the Disillusioned kid
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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Yesterday 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 lost.

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 install John Negroponte 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 Respect, 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 paraphenalia 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.
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