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Labour MPs Avoid UK Debate on Iraq and Trident
No investigation into Blunkett remarks on Al Jazeera
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2007-05-18 13:48 (KST)   
There will be no election discussion before Gordon Brown becomes UK Prime Minister. John McDonnell MP has failed to attract enough support from Labour Party members of the UK House of Commons to qualify as a candidate for the election process. There will be no involvement by individual members of the Labour Party or by the trade unions where John McDonnell has some support. One consequence is that there will be less public discussion on the Iraq war and the renewal of Trident, a nuclear missile system.

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The gap between John McDonnell and the current Labour government is shown by his view that there should be an investigation into remarks by David Blunkett, a former Home Secretary, on "taking out" Al Jazeera. The Blunkett remarks on Channel 4 television have not been widely reported. In a video on YouTube McDonnell proposes that the UK should apologise for policy on the Iraq war and ask for help from the UN and Europe in a conference on how to end it.

Gordon Brown may have told members of parliament about a change of policy on Iraq but there is not much clarity or public discussion. A recent Reuters report suggests "he will be anxious to draw a line under the conflict -- perhaps the biggest reason for the government's unpopularity -- and has pledged to reduce troop numbers when possible."

However he "publicly backed the Iraq war and accepted responsibility for going to war as a cabinet decision." On Trident, "Brown is committed to renewing Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent, which has angered some left wingers."

Brown announced his support for Trident ahead of full debate in the Labour Party. Trident is seen by some as dependent on continued closeness to the U.S. so it is possible that Brown would be as supportive of U.S. military policy as Tony Blair has been. McDonnell presented his policy on Trident in a video on YouTube.

The John4Leader website includes a letter of support.
"As a range of Labour party members, councillors, NEC members, trade unionists, activists, community workers and campaigners, we are asking Labour MPs to nominate John McDonnell in order to allow a genuine debate about the future direction of our party. We believe that a coronation of Gordon Brown that excludes party members and trade unionists from having a say will be inconsistent with the proud democratic traditions of our party. Polls show that an overwhelming proportion of party members want the chance to participate in a leadership contest with more than one candidate."
There may have been resentment from some Labour MPs that McDonnell has been prepared to criticise senior figures such as David Blunkett. On October 6th 2006, McDonnell wrote in his blog:
"It was revealed today that David Blunkett has admitted to a Channel 4 documentary that he called upon Tony Blair to bomb Al Jazeera in Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq, even though this would have been in violation of international law.

I am calling for an inquiry into Blunkett's statement on the basis that it is contrary to international law to be calling for attacks on civilian institutions, and in fact it is laid down in international law that the military must seek to do all it can to protect civilians during any military operations.

The fact that a senior Cabinet minister was calling for an attack on civilians must be taken extremely seriously. The Government must now launch a public inquiry into former Secretary of State Blunkett's role in this affair.
Possibly any such enquiry would also consider reports in the Daily Mirror that Bush and Blair discussed bombing Al Jazeera and the recent convictions under the Official Secrets Act.

There is still a legal restriction in the UK on reporting the trial about a leaked document in the same story as the Daily Mirror report on Al Jazeera. This is under appeal by the Times, Guardian and BBC, now joined by the New Statesman and Index on Censorship. A Guardian editorial describes the current situation:
Facts that can be freely reported elsewhere in this paper cannot appear in this column. That is the absurdity thrown up by an Old Bailey ruling on Thursday, in the case of a civil servant and an MP's researcher who were convicted for disclosing minutes of a meeting between Tony Blair and George Bush. Allegations based on these papers made headlines round the world. Mr Justice Aikens knows full well that the horse has long since bolted and that closing the door is futile, yet in an eccentric move he still made a point of trying to push it half shut. He ruled that these claims could be reported, but only in articles not referring to the document. We can neither confirm nor deny whether these claims are referred to in other pages of The Guardian.
Martin Bright explains on his blog for the New Statesman some of the legal background to the judge's decision.
Normally, a judge's orders under the Contempt Act are made to ensure a fair trial. But in this case they have been extended indefinitely. This means that journalists are unable to report the nature of the leak by the two men in the context of the case, even though this has been reported in the past.

However, in a bizarre twist, the judge has stated that the contents of the leak -- which is thought to involve a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush -- can be reported as long as they are not linked to the case and appear on a separate page of the newspaper involved.
Later Martin Bright added to his blog an extraordinary claim that may or may not have some basis.
I have heard an interesting suggestion that when questions were first asked about this event, UK government officials were planning an outright denial. How could they possibly pull this off? Because apparently Bush discussed using a missile, so it wasn't strictly speaking a bomb he intended to use.
It seems to me to be unusual for the New Statesman to repeat suggestions of this kind. Debate about Iraq has been contained in the UK so far but the result of current efforts to control reporting could be random speculation and resentment.

Blairwatch carries a press release from Al Jazeera that has not been widely reported in the UK press.
Al Jazeera continues to seek clarification on the Daily Mirror report of a leaked memo that alleged "President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station Al Jazeera" and reiterates its call to see a copy of the relevant section of the memo.

Al Jazeera submitted a Freedom of Information application early in 2006 requesting the disclosure of the contents of the memo but the request was denied.

Any substantiation of the contents of the memo would be extremely serious not only for Al Jazeera but for media organisations across the world. It would cast significant doubts on the U.S. administration's version of previous incidents involving Al Jazeera's journalists and offices. Both Al Jazeera's Kabul Bureau and Iraq Bureau were bombed by the U.S. resulting in the death of Al Jazeera journalist Tareq Ayoub.
The Labour government is currently supporting the Iraq policy of George Bush. There seems to have been a change in public opinion in the United States. My impression is that only an international context will change debate in the UK. The newspapers will eventually reflect the news available online. The Labour Party may consider the policies of U.S. Democrats.

©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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