A central figure in Stop the War Coalition (STWC) since its founding in 2001, Chris Nineham has written a short, timely and very readable book exploring the relationship between the anti-war movement and the Blair government in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Nineham provides a concise summary of the discussions within the Bush administration after 9/11 and an interesting analysis of the surprisingly positive media coverage of the anti-war protests in the UK circa 15 February 2003. He also recounts the panic the anti-war movement created at the heart of the British government on ‘Wobbly Tuesday’ in March 2003.
However, like other accounts of the anti-Iraq War movement emanating from STWC, there are obvious and frustrating limitations with Nineham’s history. For example, readers will search in vain for any serious criticism of STWC’s strategy and tactics. This is especially odd when you consider that STWC didn’t achieve its primary aim – to stop British participation in the war. Perhaps nothing could have stopped Tony Blair’s drive to war, but it is telling that Nineham, a seasoned activist, refuses to address the many criticisms that have been made of STWC.
He does briefly refer to differences of opinion within the anti-war movement but these are quickly dismissed and are generally used to underline how the wise ‘men’ in the STWC leadership naturally prevailed. Elsewhere, it is noticeable that Mike Marqusee, a press officer in STWC from 2001-3, is excluded from a list of STWC speakers who did ‘tireless work’ during the period. Marqusee split with the STWC leadership in 2003 and has subsequently publicly criticised them, thus becoming, like Trotsky, someone to be deleted from the official history.
And of course there is no reference to the despicable conduct I present in my new book about the anti-war movement [The March That Shook Blair, published by Peace News – eds] – such as the head of CND complaining about the STWC leadership’s bullying and aggressive behaviour towards her and her staff.
Certainly I agree that we should celebrate and remember the numerous achievements of the movement against the Iraq War – in which Nineham personally played an important role. And I’m sure Nineham agrees that, with the coalition government’s foreign policy becoming increasingly aggressive and interventionist, we desperately need an active and mass anti-war movement.
However, for this to be as effective as possible, surely we need to have an honest and open discussion about the anti-Iraq War movement?