In Britain, an Absurdity: Persuading People They Have a Political Choice

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familiar, if desperate media push is under way to convince the British
people that the main political parties offer them a democratic choice
in the general election on 5 May. This demonstrable absurdity became
hilarious when Tony Blair, leader of one of the nastiest, most violent
right-wing regimes in memory, announced the existence of “a very
nasty right-wing campaign” to defeat him. If only it was that funny.
If only it was possible to read the “ah but” tributes to a “successful”
Labour government without cracking a rib. If only it was possible
to read warmongers bemoaning the “apathy” of the British electorate
without one’s laughter being overtaken by the urge to throw up.

can be subverted, but for millions of decent Britons the subversion
is over, and the penny has finally dropped. For that, they have
Blair to thank. On 5 May, they will silently go on strike against
a corrupt, undemocratic system, as they did at the last election,
producing the lowest turnout since the franchise, including barely
a third in some constituencies. Others will come under extraordinary
pressure to put aside considerations of basic morality and vote
for this “successful” Blair government. They — allow me to change
that to you — ought to be aware of what this will mean for your
fellow human beings.

voting for Blair, you will walk over the corpses of at least 100,000
people, most of them innocent women and children and the elderly,
slaughtered by rapacious forces sent by Blair and Bush, unprovoked
and in defiance of international law, to a defenceless country.
That conservative estimate is the conclusion of a peer-reviewed
Anglo-American study, published in the British medical journal the
Lancet. It is the most reliable glimpse we have of the criminal
carnage caused by Blair and Bush in Iraq, and it is suppressed in
this election “campaign."

voting for Blair, you will be turning a deaf ear to the cries of
countless Iraqi children blown up by British cluster bombs and poisoned
by toxic explosions of depleted uranium. These unseen victims of
Blair and Bush — including Iraqi women who have developed rare “pregnancy
cancer," and children with unexplained leukaemia — will not be your
concern. According to one of the military experts who cleaned up
Kuwait after the 1991 Gulf war, Blair and Bush have created “another
Hiroshima” in parts of Iraq. You will be voting to endorse that.

voting for Blair, you will turn away from the tens of thousands
of children left to starve in Iraq by his and Bush’s invasion. On
30 March, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights heard that
malnutrition rates among Iraqi infants under the age of five had
almost doubled since the invasion — double the number of hungry
children under Saddam Hussein. The author of the report to the commission,
Jean Ziegler, a UN specialist on hunger, said the “coalition” was
to blame.

voting for Blair, you will be affirming that liar’s triumph. Blair
is a liar on such an epic scale that even those who still protect
him with parliamentary euphemisms, like Robin Cook (“He knew perfectly
well what he was doing. I think there was a lack of candour”) and
the Guardian and the BBC, now struggle to finesse his perjury.

his latest lie. On 13 March, Jonathan Dimbleby asked Blair about
the leaked memo of David Manning, the Prime Minister’s foreign policy
adviser, in which Manning confirmed to Blair in March 2002 that
he had assured the Americans “you would not budge in your support
for regime change." Blair lied to Dimbleby that “actually he didn’t
say that as a matter of fact”: Manning “[made] clear that the development
of WMDs in breach of the United Nations resolutions will no longer
be tolerated."

are the words Manning wrote to Blair: “I said [to Condoleezza Rice]
that you would not budge in your support for regime change but you
had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was
very different [from] anything in the States.” There is no mention,
nothing, about United Nations resolutions, or weapons of mass destruction.

voting for Blair, you will invite more lies about terrorist scares
in Britain so that totalitarian laws can be enacted. “I have a horrible
feeling that we are sinking into a police state,” said George Churchill-Coleman,
the former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad. Like the
fake reasons for Blair’s tanks around Heathrow on the eve of the
greatest anti-war demonstration in British history, so anything,
any scare, any arrest, any “control order," will be possible.

voting for Blair, you will fall for the spin, the myth, of the social
reformism and “economic achievements” of his government. The ban
on fox-hunting and the lowering of the age of gay consent are political
and media distractions that do nothing to protect a social democracy
being progressively shorn of ancient liberties, such as those enshrined
in Magna Carta.

ballyhooed “boom” and “growth” in Britain have been booms for the
rich, not for ordinary people. With scant media attention, the Blair
government has transferred billions of pounds’ worth of public services
into private hands under the private finance initiative (PFI). The
“fees," or rake-off, for PFI projects in 2006—2007 will be
in the order of 6.3bn pounds, more than the cost of many of the
projects: a historic act of corporate piracy. Neither is new Labour
“supporting” the National Health Service, but privatising it by
stealth; by 2006—2007 private contracts will rise by 150 per
cent. Under Treasurer Gordon Brown, Britain has the distinction
of having created more than half the world’s tax havens, so that
the likes of Rupert Murdoch are able to pay minimal tax. “Growth”
has meant the rapid growth in the gap between rich and poor. Top
executives’ pay has risen by 500 per cent while the average rise
in earnings is 45 per cent.

to Blair’s and Brown’s claims, poverty among adults of working age
without children is increasing. In 2002—2003, the last year
for which figures are available, 12.4 million people, or 22 per
cent of the population, were living in poverty. As for the myth
of almost full employment, this government’s skill at constantly
massaging figures has, for example, allowed jobcentres to reclassify
workers as long-term sick or disabled in order to meet targets for
“reducing” unemployment. There has indeed been a boom — in
insecure, part-time and temporary employment with few rights and
poor conditions. Trapped in this half-world are some 8.8 million
workers, many of whom are lucky to get a couple of days’ paid work
a week. For middle-class Britons who believe they are beneficiaries
of the “boom," there is the spectre of personal debt —
which, under Labour, is rising at the rate of 15m pounds an hour,
faster than even in America.

of this is up for discussion. In 2005, we have an election, not
politics; a media court, not critical debate. True politics is about
all of humanity, and our responsibility for those who commit crimes
in our name. No reverence for the sanctity of a debased vote or
a false choice — or the lesser evil of a non-existent, sentimental,
pre-Blair Labour Party — will change that. We owe that truth to
the people of Iraq, at least.

22, 2005

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape next month. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

John Pilger 2005

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