Make a difference
Saturday's anti-war demonstration is vital because it could change the whole course of politics, says Paul Foot
Wednesday February 12, 2003
I confess I am not a very patriotic sort of person, but this week I have suffered twice from the familiar combination of BBIV (blood boiling with indignation in my veins) and HUIN (hair standing up at the back of my neck) out of a sense of shame for my country and its government.
I watched the television while Chirac, rightwing president of France, and Putin, KGB apparatchik and prime minister of Russia, combined to talk plain common sense on the proposed American war on Iraq.
They pointed out that the UN had passed a resolution in favour of disarming Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, and that no one in their right minds would be opposed to such a project.
In pursuance of that aim, inspectors had gone into Iraq. From 1991 to 1998, these inspectors had found and destroyed an enormous quantity of such weapons. Sent back in last year, they have not been impeded in their work, and have not yet found any evidence of such weapons.
The sensible approach, said Chirac and Putin, was to let the inspectors get on with the job. Only in extreme circumstances, if their work was openly obstructed, or if nuclear or chemical weapons or the means of constructing them were found and not destroyed, should there be any resort to force and even then, preferably, by United Nations troops.
Chirac and Putin were not alone even among heads of state. In Germany, Belgium and Greece, to name but three European countries, the people and their representatives think the same way. My sense of shame arose from the absence in this sublimely moderate and sensible coalition of any representative of the British government or indeed the British opposition.
Tory and Labour leaders cling together to proclaim the most fantastic and monstrous proposition that before we even have any proof of these weapons of mass destruction or the likelihood of their use, the most powerful armed forces in the world should unleash an attack on one of weakest and most defenceless countries on earth.
Even more shameful was the resort by 10 Downing Street, in defence of this proposition, to the most disgraceful plagiarism and deceit, of the kind which would in the old days have most certainly and properly got Alastair Campbell the sack from the Daily Mirror. The shame was finally compounded by reading of the performance of the British parliament and its Speaker in preventing a parliamentary debate on any of these historic and urgent developments.
I wrote here several months ago of the importance of demonstrating against the war. There can be no doubt that the vast demonstration last September altered the government view about the opposition to war. This was not a barmy army, but a vast array of anxious people. Official catcalls of "appeasers!" and "pacifists!" were replaced with more presentable arguments. Now the stakes are much higher, and so is the mounting tide of outrage.
Why is Britain the first to rush to the aid of the United States adventure? Why are our troops going to the Gulf when even the troops of countries whose governments are ostensibly in favour of the war are tactfully held back? Are there any depths to which the government information and intelligence services will not sink in their campaign to halt the irresistible rise in hostility to the war?
And above all what can people do about it? How can voters respond when their sheepish representatives can't even debate the matter in parliament? These are questions that are no longer restricted to a small coterie of people who are "interested in politics".
It seems suddenly that everyone is interested; everyone except Julie Burchill and Ian Duncan Smith is shocked and everyone wants to do something about it. On Saturday, the clich頷ill become the truth.
The eyes and ears of the world will be fixed on the London streets and on Hyde Park. The size and fury of the demonstration will have an impact on real events the like of which I have not experienced in a lifetime of protest. Hyde Park will once again host a demonstration, like that of the Reform League in 1867 or the suffragettes in 1908, that can change the whole course of politics. Go to it.Terror threat to London 'on scale of September 11'
Staff and agencies
Wednesday February 12, 2003
The Labour party chairman, John Reid, today said that the current terrorist threat to London was on the scale of the September 11 attack on New York.
Speaking as troops in tank-like armoured cars were stationed outside Heathrow airport for the second day in succession, Mr Reid denied that the deployment was an over the top reaction to the threat of a war in Iraq.
"This is not a game. This is about a threat of the nature that massacred thousands of people in New York," he said. "I am not even going to take seriously those people who suggest this is part of some sort of game."
Several units of soldiers are again stationed by the model of Concorde at Heathrow's main entrance, while military trucks are positioned outside the airport's key buildings.
Small teams of soldiers and police officers, armed with rifles, are patrolling the entrances to the main car parks and airport terminals.
Police checks on vehicles are continuing on approach roads in towns and villages around Heathrow, and a number of police are stationed in Windsor Great Park.
Terror experts said that the deployment pointed to the threat of a missile attack on a plane, similar to the attempted strike on an Israeli airliner in Kenya late last year. The shoulder-held anti-aircraft missile was fired at the low-flying jet eight miles from Mombassa airport.
The home secretary, David Blunkett, today said that ministers had considered shutting Heathrow when they received the so far unspecified threat, but believed that closing the airport would have been a victory for terrorists and "catastrophic" for Britain's trade and economy.
"We decided we needed to act and put in place preventative measures to pre-empt any action that was threatening us," Mr Blunkett said. "We hope we can get through the next few days without an incident."
Most passengers at Heathrow seemed reassured by the enormous increase in security measures, but the upgrading came as a surprise to many arriving at the airport from abroad.
Raymond de Rubeis, an Australian, said that he had not know of the military deployment until he walked out of the arrivals lounge to smoke a cigarette.
"It is one thing to see it on television, but quite another to see it live," he said. "In one sense it scares me, but it is necessary for protection because I do not want a September 11 here.
"But a rocket launcher is a small piece of machinery: you could put in a ski bag and pretend to be a skier. It is scary, but it is reality.
The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, today said that any attack on the capital would probably involve a "small device".
He urged Londoners to remain alert, but described the US government's instructions to Americans to stockpile food and buy tape to help seal their homes against possible chemical attack as "over the top".
"There is always the danger of a catastrophic attack by al-Qaida: we think something less than September 11, considering the battering that his (Osama bin Laden's) organisation has had.
"It is much more likely that, in London, it would be a small device like we saw for 30 years in the IRA campaigns."
Mr Livingstone said he had been told of a "potential threat" to Heathrow airport "some weeks if not months ago".
7 Armed officers from Greater Manchester police today carried out spotchecks at Manchester airport to "reassure the public that every possible step is being taken."
However, chief inspector Martin Gaffney said that military personnel would not be deployed as there was no specific intelligence of any threat to the airport or anywhere else in the region.