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Walter Wolfgang: 'We have been lied to about the war. I dared to speak the truth'

By Walter Wolfgang
Published: 30 September 2005
My case is not important. But what happened to me when I was ejected from the Labour conference - simply for a one-word protest during Jack Straw's speech this week - tells us there is something deeply wrong with the culture of our Government under Tony Blair.
We have been lied to about the war. But not only that. The party has been manipulated so that it has not been allowed to discuss the issue properly.
Indeed, the Labour leaders have got so nervous of criticism that when I shouted the single word "nonsense"- when the Foreign Secretary sought to paper over the issue with smooth words - party officials sent the bouncers in. Even one word of criticism, it seems, was too much.
I had not intended to heckle, much less to make myself the centre of national attention and a debate about whether free speech still exists in the modern Labour Party. But Jack Straw spoke such nonsense - about Iraq, and about Kosovo - that it pushed me over the edge.
I could have said a lot more than that one word. I could have said that we should not have marched into Iraq at all. I could have said we were lied to about the war. But one word was enough. Even so I could not believe that stewards were bearing down on me just because I dared to speak the truth.
Tony Blair is the worst leader the Labour Party has ever had, Ramsay Macdonald included. Mr Blair's instincts are basically those of a Tory. He picked up this cause from the Americans without even analysing it. I suspect that he is too theatrical even to realise that he is lying.
There was no justification for the conflict in Iraq. It isn't only that there were no weapons of mass destruction. The war was simply unnecessary. It was done in support of the United States.
It has brought us to a turning point in history. When I was a child living in Germany in the late 1930s, with relatives who died in the concentration camps, things were very frightening. But the policy of the American government today frightens me too. And so does the attitude of the British Government.
Power corrupts, it is said, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. This is increasingly clear in our post-Cold War era. There is today only one superpower and therefore that superpower has to be restrained by the good advice of its allies. But what Tony Blair has done is the opposite. He has confirmed the prejudices of George Bush, making it much harder for a superpower to get out of its bad habits. We made a mistake by invading Iraq and we should recognise that. Now we have got to leave. Our continued presence in Iraq is part of the problem. It cannot be part of the solution. What has happened in Basra illustrates the mess we have got ourselves in. The situation is difficult enough without us making it more so. The best thing is to confine troops to barracks and having done so bring them home as soon as possible.
The hard truth is that the British people know that. The public - and the Labour Party in particular - are becoming increasingly convinced that we made a mistake going to war against Iraq. And that we are making an even bigger mistake in staying there. That is why some people at the conference this week lost their cool with my single word of criticism.
The party chairman Ian McCartney apologised to me afterwards. He invited me and Steve Forrest - the chap who was also thrown out for telling the bouncers to leave me alone - for a meal with him at the House of Commons some time. That was kind of him and I am happy to draw a line under the incident so far as I am personally concerned.
But the issue for the party is far from resolved. It was foolish to have a foreign policy session at a conference in which the most important issues we face - Iraq and whether we are going to have more nuclear weapons - were barely discussed.
Party leaders have increasingly controlled conference over the last few years. We used to have a very inclusive culture in the party. But New Labour has damaged that. We must reclaim it before it is too late.
Walter Wolfgang: The peace campaigner
The man who was shaped by living in shadow of the Nazis
From Hitler's persecution of his race to the Vietnam War, from the atom bomb to the invasion of Iraq, Walter Wolfgang has spent seven decades opposing every threat he sees to civilised society.
Unsurprisingly, the pensioner, who as a Jewish teenager returned twice to Nazi Germany from the safety of Britain, was yesterday in no mood to be cowed by the "toughies" who dragged him yesterday from the Labour Party conference.
Friends of the 82-year-old retired accountant described him as a painstakingly polite man who nonetheless has "fire in his belly" when he perceives injustice, cruelty or just plain political stupidity.
He is a founding member of Britain's anti-nuclear movement and a veteran of five decades of anti-war protests, including a Sixties demonstration outside the American embassy in London when he was arrested.
John Cox, the vice-chairman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, who has known Mr Wolfgang for almost 50 years, said: "Walter is not the sort who would want to be on the podium - he is an activist rather than a leader. But he has passionately held and defended the same principles all the time I've known him and he will speak up when he sees something that is wrong."
It is a steadfastness that has its roots in the Holocaust. Between 1937 and 1939, Mr Wolfgang returned to Frankfurt after his parents, Hermann and Erna, had sent him to London to flee the threat of Hitler.
It was only when his father was interned by the Nazis and he was himself briefly detained, that he and his family fled to the safety - and liberty - of Britain.
The family settled in Richmond and in 1943 moved to the flat where has lived ever since. But other relatives fell foul of the Holocaust. An aunt died in Auschwitz. He said: "I went back against the advice of a lot of people. I went there on holiday several times. When I went back there in 1938, I was held there for just a few hours and nearly did not get out again."
Cahal Milmo, Ben Russell and Terri Judd