Issue 275 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
Whatever happened to the 'Baghdad bounce?' The adulation that was meant to boost our beleaguered prime minister as a happy nation accepted the righteousness of his latest imperial adventure has failed to materialise. Instead it has been a difficult few weeks for Blair. The resignation of a cabinet minister over the occupation of Iraq, the second biggest Labour rebellion over a domestic issue over foundation hospitals, the prospect of strike action over Sats, and a disastrous result for Labour in the local government elections are all signs of a government in serious difficulty.
Blair is in a much weaker position now than before the war started. As the Guardian said on 21 May, 'Blair has been personally damaged by the events of the last few weeks... He is now once again an unpopular prime minister with an approval rating of minus eight.'
Part of the reason is that all the arguments made by the anti-war movement against the invasion of Iraq have proved to be correct. The claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction looks increasingly incredible, its oil is under the control of US companies, the UN continues to be marginalised and the occupation carries on indefinitely. Corporate vultures, such as Halliburton and Bechtel, continue to circle. On top of this, many of the issues that led to the unpopularity of the Blair government before the war--such as health, education and transport--show little sign of improvement.
More significantly, however, and what many of the so called experts fail to mention, is that over the last few months we have seen the development of a movement against the government of truly historic proportions. The largest number of people ever to demonstrate in Britain took to the streets against the war. The hundreds of meetings and rallies held up and down the country have renewed the confidence of all those opposed to the system that Blair represents. And the breadth and diversity of the movement has strengthened working class confidence. Now the very issue of the relationship between the trade unions and Labour is up for discussion. The decision by Bectu to ballot its members over whether to continue affiliation to Labour has sent shock waves throughout the movement. The issue will also be raised at a number of other trade union conferences over the coming months.
Blair may be deeply damaged by the war on Iraq but the same cannot be said for our side. The key over the coming weeks is to deepen the movement and prepare for the battles ahead. This has to be done by taking up many of the ideological issues raised by the war--the systematic links between imperialism, war and capitalism, the fact that New Labour is part of the problem not the solution and that the working class is the only force capable of driving through fundamental change. The impressive turnout to a number of Stop the War Coalition meetings since the war ended has shown that there are large numbers of people wanting to discuss these questions.
But if these are not to remain abstract debates, we have to strengthen the left forces within the working class. Socialists have been crucial to the development of the anti-capitalist movement over the last few years. This, in turn, helped strengthen the movement against war. Now as the future of the working class movement is being openly debated it is important that the case for a left wing alternative to New Labour is raised and the rank and file networks necessary to create it are developed.