The Belgian-Mexican-British delegation of the London Friends of Craig Murray (all four of us) arrived in Blackburn just after 11am. Craig immediately dispatched us to the town centre where the Foreign Secretary’s carefully choreographed walkabout was turning into something of a washout.
A giant Green Goddess fire engine had been driving round in slow circles, filling the town centre with the thumping bass of Craig Murray’s campaign tune. Straw’s New Labour war pixies squeaked angrily into their cellphones, desperately trying to locate the source of the noise, but the shopping centre’s ingenious concrete acoustics were making it impossible to get a “lock”. Eventually the “Sack Jack” mobile was tracked down by an elite cohort of Shopping Centre Security Contractors. By the time we arrived, an uneasy calm had descended.
The media who’d gathered to watch Jack seemed delighted to see Craig, and as the cameras rolled he set about explaining why he’d decided to stand against our torture-tainted Foreign Secretary.
Jack’s woolly acolytes looked on glumly. A freelance anti-war protestor ran past, waving his placard. “Good luck at the Hague”, said another, shaking Straw’s hand and smiling.
Then in the distance we heard the distorted bass of a Green Goddess on the move. The crew of the “Sack Jack” mobile had escaped the Shopping Centre heavies, passively resisting an attempt to destroy their sound system.
“…so Hit the Road Jack Straw, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more…”
Horns hooted in support as the Green Goddess swept by for one final pass, emblazoned with Craig Murray’s campaign posters. The show was back on the road.
In the afternoon, the “Sack Jack” roadshow moved to the northeastern part of the city. We spent several hours delivering leaflets door to door, and answering people’s questions about the campaign. We didn’t see a single Labour poster, though we did bump into the Tory candidate, Imtiaz Ameen. He told us it was going to be “a straight fight between Labour and the Conservatives” – yeah, right. He was the first person we’d met who even mentioned the Tories.
We spent the next morning leafleting and preparing to gatecrash Jack Straw’s private love-in with local Muslim bigwigs at the Jann Community Centre. Jack had snuck in by the time we got there, but there were plenty of delegates still arriving, a growing crowd of protestors and a good number of journalists. The atmosphere seemed friendly enough, to begin with. “Yes, you have every right to be here. It’s democracy”, the Labour man on the gate said to a Lib Dem heckler. He continued in Urdu.
The heckler protested in English. “Why are you insulting me? You’re saying one thing in English for the cameras, and then you’re insulting me in Urdu. Do you think people don’t know what you’re doing?”
Some kids walked up to the gate from inside the centre, curious at the commotion. I told them why we were protesting and handed them a couple of leaflets. At this point the guy on the gate lost it. “No! Get away from there! Give those back!” he shouted at the kids. So much for democracy.
I got my first Urdu lesson shortly afterwards. A local Muslim leader had turned up with a megaphone and started handing out plastic spoons. “Excuse me sir, they have run out of spoons in there. Would you like to take one?”, he said, as the delegates passed by. The Urdu-speakers in the crowd began to laugh. “Jack Straw kay chumchay!” shouted several of them. Many of the delegates laughed too. “It means Jack Straw is a lackey”, explained the guy with the megaphone. “In Urdu, if you are a spoon, you are a lackey – you are someone’s poodle”.
The Urdu-speakers on the gate were replaced by two of the Straw war-pixies, who looked decidedly “Old Labour” – and more than a little uncomfortable. I asked one of them if he’d supported the war. He told me he thought that the question was “boring”. Craig, he insisted, had been guilty of sexually harrassing his staff when he was working for the Foreign Office.
The sexual misconduct smear is a classic piece of New Labour doublethink, with startling similarities to the argument over WMD. In August 2003, after Craig had had the audacity to criticise British and US support for the tyrannical regime in Uzbekistan, he was presented with 18 disciplinary charges and told to resign. These charges ranged from the bizarre (driving a car down the embassy steps) to the abhorrant – offering British visas to Uzbek girls in exchange for sex. But the common element, and the key problem for whoever came up with the charges, was that none of them were true. The part of the story that New Labour isn’t so keen on remembering goes like this: When Craig refused to resign, the Foreign Office spent months searching high and low for evidence to support the charges. In the end they had to admit that all 18 were bogus: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1130080,00.html.
When I reminded the Straw man on the gate that Craig had actually been cleared, his response was a flat denial.
“So the Guardian were lying then?”. He nodded.
As the hours passed, speculation grew that Jack Straw might have to leave the Community Centre by hopping over a fence. Dozens of delegates had already come out, and it was time for the London Friends to head home. Jack Straw was still inside, no doubt making the most of the free food.
On the train back to London we got chatting to a friendly young lad from Stoke. He was in the army, he said. He was still in training, but was looking forward to going out to Iraq or Afghanistan soon. He was 18 years old.