Demonstrations confront Bush in London

President George W. Bush’s state visit to London this week has provoked an “unwelcoming” response of huge proportions, with mass demonstrations, teach-ins, debates, school walkouts, film showings, poetry readings, and plays organized to oppose Bush’s policies and those of his British counterpart, Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“It’s hard to overestimate just how angry many Britons feel about George Bush’s visit,” writes Ros Taylor in the British Guardian. With upwards of 60 percent of the population strongly disapproving of Bush’s handling of Iraq, polls also show at least 36 percent believes that Bush should never have made the trip to the United Kingdom at all.

The anger has been stoked by the widespread perception that Bush’s weapons of mass destruction story was simply a trick for going to war for Middle East oil. It is also fueled by the rising death toll among the 9,000 British “coalition” soldiers stationed in Iraq. Fifty-two British soldiers have died there so far.

Reg Keys, whose son Lance Cpl. Thomas Keys was killed by an angry mob in southern Iraq near Basra, told the Associated Press: “I am totally against his [Bush’s] visit. I don’t know how he has the nerve to show his face in this country. I wouldn’t shake his hand. I’d love to meet him, but I’d refuse his hand. I’d say, ‘I can’t shake that hand. It’s stained with the blood of my son.’”

George Galloway MP, a parliamentary deputy who was expelled from the Labor Party for his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, is among Bush’s and Blair’s harshest critics. He calls Bush “the most unwelcome visitor since William the Conqueror,” the leader of the Norman invasion in 1066. Noting that Bush is hoping to exploit his visit to the UK for political ends, Galloway said, “Let us spoil George Bush’s photo opportunity, because it could be decisive in next year’s [U.S.] presidential election.” Galloway’s remarks were reported in the Morning Star.

All indications were that organized labor is playing a big part of the “unwelcoming” activities, with many unions encouraging their membership to take flextime or leave time from work to participate. Rail union RMT general-secretary Bob Crow predicted that trade unionists would join the anti-Bush demonstrations “in their droves.” Crow added, “I am sure that Mr. Bush will be given the reception that he deserves.”

Security arrangements around the president’s visit have been extraordinary, with the mustering of the largest security force in the British Isles since World War II. At least 5,000 British police and 250 U.S. Secret Service agents have been enlisted in the effort to monitor and suppress the demonstrations, with reports of an additional 450 armed U.S. security personnel walking the streets.

Bush’s aides have tried to lock down the whole of central London as an “exclusion zone,” but have met resistance from city authorities, including the police. “It is not part of our policing plan to spare others of the embarrassment” of the demonstrations, said Andy Trotter, deputy assistant of the Metropolitan Police.

Critics charge that the main aim of the police presence is to keep the demonstrators from the president’s view, and to do their part in keeping the spotlight on those photogenic moments when he is sipping tea with Queen Elizabeth II. Bush refused to speak before the British parliament, fearing heckling from the benches. Emily Mann, a spokesperson for the Communist Party of Britain, said, “While hiding from the British public, pictures of Bush with his sidekick [Tony Blair] will be transmitted to the U.S. in a bid to save his electoral skin.”

Conservative estimates of the British government’s costs of hosting Bush’s three-day visit are in the neighborhood of $6.8 million.

Many of the anti-Bush demonstrations and other activities have been organized by the Stop the War Coalition, which comprises over 100 groups from across the United Kingdom. The coalition has roundly criticized Tony Blair for his right-wing domestic policies and his abject subservience to the U.S. president. It is not uncommon to hear Blair called “Dubya’s poodle.”

The British Prime Minister has been an outspoken advocate of the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Great Britain. Mark Curtis, author of the recently released book, “Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World,” argues that “the essence of the special relationship is British support for U.S. aggression. … In a very real sense, Britain under Blair is now acting as a U.S. military proxy or satellite, having lost even the pretense of an independent foreign policy.”

Like Bush, Blair has been charged with outright lying about the reasons for going to war with Iraq. Perhaps a recent photo caption from the British magazine, the Economist, sums up the public’s mood best. Showing Bush next to Blair, the caption reads, “Wielders of Mass Deception.”

The author can be reached at