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'Panic' in No10 over Iraq protests

Public opposition to a war in Iraq caused "panic" in Downing Street and almost brought down former Prime Minister Tony Blair, according to a new book.

The People v Tony Blair, published to mark the 10th anniversary of the huge anti-war protests on February 15, 2003, said the world-wide protests were held amid international "disarray" about the war.

Author Chris Nineham, a founder member of Stop the War Coalition, said a series of protest records were broken, with up to two million joining the February 15 event, the biggest weekday protest some months later when George Bush visited London, and the largest wartime march shortly after the bombing started.

"The received wisdom is that Blair and his team sailed through those months blithely ignoring all criticism, unimpressed by popular protest and unconcerned by public doubt.

"Largely of course, this is because he did in the end get away with it; the parliamentary revolt was contained - just - and the war went ahead with all its predicted horror.

"But it is not just that. Panic and disarray don't fit the 'Teflon Tony' image that has been constructed by Blair and his admirers. More generally the last thing rulers want to do is admit they have been shaken by the action of those they rule.

"So it should come as no surprise that it is only years after Tony Blair's resignation that the full extent of the crisis caused by opposition to the Iraq war has begun to surface," said the book.

Mr Nineham said he wanted to remind people about the "sheer criminality" of Mr Blair and Mr Bush and to explain how they "got away with it."

But he was also keen to underline the power of mass, popular protest.

The book said that privately, Labour politicians were unconvinced by Mr Blair's arguments for war, with suggestions that only 10 of the party's backbenchers supported him.

The war was a product of a "poisoned political culture", while few Labour MPs were prepared to face the intellectual challenge and political isolation threatened by opposition, it was claimed.

"So the majority covered their ears to the public outcry, closed their eyes to the implications and voted for an illegal and catastrophic war," said the book.

The author said the Government's public spending cuts had stoked opposition to costly wars.

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