The Legacy of London's Iraq War March of 2003

By Quinn, Ben | The Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Legacy of London's Iraq War March of 2003


Quinn, Ben, The Christian Science Monitor


Tansy Hoskins remembers stamping her feet to ward off the bitter February cold after managing to join millions of people squeezed into Hyde Park 10 years ago today for the United Kingdom's largest- ever political demonstration.

As posters were thrown onto warming fires by marchers who had wound their way through the streets of London hours earlier, the case against waging war on Iraq was laid out by speakers, including left-wing activists and members of Parliament, artists, the former Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, and Jesse Jackson.

As a child, her parents had brought her on anti-war marches, and by February 2003 she was already deeply involved in mobilizing fellow students at the London School of Economics. But Ms. Hoskins recalls realizing how the Iraq war protests were different from the protests she was used to:

Normally on demonstrations I run into a lot of people I know, but on this one I didnt meet a single acquaintance. That was when I knew how big it was, she says of a 2003 march that organizers put at 2 million strong, though police put the total at less than 1 million.

Despite failing to prevent Britain from joining the US invasion of Iraq 32 days later, the demonstration itself left a lasting political and cultural legacy. A generation of younger Britons, including many who went on to immerse themselves in causes such the Occupy movement, were radicalized. And positions taken at the time continue to manifest themselves as fault lines, albeit fading ones, in the Labour Party, which was in power at the time.

The population as a whole remains divided too, although a poll today for the Guardian newspaper found that a majority of voters (55 percent) agree with suggestions that "the London marchers were right," because "a war sold on a false prospectus delivered little but bloodshed." And just 28 percent believe the marchers were wrong, on the basis that the war's achievement in "toppling the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein" eventually made the world a better place.

Hoskins, who went on to immerse herself entirely in efforts to oppose Western policy toward Iraq and other Western interventions elsewhere, says of the 2003 protest: It was the biggest demonstration ever seen in British history, and added to that; it was worldwide so you got a sense that this was how you changed the world. It was a life changing experience.

A transformation

But for others on the British left where divisions over the war proved to be particularly bitter the day was transformative in a different way.

I always assumed that people on the left might be mistaken. They might be foolish. But they were basically good at heart, says The Observer's journalist Nick Cohen, who grew up in a left-wing household. On the day of that march I lost that position when I saw a million people marching to keep a fascist dictator in power without a single Iraqi voice being allowed to address them, he says.

For Mr. Cohen and a number of other commentators from left-wing backgrounds, opposition to the invasion was a betrayal of ordinary Iraqis and trade unionists struggling against the regime, not to mention persecuted Iraqi minorities such as the Kurds, a belief that he later developed into a broader theory of the lefts perceived betrayal of traditional principles. The significance of the march was that it showed the selfishness and lack of principle of the Western left, he adds.

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