Labour fights over the war
Leadership backtracks over Iraq vote
Battle for control of agenda in face of party hierarchy leads to labyrinthine series of manoeuvres
Kevin Maguire and Patrick Wintour
Tuesday September 30, 2003
Labour's hierarchy was forced to backtrack last night after a revolt by union leaders and anti-war constituency delegates over the decision not to allow a vote on the Iraq war threatened to derail the conference.
The row is part of a wider struggle to control the conference agenda which has pitted the increasingly determined and united four big unions against the party leadership.
The unresolved struggle has been going on behind the scenes for months, but over the past few days has been raging off the conference floor as left and right challenge one another over the correct interpretation of the conference's little understood, and ill defined rules.
In order to fend off criticism that Iraq has been sidelined at this year's conference party leaders have to reconsider the controversial decision not to hold a vote on the issue, with an announcement tomorrow. Party officials are desperate to avert both a humiliating defeat for Tony Blair and the embarrassment of widespread protests in Bournemouth.
On Sunday night party officials had been privately delighted when the constituencies did not put their full weight behind an Iraq vote. Under the party's arcane rules, only four contemporary resolutions are allowed to be debated each year. This year the big four unions had made a pact to support one another's priority issue, and with the unions enjoying half the conference vote, their exclusively domestic agenda was bound to win through.
The unions' unusually co-ordinated tactics are putting the Labour leadership on the back foot all week. In an effort to avoid suffering very public defeats, the party executive yesterday morning took the unusual step of supporting resolutions critical of the government on rights at work and manufacturing. The GMB general union is likely to inflict a visible defeat on Thursday over pensions, demanding compulsory contributions by employers into staff schemes. The union simply walked out of a CAC meeting when loyalists attempted to group it with a motion that was ambiguous about the need to make employer contributions compulsory.
Blair's goal this week is to avoid humiliation. The Unions, who actually fund the posh suit wearers of New Labour, are pissed. They want a vote on the war in Iraq and well, we all know how that ends. The Labour leadership is desperate to avoid the hours of slanging and whinging which will come with any such debate. The other reason is that such a debate could set the stage for a leadership challenge. The war isn't getting any better, and Blair is getting more dogmatic as half of all Britions want him gone.
If they don't debate Iraq, there will certainly be large scale protests. If they do, they will clearly condemn the war. They wanted to avoid the whole thing, like avoiding a crazed drunk. But like a crazy drunk, it is impossible to ignore. It's lose-lose.
Labour is starting to look at Bliar, as they now call him in protests, and see electoral defeat looming ahead. While Smiler marches along, allowing no deviation in the plan, the US erupts in scandal over the exposure of a CIA officer. This can't help Blair with the Labour left or the Unions. Another loss in a by-election and all hell could break loose.
posted by Steve @ 11:14:00 PM