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The British Public Should Have Had A Say On War

The British Public Should Have Had A Say On War

From The Streets Of London with Malcolm Aitken

With such widespread opposition to the Blair Government’s policy, attacking Iraq should have been put to a referendum.

Tuesday night’s House of Commons votes paving the way for war didn’t accurately reflect public opinion. On such a vital issue it would be fairer and wiser to let the people decide.

So much is at stake. The lives and welfare of Iraqis are paramount. Iraq’s people have endured so much in recent years. Firstly, the cruelty and corruption of Saddam’s despicable regime. Domestically, no doubt, Saddam Hussein has been supported by a cadre of thugs, bigots, power mongers and opportunists, the type of people who benefit from such regimes.

He hasn’t faced much active opposition from hundreds of thousands of pragmatic compatriots who probably haven’t seen much of a choice but to ‘get on’ under Saddam-because there hasn’t been much choice. This writer certainly wants to see rid of such oppressors, but it’s important how it’s done, for what reasons and by whom.

Internationally, men such as Donald Rumsfeld have in the past participated in administrations happy to benefit politically and financially from having their little tinpot dictator in Baghdad.

Moreover sanctions on Iraq have contributed to a desperate health situation. And the alleged illegal and totally indefensible deployment of depleted uranium shells and bullets by the US in the Gulf War hasn’t received the media coverage nor gained the prominence on the world political stage and in the international legal arena that such heinous accusations warrant.

The lives of millions of Iraqis is at stake here, people who haven’t done anything wrong, many of them want to be ‘liberated’ from Saddam. The lives of Iraqi, US and British troops in the coming conflict (that’s the word being employed in the war propaganda) is also important-there could be a high body count on ‘our’ side. The exposure of the British and US public to reprisal terrorist attacks is another consideration, which, typically, doesn’t seem to have been taken seriously enough.

The effectiveness of the UN in working together to disarm tyrants peacefully has been undermined by the events of recent days, same with the right of nations to use their UN security council vote without hysterical feet stamping, huffing and puffing and downright stirring up of prejudice by others wanting their way using any means necessary.

British people should have had a say in a policy that could such serious ramifications for Europe, Nato, and Britain’s reputation at the UN.

Direct democracy shouldn’t be viewed through rose tinted glasses. It’s majoritarian by definition and therefore potentially seriously illiberal. The limitations are obvious for people interested in both collective and individual rights.

As much as referenda have their place, to put gay rights legislation or the death penalty, for example, to the popular vote against a backdrop of reactionary, narrow-minded public opinion, really risks the imposing a tyranny of the majority.

However, it is about time-2003-that the public was treated with more respect by a very self- important and to some extent self-appointed political (ruling) class.

This ‘conflict’ will affect everyone here. This is a momentous event and neither Tony Blair nor the government has a monopoly on wisdom. Actually, Tony Blair has been reckless in his disregard for international law, and although Clare Short, whose blatant hypocrisy has angered many people here, may find it hard to make up her mind, there are millions of people around the world who oppose this war, now, in these circumstances at least.

The complexity of some of the questions surrounding the Iraq crisis means a full and frank public debate would be desirable pre-referendum. This is completely viable however and conservatives who deflect suggestions of referenda with comments about the supposed huge financial outlay have less of a case by the day, as technological advances render direct democracy cheaper.

Anyway, some people need reminding that some things do come before money, for example people’s right to have a meaningful and responsible role in shaping their own futures. This is no simplistic argument…referenda couldn’t be used for every little issue of the day, but going into such a war is a matter of other people’s lives and deaths for one and shouldn’t be left to a handful of Ministers.

Yet again those who defend democracy and promote its forceful export do little to enhance it domestically.

This should have been put to a vote, so all voting Brits could really own a decision that will have such serious consequences for everyone in Britain, and potentially the world.


- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London. He can be contacted at

© Scoop Media

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