Smug repetition

Anne Mc Shane reports from a Hackney Stop the War Coalition meeting

Hackney Stop the War Coalition held a public meeting last week. About 150 people turned up to the Halkevi Centre to listen and participate in the discussion. Unfortunately, however, there was not much of the latter. This was not the fault of the chair, Vivek Lehal of the SWP, who presided over the meeting fairly. Rather the problem was the unwillingness of platform speakers in particular and the SWP in general to actually engage in debate.

All the platform speakers - with the exception of Diane Abbott, who turned up as usual just before the meeting ended - were leading SWP members. However, true to form, they were never introduced as such. Paul Embery was, for example, merely an FBU militant speaking in his personal capacity. Anyway, he kicked off with a description of how badly the government is doing in the light of the Hutton inquiry and called for Blair to be put in the dock of the International War Crimes Tribunal.

Lindsey German then followed with another account of how badly the government is doing at the moment and how strong the anti-war movement is. She called for the biggest possible mobilisation on September 27 and said that if the demonstration was small, that would be a defeat. We need to fill Trafalgar Square. Then Mark Steele spoke (humorously) of how badly Blair is doing and how important it is to build the demonstration. The pre-selected list of SWP speakers from the floor then repeated the same points over and over again.

The smug self-satisfaction from the top table was breathtaking. No analysis of the last six months. No discussion of how we build a political alternative to New Labour. No hint of criticism of the STWC’s failure to include opposition to the Ba’athist dictatorship amongst its demands. No rethinking of the decision to give Charles Kennedy a platform on February 15 - in spite of Brent East. No reconsideration of the SWP’s ‘numbers are everything’ strategy and the fear this engendered of a schism with Kennedy. No questioning of the long-term alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain - which opted for the Liberal Democrats in Brent East and calls for the death of apostates.

Finally Diane Abbott swept in to give us her opinions. The Hutton inquiry will “spark a rebellion” from MPs who “voted with the government” on the war. She also believed that the difficulties of actually holding down Iraq will hamper both Blair and Bush from any more adventures against other ‘rogue states’.

Whatever happens, it is clear that we cannot just rely on demonstrations. We need real debate, not smug self-congratulation and hot air.