iraq. About a million or two of us took to the streets in London on a cold later winter afternoon to march through the city to hear a number of speeches in Hyde Park and to show that we, as the people of this country, won’t stand for what was proposed being done in our name.
It was an amazing day. As the Channel 4 report says, there was a mix of people, and as a painfully ill Mo Molam pointed out, the war was indeed used as a recruitment tool plus as we know, from the war came ISIS not to mention an almost permanent state of war in Middle Eastern countries and radicalisation of the likes we’ve never seen.
Yet that march and those like it across the UK and the world, should have sparked a Golden Age of political involvement. Indeed it did have political consequences in that it helped along such divergent political events like the election of Barrack Obama to the Scottish independence movement as people tried shrugging off the old order to try to create a new, and better one. The facts are that for all our marching, speeches and protests it was for nothing. Tony Blair got his war thanks to enough Labour MP’s as well as Tory support, and we’re still there 15 years later.
As for the glorious mixture of people on those Stop The War marches, they’re all gone after the SWP & their ilk managed to take a broad, vibrant coalition from all political viewpoints and change it into one that served them. On that day 15 years ago in London I met people from Labour, Tory, Lib Dems, Greens and across the board. There were kids who knew exactly why they were there articulating themselves brilliantly and the general feeling of change was for many, lost.
But we marched to hear speeches and to be honest, most of us only heard these speeches on the TV news later because it took so long to get from Paddington to Hyde Park, and also because the sound was crap so you’d hear Tariq Ali through crackle while hoping the wind changed direction. The fact is most people wanted to hear George Galloway’s speech even though people like myself knew him to be a hypocrite at best, he could articulate what many of us thought that day. Thing is looking back, none of the speakers had much to lose. Galloway, Tony Benn and Tariq Ali were the main speakers and they were doing what was expected of them. Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t a big name back then and once he made his speech remained with Labour on their back benches rather than quit as many did. These folk didn’t put their entire career on the line as then Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy did.
The media savaged Kennedy. People in has party who wanted to go to war gunned for him after this. He stuck to his guns, voted against the war and in the 2005 election managed to grab a huge amount of support from people who saw Tory and Labour as two sides of the same coin. Kennedy’s actions were essential because there was an argument for invading Iraq along the lines of intervention in the Balkans in the 90’s. I sat with mates in the pub who were agonising over what to support because they knew (as we all did) that Saddam was a monster. It was Kennedy’s rational argument for the law and decency that swung so many people to the cause. His subsequent treatment by his party and untimely death left a hole in UK politics that’s been replaced by people unfit to call themselves ‘liberals’.
I digress slightly…
Even if I’d had some sort of future knowledge o events I’d still have marched in 2003. It needed to be done and a line needed to be drawn. It didn’t work, but we needed to try because if we hadn’t tried we’d have failed everything, and everyone. The aftershocks of this can still be felt today with things like Brexit where people voted to leave to have their voice heard to the general distrust, even hatred, of mainstream politicians.
But still, for one cold day in February 2003 we felt the world was going to change for the positive. If only it had.