Regime change begins at home

Tony Blair is in a perilous position. The people are against him. The trade unions are against him. The Labour Party's grassroots activists are against him. And on February 26 121 backbench Labour MPs defied a three-line whip and voted against him. The government had to rely on the payroll vote of ministers and their aides. And if the Tories had not supported him Blair would have gone down to a crushing defeat. Quite clearly the Labour Party is split top to bottom. Clare Short and Robin Cook are known doubters. There are probably 20 to 30 others. Yet Wednesday's debate was celebrated by much of the media as a glorious parliamentary occasion. A splendid example of democracy in practice. It was no such thing. Parliament has proven itself to be cumbersome, remote and totally unrepresentative. The war party in the House of Commons - Blair, his ministers and hangers-on, plus the official Tory Party - has a clear majority. The peace party's amendment was defeated by 393 votes to 199. The government's own motion backing its efforts to get a second UN resolution was passed by 434 votes to 124. But the war party has no majority in the country. Opinion polls routinely show only 10% supporting Blair's Altanticist policy of automatically backing a US war against Iraq - with or without a second UN security council resolution. Nearly 60% say they are against the war even if the US, UK and Spain manage to get their new resolution through the UN (by bullying Russia, China and France into not using their veto and bribing the basket cases - Angola, Cameroon, etc). This majority manifested its breadth, size, enthusiasm and potential on February 15 - two million on the streets of London; 90,000 in Glasgow; 20,000 in Belfast. Is this anti-war majority represented in the House of Commons? Not by Chris Smith, Kenneth Clarke and Charles Kennedy. Parliament's peace party articulates the wavering 30% minority which might support a war in Iraq - if it has UN backing. The 199 votes gained by the peace party - which included 50 Liberal Democrats, 13 Tories and the Welsh and Scottish nationalists - claim that the "case for war is unproven". Chris Smith urged parliament to respond to Hans Blix's plea for more time so that his UN weapons inspectors can finish their job. What happens if agents of mass destruction are then found? Ken Clarke fears the "consequences of war". An invasion of Iraq would act as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism and bin Ladenism. Threaten war to force Saddam Hussein to comply - but do not strike yet. But in six months? Charles Kennedy also wants to follow the "UN route". Parliament's peace party differs with the war party over means. Not ends. Both parties have the same objective of disarming Iraq and imposing the will of the UN - a den of nuclear-armed bloodsuckers, pseudo-democracies and tin-pot dictatorships. Put another way, the argument in parliament is over timing. Continue imperialist diplomacy for a few more months or turn to imperialist war in three weeks time. Clearly the anti-war party can neither trust nor rely on parliament. MPs are elected every four or five years through a demonstrably unfair first-past-the-post system. There is no right of recall. Indeed the whole institution of parliament - monarch, House of Lords, stilted language, archaic procedures, whips, cabinet, presidential prime minister, etc - is designed not to express, but check, divert and smother, popular initiative and anger. Blair will anyway give the go-ahead for war not after another polite Westminster debate, but, in all likelihood, through the use of the royal prerogative. Because war with Iraq cannot be stopped through parliament, the people are turning in their millions to extra-parliamentary methods. Not only the next round of huge demonstrations in March, but readying for political strikes, boycotts of munitions, occupations of workplaces, schools and colleges, takeovers of city and town centres, etc. Such actions need coordination if they are to be effective. And that means as a necessity the fullest democracy in the anti-war party from the local groups up to the national level. The March 12 people's assembly, organised by the Stop the War Coalition in Central Hall, Westminster, is an excellent initiative. This counter-conference must, of course, be used as a platform to expose the predatory aims of the war party - the oil grab, Turkey's designs over Kurdistan, the US vision of permanent war - and the lack of a popular mandate. However, the people's assembly must also grow into a people's parliament. A place where the anti-war party meets, debates, decides and monitors our strategy and tactics. The anti-war party is a movement for democracy. We say, regime change must start in Britain. That does not mean simply calling for Blair to go. That is inadequate in today's situation of greatly heightened political awareness and direct involvement. Blair would simply and effortlessly be replaced by another presidential prime minister - a cabinet insider like Gordon Brown or a cabinet outside like Peter Hain. Regime change - if it is to be meaningful rather than purely superficial - involves getting rid of the whole constitutional monarchy system. Abolish the monarchy and the second chamber. Fight for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales and a united Ireland. Extend democracy - annual elections and the right to recall representatives. Such demands logically go hand in hand with other measures - replacing the standing army with popular militias, introducing workers' control, substantive equality between men and women, etc. Regime change for us is about constantly extending control from below. Jack Conrad