Forty years ago, I sat down proudly in Trafalgar Square alongside Bertrand Russell and thousands of others in protest against Britain's weapons of mass destruction...Now, however, 40 years on, a monstrous war looms in the Middle East for which there is not the slightest justification. Every single charge against Saddam Hussein - that he has nuclear weapons, repeatedly breaks international law by invading his neighbours, and is a constant threat to peace in the region - applies tenfold to the client state of the United States in the region, Israel.
The people must protest
By Paul Foot
The Guardian (UK)- Wednesday October 30, 2002: Forty years ago, I sat down proudly in Trafalgar Square alongside Bertrand Russell and thousands of others in protest against Britain's weapons of mass destruction. We were all breaking the law. There was a lot of civil disobedience at that time, organised by the Committee of 100. The committee's arguments were founded in the horrific nature of nuclear weapons and the urgency of alerting the government to widespread public disquiet about them. The square was cleared by police in the early morning and the committee eventually vanished.
Now, however, 40 years on, a monstrous war looms in the Middle East for which there is not the slightest justification. Every single charge against Saddam Hussein - that he has nuclear weapons, repeatedly breaks international law by invading his neighbours, and is a constant threat to peace in the region - applies tenfold to the client state of the United States in the region, Israel.
The war on Iraq proposed by President Bush is a classic imperialist invasion to safeguard oil supplies. Very few governments in the world - and absolutely none in the Middle East - support Mr Bush's war. Britain's New Labour government is an exception - no one doubts that if Mr Bush does go to war in Iraq, he can rely on the grovelling support of the British government. Yet in the country the situation is very different. Opinion polls show a majority against war. The enormous anti-war demonstration last month took everyone by surprise, but was ignored in parliament and patronised in the press. Only 70 MPs out of 650 made even a gesture against the Iraq war. Lots of people joining in tomorrow's anti-war day will wonder what it takes to get their protest noticed. Who else can stop the war but the people? The case for civil disobedience, strong enough in the early 1960s, seems even stronger now.
· Whenever I see Paul Boateng on television, I recall his election in 1987, with a heavily reduced majority, in Brent South. Garlanded with flowers, a delighted Mr Boateng declared: "Today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto." I have always been puzzled by this reference to the poverty-stricken South African township, but now I think I am beginning to understand it. Mr Boateng is in the cabinet, as chief secretary to the Treasury, and on October 10 he spoke at a global investment seminar sponsored by the country's biggest banker HSBC. After paying long and grovelling obeisance to the millionaires in his audience ("thanks to you, London has maintained its position among the world's top financial centres - we owe that to the enthusiasm and outlook in this room") Mr Boateng moved on to his main theme - the talks at the World Trade Organisation in Doha. The European Commission, he said, was putting its proposals about more "liberalisation" to the WTO. A lot had been done to pass on the views of British industrialists, but "we have more work to do in order to deepen the dialogue on trade in services". He went on: "The better informed the EC's negotiators are about the barriers you face, the better equipped they will be to present your case."
In the past, Labour Treasury ministers have sought the views of bankers so they could be assessed and perhaps even contradicted. Now it seems a minister's role is even simpler: just to present the bankers' case to the WTO in order to remove any "barriers you face". One such "barrier" that annoys bankers all over the world is publicly owned enterprises such as hospitals, a barrier that is especially irritating in new juicy markets in Africa. So at last Mr Boateng's 1987 slogan is beginning to make sense: "Today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto's hospitals privatised - with big fees for bankers."
· The same fraternal relationship between New Labour ministers and their wealthy sponsors emerges from last week's short controversy about tax relief on pensions contributions. At the moment all contributions to a pension fund can be set off against tax. In recent months some cheeky advisers have dared to suggest that the pensions tax relief for the very rich should be scrapped, saving many billions for the exchequer, and replaced by a scheme in which the government makes matching payments into everyone's pension pot. "This could mean," explained the Financial Times, "the less well off getting more help towards pension saving, but the better-off would get less." What a shocking proposal! How dare the government even contemplate such an outrage! As soon as the Tories and the Daily Mail got to hear of it there was a deafening chorus of righteous rich men's fury, and the terrified ministers at once threw up their hands and surrendered.