Last Saturday saw me attend the
Stop the War Coalition
National Council. This was advertised as a
chance for affiliates and local groups to influence the policy of the
coalition (not to be confused, as one delegate noted, with the
so-called "coalition of the willing" which invaded Iraq) over the
coming months. Although I have always been somewhat dubious about the
coalition as an organisation and its lack of democracy, I thought I
should go along to see what was going on and what they've got planned.
The event was held in Birmingham, which was a nice change from always
having to go to London and meant I didn't have to get up so
ridiculously early. Unfortunately they had to move the venue on the
preceding Thursday, which caused some confusion, although this was
useful for me. Their decision to start, for the benefit of those who
went to the original venue, late meant that I missed nothing, despite
arriving at Birmingham later than I had hoped before promptly getting
The Council began with a discussion entitled "Iraq in Turmoil - Future
Activities" which looked at the situation in the country under the
US/UK occupation, the burdgeoning resistance and possible responses.
Much of interest was said about the situation on the ground in Iraq,
along with a lot I knew already. The fact that the US intends to
as their ambassador (and de facto governor?) in
post "handover" Iraq, was of particular interest and it was suggested
that activities should be carried out to make people aware of his very
dubious past, particularly as Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985.
There was also a suggestion that actions should be planned in response
to any US attack on Najaf, in the style of those which came with the
opening of the invasion last year.
One point which attracted considerable attention was the
sham "handover" of sovereignty
on June 30 and what actions we
should take to make people aware of the truth of this. The discussion
centered around whether there should be local, regional or national
demonstrations and exactly when these should be (the 30th itself or on
the preceding Saturday?). The feeling seemed to be that local demos
would be better probably on June 30. I interjected on this point to
make people aware that there was already a
week of action
planned around the "handover" and that we should
try and avoid treading on other groups toes, so to speak.
There was also much discussion about the upcoming European Parliament
Elections which the coalition wants to turn into a "referendum" on
Blair's conduct over the war. Although some urged support for
, it was made clear that Stop the War is non-political and
would support anyone opposing the war and occupation regardless of
their political affiliations. Many groups are apparently considering
organising hustings over the issue of the war, which could be a good
idea, but will likely require regional co-operation given the huge
size of European Parliament constituencies.
After this, we retired to lunch before returning for a discussion
about "Civil Liberties and the Law". This considered the attack on
civil liberties that had accompanied the "War on Terror" and also
considered the "Proposed Legal Strategy for the SWC" which seeks to
have those responsible for the invasion of Iraq indicted by the
International Criminal Court
for war crimes, genocide and crimes
against humanity. The latter seemed to be the focus of the discussion
with some disagreement about the likelihood of success, although it
was agreed to adopt the strategy and give it a go.
Part way through this discussion
Alan Simpson MP
arrived (providing further evidence for my theory
that he's following me around!) and spoke on the recent screen put
around the public gallery in Parliament and the current political
situation. As ever he was interesting and entertaining.
The final discussion was about "Organisation and membership drive" in
which much was made of increasing the coalition's paid up membership.
It was suggested that in the future only members would be allowed to
attend, which would exclude yours truly. There was then a brief report
about the upcoming
European Social Forum
in London, before the meeting came to and
end and I made my way to the train station and home.
The event was not the most interesting moment of my life and I was
struck by just how much many on the left seem to love the sound of
their won voice. The extent to which this has influence the
coalition's policy (decided ultimately by the steering committee),
will become clear over the coming weeks and months, but I hold some
hope that it will have an impact. One thing which I found particularly
insightful was Andrew Murray's comment that we should not argue over
whether troops are withdrawn within 3, 6 or 9 months, but that our
demand should be for, at the very minimum, a timetable of withdrawal.
I was also encouraged by the way the issue of Palestine was discussed.
Much was made of the need to draw the links between the two
occupations. This suggested to me that the issue would no longer
simply be tacked on the bottom of coalition paraphernalia as if we
have to con people into coming on an demonstration against the
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip. As with everything I have
considered above, only time will tell.