By Colin Foster
The GMB union conference has called for Tony Blair to resign if an independent inquiry establishes that he was deliberately lying about "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq.
The US and British governments used claims that they knew for sure that Saddam Hussein had dangerous masses of chemical, biological and other weapons to win political support for their war. Inquiry or no inquiry, they were certainly lying. They didn't know. If they did know, they would have located some of those weapons by now. They may eventually find a few chemical weapons in odd corners of Iraq, but that won't mean they weren't lying.
The GMB conference's call is a good one. But it begs two questions. What mechanisms exist in British parliamentary politics to replace a prime minister, or a government, found guilty of outrageous lying? What mechanisms exist in the Labour Party to call leaders to account?
The answer to both questions is: very few. Short of a cataclysmic eruption among his New Labour MPs - who are normally docile, because the New Labour party machine watches candidate selection carefully - Tony Blair is safe at the top until the next General Election, which may be as late as 2006.
Once appointed Prime Minister by the Queen, Tony Blair had a secure "payroll vote" of over 100 MPs, bought by giving them ministerial jobs. (One hundred and thirteen, at the current count). To overthrow him, an improbably large proportion of the remaining MPs must not only rebel but join the Tories in a vote of no confidence.
To force a leadership contest, 20% of all Labour MPs - or 82 out of 410, or 28% of the 297 non-ministers - must first agree to support an alternative candidate.
If the Iraq war had proved difficult for the USA and UK militarily, with high casualties, then Tony Blair might have been eased out by his henchmen - in favour of Gordon Brown, or Alan Milburn, or David Blunkett, or someone else equally implicated in the deception, lying and warmongering. But that is not accountability.
British parliamentary democracy is largely, as Karl Marx once put it, a system of "deciding once in every so many years which member of the ruling class is to misrepresent the people in Parliament".
And the Labour Party, formed so that parliamentary democracy could be made something more, and workers could have our own representatives in Parliament, accountable to the labour movement? Nowadays it is scarcely better. Once elected leader, Blair has been able to manipulate, control, or override the now-complex web of forums, committees and conferences with ease. For example, the chair of the Labour Party, once an elected member, has been joined by a second "chair" - this one chosen by Blair personally.
How could we gain some real accountability?
In the Labour Party, by:
- Restoring the sovereignty of Labour Party conference and the elected National Executive Committee;
- Having an Executive which is elected by trade unions and Labour Party members, not stuffed with MPs, MEPs, and councillors, and which publishes its agendas and minutes in full;
- Restore the ability of Constituency Labour Parties and trade unions to put motions directly to Labour Party conference, and establish their ability to amend reports and proposals from the Executive;
- Make all Labour MPs subject to regular reselection, and recall at any time, by their Constituency Labour Parties;
- Have all leading positions filled by regular election, without prohibitive preconditions.
In the wider field, by:
- Fixed-term parliamentary elections, every year or two years; MPs subject to recall by their constituents in the interim;
- Ministers and governments elected by parliament, rather than the Prime Minister being appointed by the Queen and other ministers by the Prime Minister;
- Abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy;
- Both MPs and ministers to be paid a worker's wage, without privileges of office to tie the ministers to the status quo.
- Freedom of information.
Nothing short of such measures will establish any real democratic accountability over ministers who lie and deceive.
And, though such measures would not in themselves touch the private ownership of productive wealth which underpins class rule and exploitation, they would create the best conditions for the labour movement to stir itself, educate itself, and move towards a workers' government.