The first speaker was Sami Ramadani, an Iraqi exile who writes for the Guardian. He spoke about his belief, and the apparent widespread belief, that the outurst of secetarian violence that has engulfed Iraq is actually exactly what the US wants and that they are behind the bombing of the mosques and subsequent bloodshed.
John Rees, a big wig in the Stop The War 'Collalition', was up next with a loud speech which lots of people should hear but was probably wasted on the people in the room who, after all, obviously all ready agree. As well as talking about how bad the war is and how we must stop it. He said he would march and march and march and march forever, and I don't doubt that that's exacly what the Stop The War Coalition have in mind. He also asked for our money in order to pay for meetings such as the one we were attending.
Next up was Rose Gently, the UK's answer to Cindy Sheehan. Rose is the mother of Fusilier Gordon Gentle, who was killed in Basra in June 2004 and has been making a noise about it ever since. My total lack of sympathy and respect for those who choose to fight 'for queen and country' may colour my judgement on this one but I did feel that Rose comes across as very niave. I don't doubt that she does see the bigger picture but hearing hear going on about how Blair is a disgrace and is letting down 'our boys' is missing the point as far as I can see.
Now we were through to the real celebrity speakers... yes it was time for George Galloway and he really let rip! I've never experienced him in person and he certainly is an impressive public speaker. The highlight for me was his line about glorrifying terrorism . and he did! Well, obviously not really since obviously the insurgents in Iraq can never accuratly be described as terrorists no matter how attrocious their action, but that hasn't stopped the media or polititians from throwing the label about.
The former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, followed George. A tough act to follow and he knew it. However this quitely spoken man is a person of rare integrity and I have the uptmost respect for him. If you don't know his story, you should check it out. He also managed to pack in a few gags.
But of course the real star of the show was saved till the end. Classic socialist stand up comedian, Tony Benn. His public speaking ability hasn't diminished with age and when he finished he recieved the only standing ovation of the night. I stood myself, overcome by one of the last things he said which as an ex-politician was quite refreshing considering other people on the panel and the political make up of the gathering in general. He said, don't waste your time voting for polititians and expect them to solve anything for you.
So, what of the evening in general? Well, the place was crawling in SWP and Respect people. It was really an promotional stunt for the party rather than a meeting. It was totally preaching to the converted and yet left not room for the 'audience' to participate, discuss, express their views or ideas. It was purely a top down, celebrity event where we listened, clapped and went home. Fair enough I guess if advertised as a talk but I foolishly thought that a meeting would be discussion based.
I would still like to engage in discussion about the coming march on March 18th but a guess Stop The War events are the wrong place for that.
duke of york
Download: Why we march? John Rees - mp3 76K
Download: I glorify! George Galloway - mp3 496K
These include John Rees telling us that as long as they fight wars, his answer will be to march (and they wonder why STWC gets no respect).
We've also got George Galloway baiting Tony Blair by glorifying 'terrorism'
Finally, we've got one of dear Tony Benn's best jokes and the bit about not waiting for some politician to solve anything. Notice how that particular line didn't go down as well as it might have elsewhere. I prompted the clapping at this stage and it was slow to be taken up by the crowd and faded out quickly. If I had filmed the event you'd probably have seen some really dirty looks direct at Tony at this stage.