Anti-war before the law

As the prime minister turns up to testify, what are the protesters shouting about?

Josie Appleton

Topics Politics

As prime minister Tony Blair arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice for his turn on the Hutton Inquiry hotseat, he was met with cries of ‘out, out, out’ from demonstrators from the Stop the War coalition.

Most of the 100-odd crowd – which seemed predominantly made up of the hard left – saw the limits of the Hutton Inquiry. After all, this is an investigation by an establishment judge into the circumstances surrounding the death of a government civil servant. Whatever it was that the Stop the War coalition had hoped for back in those heady days of the million-man march, when the biggest political demonstration in British history hit the streets of London, it presumably was not this.

But it was surprising how many of the demonstrators did seem to place their hope in Hutton. This suggests a distinct sense of low horizons. One said that the inquiry was ‘better than nothing’ – ‘if Kelly hadn’t died, there would be no inquiry at all’. Ghada Razuki, an organiser of Stop the War Coalition, said that the inquiry ‘goes some way to challenging the government over Iraq’.

One of the main sentiments seemed to be a satisfaction at seeing Blair’s government squirm. ‘At least they are getting dragged across the rocks’, said one man from Surrey. His friend agreed: ‘Hoon said some dreadful things during the war, now Hutton is putting the pressure on.’ Matthew, a 29-year-old social worker, said that although the inquiry was a ‘deflection from the real issues’, it will also expose ‘what went on in Number 10’ in the build-up to war, and ‘Blair will have to take responsibility for that’. This personalised criticism of Blair, particularly focusing on the fact that he has lost the public’s trust, has been a long-running feature of protests against the war.

Others drew somewhat wishful links between the anti-war movement and the inquiry. A photo on the Stop the War Coalition website shows a banner that reads: ‘8000 Iraqis dead, 55 British soldiers dead, Dr Kelly dead’, as if all these deaths were somehow the same. One woman saw the Hutton Inquiry as a kind of after-shock caused by anti-war demos: the Hutton Inquiry had originally been set up to be narrow, she said, but ‘it’s exploded because there were two million people on the streets’. Twenty-three-year-old Sian Glaessner said that the Kelly affair was part of the war in Iraq, in that both symbolised the ‘disrespect for due process’. This concern for ‘due process’ shows the legalistic bent of many anti-war activists, accusing Blair of failing to do things by the book.

One woman said that although Kelly was ‘not on the side of Stop the War’, he ‘reflected the same kind of concern’ about the government’s war in Iraq – citing the fact that he had tried to persuade Iraq to cooperate with the inspectors to avoid war. She seemed to see Kelly as something of an ally, calling this a ‘battle on all fronts’ – and even commenting that ‘if a few deaths would stop the war, I think that many of us might be prepared to commit suicide’.

Opinions differ on what should come after the Hutton Inquiry. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which had a hefty prominence at the demo, takes a ‘today, Blair; tomorrow, capitalism’ kind of view. The hope seems to be that the interrogation of the prime minister might end up with the downfall of the existing order. The SWP’s bookshop Bookmarks has produced a set of playing cards featuring politicians who supported the war (Blair is the Ace of Clubs) – and each card details their support for neo-liberal ideology. The war on Iraq, someone from the bookshop told me, ‘was part of the overall neoliberal scheme’ – and the Hutton Inquiry is linked to Iraq.

However, most just wanted a bigger and broader inquiry. One said that there should be a ‘full public inquiry, broadcast on TV’ into the reasons why the government went to war. Another called for an inquiry into the ’causes and consequences of the war’, perhaps leading to reparations to Iraq. But why should unelected judges decide whether the government’s war was right or wrong? ‘Somebody has got to decide’, one of the demonstrators told me. ‘At least a judge has standing’, said another. ‘There could be a jury’, suggested another man – so at least public opinion would get some kind of a look-in.

There is something childish about this desire to hand affairs over to judges, as if only grown-ups could sort out something as serious as war. This had its parallel in the criticisms that are directed at Blair, most of which seemed to be derived from playground insults. One banner read: ‘You wouldn’t be in the hot seat if your pants weren’t on fire.’ A number of the demonstrators were wearing pink papier mache noses and rubber Tony Blair masks. A new group calling itself ‘ Pinocchios Against War and Occupation’ said that it had counted 36 lies that Tony Blair had told. And how many lies does it take to get sent out of the class?

Certainly, the Hutton affair is seriously shaking the government. Blair’s arrival at the Hutton Inquiry was cautious in the extreme, reflecting a level of official paranoia – they reportedly first sent a dummy version of his armoured Jaguar, then half-an-hour later brought Blair in from the opposite direction, with Blair in the Range Rover behind the Jag. What appeared to be marksmen could be seen covering from surrounding buildings.

But the anti-war movement is deluding itself to think that Hutton is helping any anti-war cause, or that the legitimacy of the war can be sorted out in some kind of judicial inquiry. Any challenge to the government’s policy needs to be made in the world of public debate, not in the Royal Courts of justice.

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Topics Politics


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