I have just accepted an offer to speak at Respect’s national conference. Let me be quite clear – I will speak against the war and Bush foreign policy, and in favour of human rights, to pretty well any audience. I spoke at the Lib Dem fringe, and am doing an event with the Tories in December. My politics are no secret – I tend to vote Lib Dem in England and Scot Nat in Scotland, sometimes at the same election! Nowadays my loyalties are to principles, not parties, and there are individuals I respect across most parties who I believe are broadly in line with those principles.
I am telling you this because Respect have split, and I will be talking to one of the shards. I would speak to any other shard if asked, too.
The far left in this country seems wonderfully self-destructive. Watching the Scottish Socialist Party, which had actually been electorally successful, tear itself apart over accusations that Tommy Sheridan had indulged in some of my hobbies, was morbidly fascinating. Why Respect think they have enough mass to split is beyond me. It’s the People’s Front of Judea all over again.
Peculiarly, the tensions between socialist politics and some of the more conservative views of Islam, which made Respect a strange alliance, do not seem to be what split it. I don’t really know what did cause the trouble. Power struggles between individuals are all I can discern.
The reason I care is that this all impacts on the Stop the War movement. I have moaned before that it is very unfortunate that a movement whose aims are supported by a majority of the British population, is organisationally dominated by those from a tiny minority perspective. The reason is, of course, that they are prepared to put in the work and know how to do the organising – the process is not sinister, but the failure of the Stop the War Coalition to turn mass support into a mass movement may yet prove to be a historical disaster. Lib Dems, Tories, Scot Nats, Plaid Cymru and old Labour are hugely outnimbered at STW conferences by less mainstream groups. I speak to STW meetings up and down the country still, though I do many more for Amnesty International nowadays. But the STW meetings in the provinces have shrunk right down towards their SWP core.
STW itself seems to be splintering over Iran. There is apparently a division over whether it is legitimate to criticise the Iranian government, while opposing any attack on Iran. My own view is that Iran has a dreadful government strongly influenced by theocratic nutters, the human rights situation is very poor, and it has stupidly handled the nuclear weapons question with unhelpful bellicosity. But I also think that the extremism would die down if the US stopped feeding it by mindless antagonism, and that an attack on Iran would be even more disastrous than the attack on Iraq. The tendency to whitewash anyone who opposes Bush – be it Ahmadinejad, Putin, Chavez or whoever – is one of the specimes of flabby thinking which prevents the anti-war case from being put with the force it deserves.
Meantime, I shall continue to do what little I can, by writing and by speaking to whoever will listen. But we must not give up on the anti-war movement – as time ticks on with the Republicans still on the back foot approaching the Presidential election, an attack on Iran becomes every day more likely. American electoral politics, not Iran’s nuclear power programme or international relations, will be the key factor.