SWP backs Reg for Sedgefield

Should communists support Reg Keys? Phil Rawlinson is not convinced

Perhaps the most prominent non-party challenge to New Labour in the general election has been that of Reg Keys in Tony Blair's own north-east constituency. The war in Iraq is the central, indeed only, focus of the 'Reg Keys for Sedgefield' campaign. His 20-year-old son, lance corporal Tom Keys, was killed while serving as a military policeman in Iraq in June 2003. Keys's campaign has been backed by a number of celebrities, including musician Brian Eno, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, pop-science academic Richard Dawkins, actor David Soul, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond and the former independent MP for Tatton, Martin Bell. Interestingly, Keys is also being actively supported by many Respect members based in the Durham/Teesside area, including John Bloom, the Respect candidate for the September 2004 by-election in the neighbouring constituency of Hartlepool. Respect is contesting just one seat in the north east, Tyne Bridge, which is out of reach for most supporters in the region on anything other than an occasional basis. Much as one may sympathise with Keys's bereavement, and pleasurable as it might be to see Blair embarrassed on May 5, it is hard to see why any principled socialist should want to jump on this particular bandwagon. There is little sign that he has been genuinely radicalised by his experiences or that his political trajectory is in a leftwards direction like, say, the Respect-supporting Gentle family who also lost a loved one in the Iraq conflict. Keys has no programme at all. 'Reg's pledges' are confined to the following four broad platitudes: * No more illegal wars: I will not support or condone British involvement in any more illegal wars or invasions, nor support the USA in any illegal actions. * No more lies: I will not lie to my constituents or to the country, nor keep quiet while lies are told by the government. * No more betrayals: I will not betray the trust of those who have elected me nor of the young men and women in our armed forces who swear an oath of allegiance to their country. * Reg Keys - a real constituency MP: I will live in the constituency - I have no parliamentary ambition other than to serve my constituents" (www.keysforsedge-field.org.uk). Our Reg has nothing to say about any policy issue. We do not know where this 'honest Joe' type stands on the future of the health service, on asylum-seekers, on immigration, on privatisation - on anything. Even Keys's opposition to the war is couched in narrowly legalistic terms - that Blair led the UK into the conflict on the basis of a "false prospectus" with his claim that the Iraqi regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Because of this deception, Keys argues that the prime minister has forfeited the people's trust and is morally unfit to govern. When asked on Radio 4 a few weeks ago how he would have viewed the issue had it turned out that WMDs were present in Iraq, Keys conceded that he would have supported the war and accepted his son's death as a regrettable necessity. This, surely, is not the basis of opposition to the conflict on which the Stop the War Coalition was formed and the mass demonstration of February 2003 was mobilised. And, for all our criticisms of the language of international law in which the case against war is usually argued, it was not the basis of Respect's creation either. Many of us, and certainly those active in the left, were opposed to the war because it was an imperialist act, regardless of whether or not Saddam Hussein had WMDs. The prospect of witnessing Blair face a re-enactment of the famous 'Portillo moment' of 1997 may be enticing, but I doubt whether Reg Keys will take the PM to a recount. In any case, he is certainly not a candidate worthy of communist/socialist support. Phil Rawlinson