Families of British soldiers banned from Labour conference in censorship row
Kirsty Walker Friday, September 15th, 2006
Labour officials have banned the grieving families of the Iraq war dead from staging a peaceful protest outside the party’s forthcoming annual conference in Manchester.
Furious members of Military Families Against The war accused the party of ‘censorship’ after they applied to hold a small peace camp near the conference later this month.
But officials on Labour-run Manchester council told them they could not do so for ‘health and safety’ reasons.
The latest attempt to prevent embarrassing protests came only days after it emerged that potential hecklers had also been banned from the conference.
In what was condemned as a desperate attempt to stifle debate, dozens of members with a record of demonstration have been blacklisted. Rose Gentle, from Glasgow, whose 19-year-old son Gordon died in Iraq in 2004 said the council were “doing the Government’s bidding”.
She said that 20 activists from Military Families Against the war said they were refused permission to pitch tents in the city centre from September 21.
“The Military Families were looking to camp out for about four days in Manchester along with the Labour Party conference but Manchester City Council have told us we can’t do it,” she said.
“We think it’s because it’s Labour conference and they don’t want us going and voicing our opinions because Mr Blair is going to be there.”
She said the families had organised peace camps outside Downing Street and in Trafalgar Square and had no problems. “We’re still going to come down and camp out and if the police come and lift us then they do,” she added.
A source at Greater Manchester Police said they had no security objections to the protest, insisting: “They (the council) are saying it’s a security issue but it’s not. We’re fuming about this. We’ve got no problem with the protest.”
Labour has a long track record of being heavy handed with protesters. Ministers were humiliated last year when 82-year-old Mr Wolfgang, a refugee from Nazi Germany, was manhandled out of the conference by burly Labour Party workers for daring to heckle the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Mr Wolfgang was removed from the conference hall in Brighton last year along with another lifelong Labour Party member. He was arrested by police under the Terrorism Act when he tried to get back in.
But the incident badly backfired on Tony Blair when Mr Wolfgang was last month elected to Labour’s ruling national executive.
The veteran peace campaigner last night accused officials of behaving like ‘heavy handed idiots’. Mr Wolfgang said: “These are people who have lost members of their family who are members of the Armed Forces in a war which should never have taken place.
“They have got every right to protest, and I think we will find they will protest. Whoever responsible for this are idiots. This is very heavy-handed and sounds like it comes from the same people responsible for the treatment given to me last year. They are very foolish to do this.”
Last year, Maya Evans was arrested for reading out a list of 98 British soldiers who have died in Iraq at the Cenotaph, the memorial to Britain’s war dead.
The 25-year-old was found guilty of breaking rules stopping unauthorised demonstrations within 1km of Westminster and ordered to pay £100 costs.
The swingeing rules were originally drawn up to deal with Brian Haw, who has staged an anti-war protest opposite the Houses of Parliament for the last four years.
Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle said Manchester city council’s decision ’smacked of new Labour’ and pointed out that the majority of the British public were also against the Iraq war...
...John Miller, whose son Corporal Simon Miller, 21, was one of six redcaps murdered at Majar-al-Kabir in Iraq in 2003, said it was a conspiracy. He said: “It is outrageous that the protest has been banned. My son, and many others, were killed by a decision the Prime Minister made and it is only fair that we are allowed to make our views known to him.
“Labour are scared because they don’t want the war to come back and haunt them at their party conference.”
He added: “Over the last few years when people have demonstrated over the war they get taken away or dragged off.
“When Walter Wolfgang protested at last year’s conference he was forcibly ejected. We are supposed to have gone to war to impose democracy but it seems we have got less democracy in this country than in many middle eastern countries.
“People are not allowed to have their say - unless they agree with Blair. The Prime Minister talks about democracy a lot but he doesn’t practice what he preaches.”