Issue 277 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review





Indecent exposure

Alastair Campbell prepares to take the dock
Alastair Campbell prepares to take the dock

Was Alastair Campbell responsible for the government's deliberate lies about Iraq's 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'? The Hutton inquiry evidence suggests not. Instead the e-mails and memos show the whole government machine was behind the 'sexing up' of Saddam's threat. Campbell is there, but so too are Jonathan Powell, John Scarlett, Godric Smith and a host of press officers, all obsessively worried about the drafts and ever more melodramatic redrafts of the government's dossier. The initials 'TB' recur, showing the prime minister's close involvement in the propaganda programme and subsequent squeeze on Dr Kelly.

The hype is childishly obvious. An early draft dossier is called 'Iraq's Programme for Weapons of Mass Destruction' in quite small letters. The final copy reads 'Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction', in REALLY LARGE LETTERS. The word 'programme'--meaning Iraq may just have some ageing chemical weapons stocks, and may one day make more--has gone. In its place is a claim that Saddam is making, stockpiling and is about to use gas bombs and germ rockets, with a nuclear device around the corner. Campbell's crew clearly believed they could hide their thin story under a large typeface and some 'secret information', which like the '45 minute' claim turned out to be lies told by unnamed liars.

Traditionally, spies revolt against Labour governments because they fear the party is made up of unpatriotic reds. This time the secret services rebelled because they thought Labour was lying us into war. Alongside Kelly a host of intelligence officers complained about the document. One unnamed spook, calling himself 'probably the most senior and experienced intelligence community official working on WMD', worried that the dossier was hype. Even Blair's closest confidant, Jonathan Powell, said, 'You need to make it clear Saddam could not attack us at the moment. The thesis is he would be a threat to the UK in the future if we do not check him.' However, he bit his tongue when 'TB' told the Commons that Iraq was an immediate danger to Britain.

Hutton will report on the narrow question of whether rough treatment by the government contributed to Kelly's suicide, but every day the inquiry shows how Blair's arguments for a war that killed thousands were simple lies. Some of the establishment are circling the wagons around Blair--Telegraph editor Conrad Black openly told his newspaper not to attack on Hutton. They might hate Labour, but must not undermine the authority of war. The Murdoch press are working hard on Blair's side. The BBC's ever loyal Andrew Marr will downplay any damage--the same Marr, on the day Baghdad fell, appeared with a beaming smile to say Blair was a 'larger man and a stronger prime minister' who had beaten off his critics and put behind him the 'slightly tawdry arguments and scandals' that bedevilled the Labour Party. His colossal misjudgement--there was no 'Baghdad bounce', just another scandal--will not stop Marr making the same mistake twice, or as many times as necessary, and declaring Blair's exoneration.

Despite these defences, the Hutton inquiry cuts hard and deep into Labour's authority. At present the right wing make little from the exposure of Labour's lies--Conservative support for the war makes IDS a marginal figure in the scandal. By contrast the anti-war left can be bolstered. The simplest act makes the biggest impact. A small anti-war demonstration before Alastair Campbell's appearance transformed coverage of the inquiry--obsession about side issues ('a fascinating window on the machinery of government', 'will Alastair publish his diary?') is replaced with the main issue: the war was based on lies.

Had there been no anti-war movement, there would be no Hutton inquiry. Without the massive public debate on the war, no journalist would have questioned the government's dossier. Even the splits within the establishment are a product of popular anti-war pressure. Equally, if Iraqis had welcomed coalition forces, there would be no argument. The fact that 'liberation' is as illusory as the WMDs intensifies disgust with the deception over Iraq.

Hoon looks set to be the fall guy--'buff' Hoon was born to be a fall guy--but Kelly's persecution was as much the work of Campbell and Blair. Dr Kelly was a timid but effective whistleblower. Because Dr Kelly's voice came from within the establishment, he gained a hearing. Kelly was, as he wrote, 'personally sympathetic to the war', but presumably, after years of work uncovering Iraqi lies about their old weapons programme, shocked to find his own side so cavalier with the truth. Unwilling or unable to blow the whistle more publicly, caught in a 'tightening of the screw', he humiliated himself by recanting before MPs then took his life.
Solomon Hughes


  • Another battle won in the 'war against terrorism'. John Gilmore, attempting to fly from San Francisco to London on a British Airways flight, was told he would endanger the plane and commit a federal crime if he didn't take off a one-inch badge saying 'suspected terrorist'. When he refused, he was ejected.

  • If you think your Labour MP sounds like a Tory, there could be an explanation. A former Tory minister, Lord Crickhowell, runs their spin machine. Ministers, civil servants and press officers are sent their 'up to date key messages' by the Cabinet Office's Knowledge Network, which is run by ITnet, chaired by Crickhowell.

  • Learning to count
  • School students' maths results may be improving, but the government still has a lot to learn. Schools minister David Miliband issued a press release recently boasting about a 14 percent rise in the number of 11 year olds reaching the 'expected level' in maths SATs since 1998. In fact the increase--of 14 points, from 59 to 73 percent--is a rise of just under 24 percent.


    A real alternative in Brent

    On the campaign trail
    On the campaign trail

    The decision taken by the Socialist Alliance at its annual conference in May to explore the possibilities of building a broader and more credible political coalition has provoked fierce debate in some quarters. But the perspective of the 'task group' of national executive members charged with giving this project national leadership is very clear.

    We intend to continue with the process of seeking to build the Socialist Alliance while actively exploring any possibility of boosting the general project of creating a left alternative to Blair. This means engagement with members of the Muslim community radicalised by the war, community activists and trade unionists.

    As part of this strategy the Socialist Alliance initiated a convention of the left in Brent East to try to find a credible socialist candidate. As a result Brian Butterworth is standing as 'Socialist Alliance Against War and Privatisation'. Brian has lived in Brent for over 20 years, he is chair of Brent Stop the War Coalition and secretary of the largest local trade union, Brent Unison.

    This by-election, now set for 18 September, is of course a severe test for Blair. His credibility, already severely damaged by the 'dodgy dossier' and the aftermath of the war on Iraq, is taking another pounding in the Hutton inquiry.

    The Liberal Democrats, third last time with just 10 percent of the vote, smell blood. They are pouring resources into the constituency and have just produced their seventh separate leaflet or tabloid. Although they hope to pick up on the disillusioned anti-war voters as the most sceptical of the major parties (something they have managed to do elsewhere), Labour and Liberal Democrats are involved in a dogfight which is going headlong towards the right. Lib Dems have attacked Labour over crime and the Livingstone-backed Labour candidate Robert Evans has produced a glossy leaflet announcing the setting up of an 'anti-yob' freephone hotline.

    This drive to the right opens up a space for the Socialist Alliance. Our aim is to generate a sufficient presence through leaflets, campaigners and canvassers that ex Labour voters in some numbers will begin to see Brian Butterworth and the Socialist Alliance as their preferred choice. We have already had a good reception at two big local mosques where Muslim voters, traditionally strongly Labour, are not only deeply disillusioned about the war but also resentful of the failure of the local Labour Party to select their preferred candidate Shahid Malik.

    We are planning a series of days of action in Brent, seeking to mobilise our members and supporters across London and beyond. We have a big rally planned in the middle of September with civil rights campaigners Eamonn McCann and Louise Christian, Linda Smith of London FBU and journalist Paul Foot already confirmed. With Labour and Liberal Democrats monopolising the press both locally and nationally and mobilising their resources, the Socialist Alliance risks being squeezed. But if we mobilise our activists effectively we have a good chance of ensuring that a principled socialist alternative gets a good hearing in this election.
    Rob Hoveman


    Striking successes to emulate

    East London nursery nurses celebrate their victory
    East London nursery nurses celebrate their victory

    Workers' confidence has continued to show signs of recovery in the last couple of months. The huge stop the war movement has politicised a whole new generation of union activists as well as revitalising an older layer. In addition long hours, low pay and bullying bosses mean the anger and bitterness among rank and file workers is immense.

    For check-in staff at British Airways (BA) it exploded over the issue of identity swipe cards, which workers rightly suspected would be used to increase 'flexibility'. The significance of this strike was its spontaneous nature and the level of anger. BA managers were completely panicked as low paid, mainly women workers who had been bullied and harassed for years by managers told them to 'fuck off' when they tried to intimidate them back to work. The resulting victory showed the power of strike action. The task now is to translate that into rank and file organisation.

    There has been a minor rebellion of low paid workers in the past two to three months, the best example being the nursery nurses in east London who both defended an attack on their conditions and won pay rises of up to £4,500 per year after an all-out strike. Most of these battles have been in the NHS, where porters, domestics and catering staff have fought and won in a number of places. The problem has been the unwillingness of Unison to link these struggles nationally.

    This is also true of the mini strike wave on the buses. Over the last two months there have been strikes in Sheffield, Portsmouth, Dorset and Devon and the threat of strikes in York. Most of these have ended in victory, with Devon winning significant concessions. All were characterised by very lively pickets or demonstrations involving large numbers of workers.

    However, the most important battle looming is in the postal service. As we go to press talks have broken down and the Communication Workers Union is to launch a national ballot over pay. At the same time London postal workers will be balloted on London weighting--the unofficial ballot saw a 99.5 percent vote in favour of action. A national or even London-wide strike of postal workers combined with the increasing anger of other workers may well trigger further significant strike action. Whether or not this happens will depend on the confidence of the rank and file and the willingness to organise independently of the union leaders as and when necessary.
    Dave Davies


    The scoop that didn't hold the press

    Buff Hoon

    Before the war, John Barry of Newsweek produced an amazing scoop. He obtained a leaked copy of the interview between General Kamal, Saddam's son in law, and the UN weapons inspectors. Kamal was actually in charge of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme--his defection to the west in 1995 caused panic in Baghdad. Every single assertion about Iraq's WMD programme, every government dossier and major speech relies heavily on Kamal's evidence. However, Barry showed that while Kamal exposed Iraq's pre-1991 WMD programme--the chemical and biological weapons, the plans for nuclear bombs--he actually also said these programmes were destroyed after 1991, although some documents were retained. This authoritative and extraordinary evidence--that Saddam had no WMD and the west knew it--was either ignored or reported very patchily.

    After the war, even after Saddam's very obvious failure to use a single gas bomb or germ-filled rocket, the press were reluctant to say the whole WMD case was a fraud. However, when Dr Kelly approached the press, some journalists began to finally accept this story--his intervention could turn around a newspaper. A voice from inside the establishment is more persuasive for many journalists than any amount of evidence from the outside.

    I had some experience of this after the US claimed to have found Iraqi 'mobile bio-war laboratories'. A close reading of the CIA's own report showed that even their evidence was hedged with qualifications, and Iraq's claim that the vans were actually hydrogen generators, used to inflate weather balloons used by artillery for targeting, was at least a 'plausible cover story'. Further research showed that artillery hydrogen balloons were quite common--Britain had sold Iraq an artillery hydrogen balloon system some years ago. A British firm even built a hydrogen generating van for the US military. I spoke to the Observer about this story, and was treated with interested scepticism. However, Dr Kelly, who was always unconvinced about tales of Iraqi mobile germ labs (he unsuccessfully asked for references to these to be removed from Blair's dossier) approached the Observer. He was one of four Britons who had actually inspected the suspect trailers in Iraq. He also said the vans were not bio-labs. Scepticism turned to excitement, and the story ran: these were not the WMD 'proof'.
    Solomon Hughes



    Industrial relations, paramilitary style

    NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear shows solidarity
    NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear shows solidarity

    War on Want and Justice for Colombia organised a mock execution of 13 British trade union leaders and several MPs outside parliament recently, in a demonstration of solidarity with the terrorised Colombian trade union movement. Timed to coincide with a closed meeting of Colombian donors hosted by the British government, the event highlighted the plight of Colombian trade unionists, and asked why the British government has consistently chosen the wrong line on Colombia.

    Last year 184 trade unionists were assassinated in Colombia while 4,000 civilians were killed for political reasons. Around 400,000 people were also displaced with most forced into stark poverty. In education alone, 27 teachers and lecturers were assassinated in 1999, rising to 83 in 2002.

    Colombia's internally displaced population now stands at close to 3 million. And this is a country that, according to the British government, has 'the longest democratic legacy in Latin America'. Colombian paramilitaries have well documented links to the official armed forces, and often carry out their work in collusion. Ninety five percent of trade union assassinations are the work of paramilitary groups. Military aid from the British government could end up in paramilitary hands as licences are issued for the export of military equipment. How can this be squared with fighting the war on terror?

    The British government has, not surprisingly, kept a tight lid on details of military assistance to Colombia, even refusing to answer questions from members of its own party in parliament. But a report in the Guardian on 9 July suggests that Britain is now the second biggest donor of military aid to Colombia in the world. The article also suggests that this aid has substantially increased since Labour came to power in 1997.

    As a recent Amnesty International report makes clear, 'The use of paramilitaries continues to be integral to the military's counter-insurgency strategy'. While both the Colombian and British governments deny that military collusion with the paramilitaries goes beyond localised instances, mounds of evidence suggest otherwise. The consolidation of paramilitary groups in areas that are now effectively military states within Colombia--'zones of consolidation and rehabilitation'--points to a far more cosy and deep-seated relationship.

    During this period of British aid, the human rights situation in Colombia has gone from bad to worse. Political assassinations increase year on year. The British government asserts that a recent speech by President Uribe in which he talked up the role of civil society is a great step forward. But actions speak louder than words, and the UN High Commission for Human Rights states that there has been 'a significant increase in reports of violations attributed directly to members of the [Colombian] security forces, as compared with 2001'.

    For years, trade unions and civil society groups around the world have called for an International Labour Organisation (ILO) commission of inquiry into the murder of 3,500 trade unionists since 1987. In June, the British government ignored world opinion and refused to vote in favour of such a commission.

    If the government is really concerned about fighting terrorism, it could start by ensuring the British taxpayer is not directly contributing to the terror faced by the trade union movement in Colombia.

    It is time for an alternative form of engagement based on support for those fighting the human rights catastrophe as opposed to those associated with that terror. We do not support a freezing of all aid to Colombia--indeed we want more aid. But we do question the rationality of sending military assistance to a country mired in violence, rather than dealing with the root causes of that violence.
    Nick Dearden
    For more information on War on Want's Global Justice Network e-mail


    Data is Power

    'Distributed Computing' is one of the most interesting computing phenomena of recent years. Millions of people voluntarily take part in projects that use their computers to aid scientific research.

    The original, and by far the widest used, is the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, with over 4.5 million users worldwide. You can find out more at

    Other projects involve the analysis of genes in the search for cancer cures at and mathematical data to model climate change at

    The basic rationale of these projects is simple. Home computers have immense, rarely used calculating power. Across the globe, at any one time, millions of computers are turned on, but doing nothing. If you can find a way of distributing data to each machine, and then analysing it, this untapped resource of computing power can be turned into a 'super computer' more powerful than any single machine out there.

    The benefit for those taking part at home, beyond pretty screensaver images of the data being processed, is the knowledge that ordinary people across the globe are taking part in genuine scientific research that could make a difference to people's lives.

    The use of computer networks like this hints at the potential for technology to transform our lives. For instance, any truly democratic society would require the population to have ready access to information to help facilitate discussion--the internet would be an ideal way to improve this.

    Currently access to the internet is restricted to those who can afford it. While almost half of households in Britain have access (according to a report at, the web is very limited elsewhere--only 7 percent of the Russian population are online, less than 1 percent in Pakistan are and so on.

    Ultimately though, in a world where more than one in six people lack access to safe drinking water ( internet access shouldn't be the first priority. But if we dare to visualise a better society, we should begin to look at how technology could really be used to make that world work.

    (Thanks to Nick in Cambridge for suggestions for this column.)
    Martin Empson

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