Leicester’s famed Belgrave Road, otherwise known as the “Golden Mile”, is home to two landmarks: the first is a 7 foot bronze statue of the non-violent anticolonialist Mahatma Gandhi, and the second is a shiny new office belonging to local Labour MP Keith Vaz.
Engraved beneath Gandhi’s statue is the phrase “we must become the change we want to see”. While the words adorning Vaz’s office is the empty Labour slogan “on your side.”
Not long after Vaz’s office opened for business, his windows were daubed with obscene graffiti by an angry passerby (January 8, Leicester Mercury). And although it is not clear what the graffiti said I like to think it would have said “hypocrite” or simply “warmonger.”
Certainly given Vaz’s track record in supporting war after war, it is clear whose side Vaz is really on… and it is not yours!
When Vaz helped unveil the statue of arguably the world’s most famous disciple of nonviolence, he was reported as saying: “It is one of the greatest days of my 22 years as MP for this area. Gandhi was an inspiration to so many” (June 2009, Mercury). But as Vaz’s continued political support for war demonstrates, he evidently does not include himself among those inspired by Gandhi’s life.
This rest of this article will expose the not-so-secret, although little known, track record of Keith Vaz “man of war.”
VAZillating on the Gulf War
When Vaz was first elected to Parliament in 1987 he presented himself as a real man of the people: a socialist no less. Vaz was even a member of the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG), which included principled left-wing socialists such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McMcDonnell.
Voting consistently against wars throughout their parliamentary careers, Corbyn and McDonnell remained members of the SCG until they were forced to resign in order to lead the Labour Party. Vaz on the other hand took a different route, quitting from the SCG in 1991, shortly after he had thrown his support behind the Gulf War.
At this early stage in Vaz’s militaristic parliamentary career, he was a little unsure of who a socialist should vote alongside on matters of war. Hence, during the initial stages of the Gulf Crisis he chose to vote with the Tories and the majority of the pro-war Labour MPs (on September 7, 1990).
Later in the year he again voted to back warmongering in the Middle East (December 11, 1990); but with Labour’s anti-war contingent seemingly growing, Vaz felt tugged by his conscience, and just days before the launch of the Gulf War he voted to oppose it (on January 15, 1991).
Nevertheless, just a few days later, moved by the commencement of the slaughter and the ever present thoughts of his career trajectory, Vaz changed his mind again and gave his vote to the warmongers (January 21, 1991).
Quick promotions within the Labour Party establishment soon followed; since then, Vaz has never looked back.
Bomber Vaz in Power
When Tony Blair’s Labour Party came to power in 1997, Vaz’s first major test arrived just a few years later, when Vaz quickly swallowed the NATO medicine and threw his support behind the bombing of Yugoslavia in March 1999 (although no vote was taken on this matter). The human catastrophe that followed was supposed to be for the benefit of humanity, but, as ever, it appears that the need for expanding corporate profits was a more likely driver of the ensuing death and destruction, as well as the contravention of international law.
Foreign policy expert Mark Curtis writes in his book Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World (Vintage, 2003) how:
“Robin Cook told the New Statesman just after the end of the bombing of Yugoslavia that ‘our key tasks [in southeast Europe] are first of all to increase trade, open up their markets and help them with economic progress, [and] to intensify the integration with European structures’. Europe Minister Keith Vaz has similarly noted that ‘Southeastern Europe… needs to attract investors by creating a favourable climate for investment.’” (p.154)
In the wake of the horrific attacks in New York on 9/11, both the British and American Government’s were keen to take us to war again. This time the target was Afghanistan, despite the fact that most of the September 11th hijackers were from Saudia Arabia.
Just days before “Operation Enduring Freedom” was launched, Vaz spoke out in Parliament (on October 4, 2001) to reaffirm his support of war: “It is right that we should stand with the United States.” Although no vote was taken with regard this latest development, Corbyn was, in stark contrast, critical of the planned war on Afghanistan.
Resisting the Will of the People
Vaz’s next test was a big one, the Iraq War. But holding true to his New Labour colleagues, Vaz was steadfast in ignoring the protests of his constituents (which included students strikes in Leicester) and a 2 million strong protest organised by the Stop the War Coalition with the aid of the likes of Jeremy Corbyn.
February 26, 2003, presented the first opportunity for Vaz to vote to progress Tony Blair’s project to destroy Iraq. This was followed by another vote the following month (on March 18) to give the go-ahead to Blair’s illegal war, which would leave over 1 million Iraqis dead, thereby paving the way for the eventual growth of ISIS.
Ever content to ramp up the so-called war on terrorism, the year after being elected to become the chairman of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, Vaz supported changes to the Counter-Terrorism Act to allow for suspected terrorists to be held for 42-day detention without charge (voted on June 11, 2008).
During the debate, Jeremy Corbyn was one of many Labour MPs who interrupted Vaz to warn that of the nature of such “proposals that endlessly give politicians more powers over the process of detention.” Vaz however simply dismissed Corbyn’s very real concerns saying:
“I have known my hon. Friend for many years. He was the first Member to support me when I was selected to stand in Leicester, East, so I have a high regard for him and for the way in which he defends the civil liberties of his constituents, but he is wrong. That is not what is being proposed today, and I am glad to be able to clarify that for him…”
Nevertheless, the changes that Vaz chose to back had been vocally opposed by all manner of human rights groups and also by the Muslim Council of Britain — who considered such draconian laws to be “counterproductive” to say the least, especially as they were most likely to negatively impact upon their own community. But thankfully, despite Vaz’s dark intentions, the 42 day proposed extension of the Counter-Terrorism bill were opposed in the House of Lords, which no doubt owed much to the strong public opposition to such repressive changes.
Then Libya, Iraq (Again), and Syria
Between 2008 and the present, Vaz has gone from strength to strength in his warmongering ways, formally voting to support three more military interventions. First, Vaz voted to support the Tories bombing of Libya (on March 21, 2011); this was shortly followed up on September 26, 2014, with an affirmative vote on another bombing campaign in Iraq; topped off by his decision on December 2, 2015 to back the bombing of Syria.
Keith Vaz should be ashamed of his track record of supporting wars, but he isn’t. This is largely because, so far, he has been able to keep his unswerving commitment to violence out of the newspapers and out of the public eye. This is but one reason why Leicester Against War called a protest to take place outside of his office on 123 Belgrave Road on Saturday 6th February.
As the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Vaz has significant power, as such a position “is now arguably more powerful than a shadow cabinet member or even a junior departmental minister.” But now that the Labour Party has elected a commited opponent of imperialist wars to lead their party, one wonders whether Vaz is really the right person for the job anymore.
This is why I proudly joined an anti-war protest outside of Vaz’s offices on Belgrave Road to help spread the word about Vaz’s disgusting track record of warmongering. The people of Leicester deserve better than Vaz. Maybe its about time that Vaz was encouraged to stand in a reselection battle against other potential parliamentary candidates from the Labour Party, so that his constituents might be able to elect an anti-war Labour candidate to represent their political views instead.