Ironic twist to Blair 'victory' at UK Labour conference
This afternoon the UK Labour conference voted down a motion calling for an early withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. Many are calling it a lucky escape for Tony Blair. (Guardian report)
While at first glance the result looks like a sound victory for Blair, with 86% of the conference voting against the 'rebel' amendment (14% for), Blair only avoided defeat by gaining the support of the 'big four' unions at the eleventh hour, after days of tense negotiations.
The 'rebel amendment' was a moderate one, calling for Blair to set a date for the early withdrawal of British troops. Given that it is at last becoming widely recognised that a key driver of the insurgency is the presence of the foreign troops, sending a clear signal that Britain does not intend to have a permanent military presence in Iraq may help to calm the situation. A date would have been a clear signal, even if events transpired whereby the forces were there for a short time after the designated date.
Jack Straw attempted to claim that the US, UK troops in Iraq were not an army of occupation, but were there at the request of the interim government and with the support of the United Nations Security Council. But the credibility of Jack's justification is seriously strained by actions of its 'coalition partner', especially as the US appointed the government that made the 'request' and the clear US plans to have a network of permanent military bases in Iraq long after an elected government takes power. The military occupation of Iraq will last decades, not months or years.
When it is taken into account that the 'big four' control 40% of the Labour party conference votes it can easily be seen that the vote was far closer than it first appears - had the unions voted in consistency with their previous clear anti-war views - Blair would have lost (14% supported the motion today and 14% plus 40% is 54%).
There is a deep irony when today's vote is compared to the debate over rail renationalisation at the same conference a few short days ago (Guardian).
On Tuesday the conference overwhelming voted in support of renationalising the railways, despite the protests of the Labour leadership, including Chancellor Gordon Brown and Transport Secretary Alistar Darling. 64% of the conference voted to bring the private rail operating companies back into public ownership, with 36% voting against. Gordon Brown attempted to scaremonger, claiming that renationalising rail would cost £22 billion, seemingly ignoring the obvious option of buying up the long term contracts and phasing out the rest as they come up for renewal. Although the conference motion is meant to be binding, the leadership has already dismissed the possibility of rail renationalisation being included in the Labour manifesto.
BBC news reported that Labour's high command blamed the block voting of the 'big four' unions for the loss, with the Blairites rather pitifully claiming a 'moral victory' because a majority of electorate committees failed to support the renationalisation motion. While a majority of electorate committees voted against the withdrawal amendment today (70%*), Blair got 80% of the union votes - in the twisted Blairite logic does this make it a 'moral defeat'??
Today the British Labour party had a chance to save itself from the poor judgement of its leadership, under the glare of generous television coverage. Ultimately by defeating a moderate motion that called on Blair to set a date for the withdrawal of British troops, it may not escape being branded with Blair's mistake. With this is mind, the left may be best to organise elsewhere.
* these figures flashed up briefly on the BBC