| Prime Minister Tony Blair with his deputy John Prescott at the opening session of the Labour party conference at Blackpool, England. (AFP)
Blackpool (England), Sept. 30 (Reuters): Prime Minister Tony Blair faced a revolt today from rebel members of his ruling Labour Party over London’s hawkish, pro-American stance on Iraq.
A motion put forward by the anti-war faction at Labour’s annual conference in the northern seaside town of Blackpool challenged Blair “to reject armed action, and... not to support military intervention in Iraq”.
While not expected to pass, the motion was nevertheless proving a focal point for a faction of Labour legislators upset at Blair’s support for US President George W. Bush’s build-up of pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“It’s come to something when the Labour leader takes the side of the most Right-wing Republican faction in the US,” one of those legislators, George Galloway, said.
He and more than 50 other Labour members also voted against Blair in an emergency debate on Iraq in parliament last week and helped lead 150,000 people at a weekend peace rally in London.
Blair was set to hear out his critics, but made clear on the eve of the conference he would not waver on Iraq. “I hope he (Saddam) can be forced by international pressure, but if not then we have to be prepared as an international community to force him to do it the other way,” he said. He also won strong support from his powerful finance minister Gordon Brown, who was reported to have been troubled by the economic impact of potential conflict in the Gulf.
“The strongest message must go out to Saddam Hussein from the international community that his actions cannot continue unchecked and with impunity,” Brown said in a conference speech.
London and Washington are trying to push through a tough UN Security Council resolution threatening military action if Iraq does not renounce weapons of mass destruction.
Such a resolution would make Blair’s task of convincing Britons considerably easier. Polls show the majority oppose a US-led attack but would be supportive of UN-backed strikes.
The contentious Iraq motion at Blackpool directly contradicted Blair’s recent dossier on Saddam’s weapons capacity by noting “the view of most western experts... that little or no evidence exists to substantiate claims that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”
In a reference calculated to sting stalwarts of the Centre-Left Labour Party, for whom South African leader Nelson Mandela is an icon, the motion also backed “the call from Nelson Mandela not to follow President Bush into a war”.
In what one commentator called “an entire day of blood-letting,” Blair also faced a rough ride on the domestic front. Angry Labour-affiliated unions were demanding an inquiry into the government’s controversial policy of letting private firms build and run some key social services like hospitals.
A motion presented by the unions, who still wield heavy influence within the party structure, criticised the “expensive unaccountable privatised services delivered on the back of cuts to the pay and conditions of vulnerable workers.”