Will the real George Galloway please shut up?

An article for the Script. Whether it will be published or not, I don't know, but I thought I'd put it here.


Well-meaning Guardian readers against the war, the Sectarian Workers’ Party and Monopolise Resistance, or: why the Stop the War Coalition failed.

Look. I’m sorry, but I read the Guardian. I take after the time-honoured strain of pinko thought that opposes any and every war on the sole condition that it finished at least ten years ago. I think it’s absolutely essential that people have the right to demonstrate because they look so cute on Parliament Square. In the rain. Listening to Lindsay German. I can remark loudly to tourists how wonderful it is to live in a free country as I go past on the bus, thankyouKenLivingstonedontchajustlove’im?

I wasn’t very keen on Saddam (Sir, I bloody well do not salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability) but I didn’t really like the idea of the Americans blowing bits of Iraq up. Afghanistan was probably OK and gave me great potential for agonised, liberal hand-wringing, but Iraq was such a bad idea that, horror of horrors, I would actually take a position on it.

The Stop the War Coalition, by anyone’s measure, achieved phenomenal growth. It went from nowhere to organising not on a town-by-town basis but on a suburb-by-suburb basis. The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) deserve a lot of credit for this, as do CND and MAB, as they did provide a lot of the administrative support that allowed the organisation to function at all. It was, though, a grass-roots movement based on a very real feeling that the war on Iraq was wrong. The Stop the War Coalition provided agency for that movement but did not create and did not grow that feeling. It did call the 2,000,000 march on February 15 2003, but I suspect that a drover’s dog could have achieved a similar number, such was the feeling against the war.

Oh, and please don’t tell me that the Stop the War Coalition brought together lots of intellectuals and gave them a position on the news. I refuse to believe that Jeremy Corbyn et al. would not have been interviewed by the various media outlets had the Stop the War Coalition not been around.

Why, then, has the Stop the War Coalition gone from having a thirtieth of the population of this island marching through London to damp protests on Parliament Square?

If the Stop the War Coalition was going to continue as a meaningful force, it needed to attract and retain the soggy left of the ‘Various People Against Nasty Things’ variety. Providing placards that said ‘Victory to the Resistance’ was, at risk of being controversial, not the best way of building a broad coalition. It was a very good way of alienating the people who don’t consider the Socialist Worker newspaper to be some of Fleet Street’s finest editing and putting the few remainders a short step from carrying SWP banners.

The people in, allied to or close to the SWP were probably, I should fancy, already against the war. There was absolutely no need to appeal to them – most people on the left, including the SWP, are in favour of a co-operative system rather than the confrontational nature of capitalism and so one presumes they would be prepared to coalesce around a common goal – unless the SWP was running the Stop the War Coalition for its own ends. I hesitate to say that the SWP went into the Stop the War Coalition as part of a recruitment drive, particularly as I think that the other main groups that went along with the anti-war movement, CND and MAB, would have words to say about it. Nevertheless, I think it is possible that the mindset was so much one of being a small party become little more than a protest group that people just didn’t know what to do.

The protest virgins who came out for a jolly on that February 15th were not going to make it a regular occurrence. They’re too lazy, too busy and too far away. Endless demonstrations in Parliament Square addressed by the same group of speakers – no doubt, talented orators with a valid point to make – just makes the Stop the War Coalition look like another pointless, hard left group with initials (StWC, to join AWL, WSWS, ICFI, CFE, SWP, SWSS, CPE(M-L), LSESU, NUS) rather than ideas.

How would the Stop the War Coalition have succeeded?

By stopping the war. Sadly, it didn’t. It was not, though, time at that point to pack up and go home or become increasingly radical and distasteful to the Chelsea tractor drivers who we adored on February 15. If we are serious about having – and I use this phrase with more than a little trepidation – an ethical foreign policy, we need to show not merely that, in that time-honoured phrase, ‘bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity’ but that there is an alternative. Moreover, that alternative has to be acceptable to people; a socialist world might well be more desirable for some, but that doesn’t achieve the aim of stopping the war or, at least, limiting or eliminating British involvement in said war.

Don’t get me wrong: the Stop the War Coalition, all the people who worked in the office in Brick Lane and then at King’s Cross, all the people who attended and organised meetings did a great deal of work and, I think, an amount of good. The Stop the War Coalition will go down in history. It will not, though, go down as the moment at which everything changed but as an interesting aberration from the norm of apathy and disengagement. It could have kept people on board – not turning out to protests every week but by maintaining a sentiment that the war on Iraq was wrong, the occupation of Iraq is still wrong and the Government’s actions over terror are wrong.

The Stop the War Coalition started, I believe, around the time of the conflict in Afghanistan, the war in question being (as CNN put it) The War Against Terror (TWAT). If that is so, and given that Liberal Democrat and, horror of horror, some Conservative sentiment is riled by, for instance, the new powers for house arrest that the Government has arrogated itself, a protest about civil liberties might have attracted more people, made the Stop the War Coalition look like more than alphabet soup leftie groups and educated the masses a bit about why they need to be concerned about public freedoms.

I suspect that before overly long, we will be again on the eve of war in the Middle East. Whether that war is stopped or not, we cannot at this juncture say, but there will be calls for more restrictions on civil liberties, more secrecy and more alienation of people from politicians.

At that time, we will have the opportunity to plant a seed – an opportunity we missed in Iraq – that says that this sort of military adventuring is wrong and perhaps stop it happening again.

Now, can I have some guacamole, please? No, the organic one. Thanks, Tony.


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