KEN LIVINGSTONE salutes the millions who marched against the war and looks back at how the London mayor’s office was able to aid the movement even as the Westminster government carried out its bloody invasion
IN my time as leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) and mayor of London, I had many occasions to be proud of the majority of ordinary Londoners, who again and again showed much better judgement on key political and social issues of the day than our political (mis-)leaders in Westminster.
One such example was in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, the 20th anniversary of which was marked last week.
At the GLC we had declared 1983 a “peace year” and 20 years on, progressives around the world again found ourselves needing to stand up to those who wished to make war.
Concluding my speech at the massive demonstration that culminated in Hyde Park against the war on February 15 2003, I argued everyone must “recognise what has happened here today… that Britain does not support this war for oil [and] the British people will not tolerate being used to prop up the most corrupt and racist American administration in over 80 years.”
At that historic demonstration, I realised had never seen so many people at any one time — and I doubt I will again. One of the organisers told me on the day that it was the population of Britain at the time of 1066, namely two million people.
It was obvious to so people from across so many different communities that the war was fundamentally wrong.
Twenty years on, and with the human catastrophe that ensued in Iraq during and after the war now beyond any doubt, it is absolutely clear that anti-war campaigners were right.
It can also be said that we both won the moral case against the war and demonstrated on the streets the opposition of the vast majority of the world to Tony Blair and George W Bush’s illegal adventure.
To these people around the world who were against the war, the majority of the people of Britain were clearly seen as being for peace. And the pictures on TV screens and in newspapers around the globe showed London as a global centre of the anti-war movement.
I was three years into my term as mayor of London when the Iraq war loomed large — and was pleased to use the resources and platforms we did have to complement the amazing work of campaigners from the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Muslim Association of Britain and many other groups.
In terms of the aforementioned February demonstration, we backed the Stop the War Coalition request for it to end in Hyde Park, and not Trafalgar Square as ministers in the Blair government at the time were wanting, which would have been far too small.
Additionally, we hosted Jesse Jackson’s visit from the US. Jackson was a central international speaker at the march, and a figure respected across the world for his campaigning for equality, peace and justice.
His presence, alongside the video message from Nelson Mandela, and speakers from here such as Mo Mowlam — just a few years after her pivotal role in bringing together the Good Friday Agreement — showed the enormous breadth of opposition to war, which was also shortly later reflected by Robin Cook’s resignation from the government.
We also brought over Ron Kovic for peace events, including a peace reception at the City Hall on the eve of the demonstration.
Kovic had been an absolute hero of the anti-Vietnam war movement in the US and around the world. He was the person on whose autobiography the globally popular film Born on the Fourth of July, directed by Oliver Stone, was based. One of my proudest moments as mayor was looking after him for the time he was in London.
In terms of broader backing for the anti-war movement from London’s administration, Blair wouldn’t have wasted his breath in trying to convince me to do otherwise, and thankfully, neither did many of our political opponents in London at the time.
Sadly, although perhaps not surprisingly, many of our international leaders have not learnt the lessons of Iraq and continue to believe militarism and war — and the global capitalist economic order they seek to protect and prolong — are the way forward internationally today.
Twenty years on, let’s again raise our voices for peace and global justice as part of our struggle for a world that puts people and planet first — and make sure all attempts to rewrite the history of that disastrous war are rebutted and defeated.
This article originally appeared in The Morning Star