As the UK General Election speeds up to decision day on 5 May, Prime Minister Tony Blair has discovered he has a new problem…
The PM has had his fill of political hurdles since the beginning of the election, from deserting Labour MP Brian Sedgemore to avoiding the daily barrage of questions about the legality of the Iraq war.
Now he is facing a political revolt in his own constituency.
The Peace Camp at Wingate Grange Farm was organised by a group of UK peace activists, musicians and members of the European Creative Forum, working alongside Sedgefield Against War and www.blairditchproject.com.
Situated several miles north of Sedgefield, it has become the centre of the rising political campaign to throw out Tony Blair in his heartland.
The Blair Ditch Project teamed up with Sedgefield Against War back in January 2005, rallying under the slogan: “Do Labour a favour – Vote Blair Out!”
A statement from the Blair Ditch website said the collapse of the Labour vote in Sedgefield would not prevent the return of a Labour government.
“Removing Tony Blair from office will send a strong message to governments in the future, and remove the fig-leaf Blair’s support offers the Bush regime.”
The Peace Camp arrived in Sedgefield in April on a red London double-decker bus owned by Iraqi human shield organiser Joe Letts. This was the same bus, running on vegetable oil, which made the journey to Iraq prior to the war, carrying British human shields.
One of those human shields was peace activist Tom Hurndall who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier in Rafah in May 2003.
Since their arrival the Peace Camp has supported meetings and seminars held by Sedgefield Against War, and is mustering local support to vote against Blair.
Letts said the anti-war opposition to Blair, foreign secretary Jack Straw and defence minister Geoff Hoon was rising: “People are realising the three main participants in this war fiasco are all being targeted in their own local constituencies,” he said.
“It is fairly clear to me that he [Blair] cannot be Prime Minister if he is not a constituency MP. But also it will be a firm message from the people telling Blair to get out.”
“Chancellor Gordon Brown has also come in behind Blair and said it was right to go to war. I think the Labour party will have to find another leader other than Blair or Brown,” he added.
Blair already has several high profile contenders for his position of MP of Sedgefield.
One of those is Reg Keys, the father of one of six Royal Military Policemen killed in Al-Majar Al Kabir on June 24 2003.
Dave Cattell, Sedgefield’s own senior Labour party officer, has defected to join the Keys campaign. Fellow constituency party members called the move a “publicity stunt”, labelling Cattell an “extreme leftwinger”.
Keys, 52, has already made the headlines in 2004 when he referred to the investigation of his son’s death as “the army investigating the army”. He also demanded an official apology from Blair for sending UK troops to Iraq for what he called “illegal and immoral” justification.
David Shayler, the MI5 whistleblower, planned to go up against Blair in Sedgefield and former Sun Page 3 model and soft porn star, who changed her name to Cherri Blairout-Gilham, is running on an anti-war and pro-pensioner ticket.
But all independent candidates are asking the people who would vote for them to vote for Keys instead, to unite their opposition to Blair and give Keys more chance of winning.
Blair’s constituency of Sedgefield is no newcomer to controversy. In 2003 a visit from President George W Bush prompted a police state-style clampdown in the quiet villages of Durham county.
The Sedgefield Against War website described an influx of “Men In Black”, some carrying machineguns, that started appearing on every street corner in Sedgefield and other surrounding villages.
Police vans patrolled the streets at night, helicopters swooped on unsuspecting residents on their way to the local pub. Door-to-door questioning was instigated, stop and search orders and even house searches were carried out.
On Sunday 1 May the Peace Camp plans to hold a “non-political” May Day demonstration in Sedgefield to celebrate the official day of workers rights, coinciding with the demonstrations across Europe.
In the evening a musical event will be held at Wingate Grange Farm, organised by Peace Not War, the minds that pulled together such international artists as Public Enemy, Ms Dynamite, Jane’s Addiction and Sonic Youth for two double CDs of anti-war music.
The music will include many artists from the PNW CDs and political comedian and activist Mark Thomas also confirmed he will be there to take the stage.