British Youth Oppose "Bomber" Blair

London protestA few months ago, if you'd told most British schoolteachers that hundreds of their students were about to start taking a big interest in international politics they’d have been delighted. Now it's all they can do to keep the kids in the classrooms.

One of the most surprising features of the massive anti-war protests in the UK, has been the mass student walkouts at British secondary schools. On March 5, thousands of teenagers from across the country left their schools and congregated in city centres. Around 500 from London went down to the Houses of Parliament to protest.

Similar gatherings took place in other cities around the country, and once the war began the protests continued in the U.K. and around the world.

While the country as a whole is divided over the war, it's fair to say the message from young people has been unambiguous. A poll of school children conducted for the BBC's Newsround program in February reported that 80 percent were opposed to war.

What's shocking isn't their opposition but the fact they're doing something about it. Considering that most 18-25 year olds couldn't even be bothered to put a cross in a box at the last general election this a pretty big thing.

These young voices seem to be having some effect on the older generation. As part of the March 5 demonstrations, Jacob Hunt, the 14 year-old son of government minister, Lord Hunt, walked out of his Birmingham school. Far from locking Jacob in his room, Lord Hunt followed his son's example by resigning from the government in protest of Tony Blair’s position on the war.

What's more, it seems like every young person I've met recently wants to talk about the war and with a sophistication which you could never them applying to, for example, the debate on whether Britain should join the Single European Currency.

Few are left-wing ideologues. Most are not remotely interested in what Trotsky was doing 80 years ago and many haven't even read "No Logo." They just can't understand the justification for launching a pre-emptive strike on a country that, as far as I can see, is minding its own business.

Ironically, Tony Blair's government has always claimed to speak for young people. Following his election, Blair held parties at Downing Street for left-leaning pop stars including Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher and generally tried give the impression he was "down with the kids."

Over the last few years, the British government has been indulging in all sorts of schemes to try to convince young people to take an interest in politics. These include getting Spice Girls to appear in political broadcasts and, more recently, the introduction of compulsory "citizenship" ("politics" by any other name) lessons into schools.

Now young people really are interested but not in the way that Blair and company would have wanted. Perhaps the Iraq crisis will increase the youth vote at elections but it's unlikely they’ll be backing Tony Blair. He's inspired a new generation of activists who may never forgive him.

If like me, you want the war (now that it's happening) to be as short as possible, you've got to hope that the Pentagon is slightly better at fighting than the White House is at PR.

Bush's bible-thumping rhetoric plays disastrously in Britain. Maybe this is partly because it lives down to the arrogant belief held by some in Britain that Americans are vulgar and uneducated. More damagingly though, to thoughtful moderates, Bush's cowboy persona seems like something out of a bad spoof of a John Wayne film.

The only person who seems to be having a good war so far is Osama bin Laden. After September 11, the vast majority of people in the Western world were united in revulsion against religious extremism. Now we have reached a point where large numbers of people in Western Europe genuinely believe the U.S. government to be a greater threat to world peace than Al Qaeda.

This is a particularly bizarre situation amongst young people who have grown up with American films, sitcoms, fast food and designer clothes. When I was at school the cool kids were always pretending that they had American accents. And as a country with an agnostic majority, we're hardly natural supporters of radical Islam.

The simple reason for British discontent, among young and old, is that most of us can't understand why we are attacking Iraq and Tony Blair has been unable to provide a coherent explanation. Those of us who don't believe in Jewish conspiracies and reckon there are far easier ways to get the oil are at a loss to explain why Blair is doing what he's doing.

Perhaps Blair genuinely believes that, given the threat of global terror, it is too dangerous to allow unpredictable tyrants like Saddam Hussein to remain in power. He may be right but the pre-emptive invasion of an independent country sets a precedent that is even more dangerous and the domino effects in the Middle East could be even worse.

In backing George Bush, millions of young people in Britain believe Tony Blair has taken an unnecessary risk. Many of us are actively going out and saying so.

Read more about how British youth are opposing the war in Iraq on BBC. David Floyd, 22, is editor of Exposure Online and also writes for Chartist magazine. He lives in London.


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