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7 Feb – Bristol Stop the war...or election rally?

conscious non-voter | 09.02.2005 00:16 | Analysis | Anti-militarism

Further to your previous newswire report at here's another view of the Bristol STW rally on 7 Feb.
The turnout of 700+ was amazing, and testament to BSTW's ongoing independence and hard campaigning work. However, a lot of people were drawn to see their old MP Benn, and will they have been motivated to do anything else after this meeting?

With the main hall jammed by 7.15pm, and another 100 outside, it looked as if the anti-war protest movement was about to seize control of the (pro-war) NewLabour run Council House. No such luck! 'Security' had matters under control, first locking the doors, and then later opening up the council chamber itself for an overflow meeting (where your earlier correspondent Dan was I believe).

I had arrived earlier, running the gauntlet of left-wing sects outside. The main hall was bedecked with 19.03 demo posters, plus a few anti-war & union banners. Every chair had a Respect party flyer on. There were stalls at the back (out of the way) and along with Respect, Bookmarks & Defend Asylum Seekers campaign, were a couple of the few signs of independence seen all evening - stalls from Palestine Solidarity/ISM, and Bristol G8 Dissent (who were also struggling to give out flyers on the door amidst the deluge of paper sellers). There was also a trio of Bristolian sellers outside, hopefully not overcome by the irony of the event!

At 7.30pm we were off, with Lucas, the Green MEP, giving a surprisingly strong anti-war speech. Like all good pros she knows her audience, and plays to it, within the confines of her position as a member of the political ruling class.

She was followed by John Rees. He was introduced as from the national STW, although the advance flyposted publicity said he was from Respect. Split personality perhaps, but the speaking style (hand-chopping motions!) was a giveaway. His speech really focused on motivating people to go to London on 19 March for the national demo. Another demo to stop the war/bring the troops home...just like the last one. No change of tactics then, 2 years after 2 million marched against a war that had not yet begun, but continues today.

After a brief speech by an anti-war ex-soldier, that was well received, we were at 8pm onto the main event – Tony Benn, who spoke for some 25 minutes. Benn is an older pro than Lucas, with a much greater grasp of history, and a much longer association with Bristol – first elected in 1950, he was a Bristol MP for some 33 years. Is that democracy? Benn had much to say about democracy, and colonialism in its various forms, and the way that ‘terrorists’ from the old colonies often ended up having tea with the Queen, once they have reached ‘head of state’ status.

Benn also spent time encouraging people to remain within the Labour Party, to ‘reclaim’ it, and ignore the left-wing sects outside it. I recall Benn 20 years ago in London, at a ‘Defend Militant’ (the Tendency, since disappeared) rally, trying to defend Labour as a broad church with a historic mission to win socialism through parliamentary means. 20 years on he repeats the call, ignoring all the evidence that NewLabour has moved further to the right than his worst nightmares could have told him, giving out peerages & patronage whereas once they welcomed those who gave them up.

After Benn the meeting was opened to the floor for contributions. A brief succession of rants; of vote for me; or don’t vote for them; with a very few calls for action – peace camp at Brize Norton, rally about the pensions scandal. The meeting ended at 9pm, after 10 minutes of Lucas (vote Green), and Benn (vote Labour…with no illusions…as if!).

Where were the independents who have made BSTW a worthwhile campaign? Where was the ‘Bristol’ speaker, explaining what BSTW had done, the Bristol demos & vigils and direct action, the local targets? Where was the anger and desire to act after the way we have been misled, lied to, our civil liberties & freedoms curtailed, our brothers & sisters killed?

This was a missed opportunity to take the 700 people present beyond an election rally and another pointless march around London where you are showered with another deluge of ‘vote for me’ propaganda, and onto something more effective. Whilst BSTW are to be congratulated for what they have managed to do so far, we have all failed to take the anti-war campaign to a level where it may actually succeed.

If you are interested here are some ideas:
- support the Bristol peace vigil
- go visit the arms dealers and bankers who profit from war
- harass the armed forces recruiters at your local jobsfair
- target the oil companies & multinationals killing the planet
- harass those who demand your vote, only to vote for wars
- vote with your feet, not with a five yearly cross! Do it yourself – our leaders cannot be trusted.

conscious non-voter


Hide the following 8 comments


09.02.2005 05:09

Thanks for that well written and interesting report, now I wish i had gone too....

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09.02.2005 08:00

Excellent concise report, thanks. I understand the cynical view you hold of politicians like Benn.

This report shows clearly that despite the hard work by a number of commited individuals the matters and policies we hold dear just don't have popular support. The greater general public do not agree with us.


You never protested when Iraq invaded Kuwait!

09.02.2005 11:20

You never protested about the illegal invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. Nor did you protest about the illegal invasion of Tibet by China in 1950 which continues to this day. In your world it is only the western democracies that are wrong not totalitarian third world countries. You also ignore that fact that these very western democracies who you say are so bad donate billions and billions of pounds in aid to third world countries.


Lucas = ruling elite?

09.02.2005 12:07

>>within the confines of her position as a member of the political ruling class. >>

Bloody hell, I will remember to tell her that she is a member of the ruling class next
time I see Caroline. It'll be news to her - I'm not certain she got treated like it when
she got arrested at Faslane, nor that they treat her like it when she is struggling to
get info on GATS, trade subsidies, nuclear weapons, road-building plans and many other
issues, to help support grassroots campaigns.

If you disagree with the entire party political system, thats fair enough - but I think
Caroline Lucas should be judged on her actions - which are exemplary.


Matt S


09.02.2005 12:17

Did Caroline Lucas mention that her party is in favour of the illegal occupation continuing with soldiers swapping green helmets for blue?

Or was this left out...

Memory Hole Catchers Mitt

Its a good thing micheals here to teach us a lesson or 2

09.02.2005 13:19

Hmmmmmmm, If memory serves mr right, Iraq only invaded Kuwait because it was sold weapons by the Americans to invade Iran beforehand. U c Micheal Saddam was an American Puppet, used to carry out American policies. Any1 got any pictures of Rumsfelt in the 80's shaking hands with saddam just after their weapons deal went through?? Or the speeches made by U.S govt officials praising Iraq in their war against Iran. But that all backfired when Iraq invaded Kuwait. So sadam was out of control then, he attacked US interests in a dictatoral country with US interests, so they attacked Iraq to put it in its place. I think its U that only remembers what he wants. o yea and all the money the US gives in 'aid' to the corrupt puppet govts all over the world.....why not look how much it takes out through its companies who exploit these people...especially the children who work endless hrs to produce cheap products.
Keep talking out your a$$ micheal and im gonna start to think ur a politician or something.

Vote 4 Micheal


09.02.2005 15:32

Thanks for giving Bristol STW credit where it's due. There is a tension in the movement between the 'big' events and grassroots actions, and this event was one of those 'big' events, so I wouldn't be too concerned by the absence of 'independent' voices. They are still there. The Brize Norton event coming up is an example of that.

As for not succeeding in stopping the war, well that's clearly true, but I think a big mistake was presenting it in terms which said we could. That set us up for a fall. If we'd had the attitude which said we are up agsainst something which will not allow itself to be stopped by anything or anyone, and that our priority should be to inform people on the realities of why this war is being prosecuted, then we may have got (may get) further in the long run, instead of relying on a narrow a-political moral repellence, which is far more likely to routinely slip back into a-political inactivity, than it is to lead to an awareness of the nitty gritty of the resource crises underpinning all this.

But looking back too much can be damaging, unless we look forward too. The Bristol STW newsletter does continue to seek to go down the path of widening out the choices to people, while attempting to give a regular dose of political opinion through that. Maybe that's why we got such a high turnout, maybe we've gone further in informing the public of the political and economic realities undepinning all this, while the national STW office continues to pump out a thin gruel of narrowly approved a-political actions.

Maybe, or maybe it was just Tony Benn, but I doubt it. This was twice the size of any public meeting we've previously held, and Benn, and his like have been top billing before.

On the issue of how "we have all failed to take the anti-war campaign to a level where it may actually succeed", well, again that's clearly true. As mentioned, the short-termist, a-political, lowest common denominator approch of the National Office lies behind that failure on one level in my opinion. In Bristol we have tried to push things a little further than that.

On another I can't help but feel it is an issue of the extent to which the public nowadays view political activity much like any form of service based consumerism. They want to be entertained; they don't want to ever get tired; they don't want their warm cosy comfort zones interrupted even by something as relatively painless as standing at a cold Vigil for an hour.

As someone who does everything through a constant veil of chronic pain and chronic fatigue, I have little sympathy for people who won't get active because they're too tired, or it's too cold, or they can't afford an extra quid because they have have to get drunk, or some other lame excuse.

All of these things are routine excuses, all used as a cover for people who need to be told that all these excuses simply mean that they aren't committed enough and don't care enough. People need to sort out their priorities. Political activity is not a service based industry. People need to be prepared to get tired, to get cold, to miss their favourite TV program from time to time, and to forego that extra pint.

It's called being a committed activist.


james venables

inclusivity and analysis

09.02.2005 17:16

Not too abstract, but I question criticism of StW for being 'lowest common denominator'.

The thing about lowest common denominators is they're the common factor that all share. If you raise the denominator - ie. insist on a more thorough political analysis - it won't be common any more, ie. some folk will most likely disagree and may split off.

In fact the StW leadership haven't stuck rigidly to this formula. They've managed to put forward the idea that what's going on is imperialism, and that's proven acceptable to pretty much everyone (which is a major step forward for anyone who remembers the 1980s!)

But there has to be give and take. Righteous anger alone won't build a movement.