At this year's Labour Party Conference there was a collective amnesia about the split in the party on the issue of the War in Iraq. Delegates who opposed the war got up to say that we must all leave this behind and all pull together to rebuild Iraq. Unions that had opposed the war agreed an NEC Statement, carried overwhelmingly, that firmly shut away the destabilising aspects of Blair's decision to go to war on Iraq. A critical motion that called for a date to be set for an early withdrawl of troops was defeated approx 80% to 20%, with the vote in the Union section even higher: 90% to 10%. This was particularly ironic as at TUC not two weeks previously, the vast majority of Unions supported a similarly worded motion!
The reasons that the Iraq issue was put to bed on the Labour Party Conference floor can be explained by it being the last Conference before a probable General Election. The stakes are however very high. When the Iraq War was last properly discussed at the Conference, in 2002, before the troops went in, there was a 40% vote at the Conference against all military action in Iraq, and the vote for action stressed the need for the involvement of the UN. It probably reflected public opinion at the time.
Since then public opinion on the war has hardened and many more Labour party members have left because of the war. This changed circumstance was not however reflected at this year's Conference.
The fig leaf used by the Blairites to cover their naked 'save Tony' strategy was trade union support for the Allawi government. In order to persuade the Big Four Union delegations that they should oppose the critical motion, representatives of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions attended delegation meetings to argue against any early withdrawal of troops, and to put the case that the decision on this was down to the Iraqi elected Government (where?) rather than Labour Party Conference.
At a fringe meeting supported by the Fabian Society, The Observer, LabourStart, War on Want and UNISON, the position of "Labour Friends of Iraq" was trumpeted. The focus on the need to rebuild trade union organisation in Iraq, promote soildarity between British workers and Iraqi workers, and the need to financially support the providing of the basics of civil society (water, electricity, communications, jobs, homes etc) is of course fundamental for the people of Iraq. However it was equally important for the democracy and political representation of the British Labour movement that Tony Blair should have been criticised for what we all know was a major and costly misjudgement, to wage war on Iraq, at his own Party Conference.