*** An 82-year old man was dragged and pushed out of the Labour party conference in Brighton, because he dared to express opposing views about the war on Iraq. Walter Wolfgang, a Jew who has been a member of the Labour party for 60 years, much longer than Prime Minister Tony Blair, came to Britain as a refugee from Nazi Germany. The old-age pensioner was arrested under the new "terrorism" laws, and he compared his experience to the first stages of totalitarianism in his homeland which drove him away so many years ago. The political party system in the UK is carefully designed to prevent true democracy from flourishing, but Wolfgang is old enough to put truth and justice before his chances of rising through the ranks of the party. ***
British ruling party expels old man from conference for disagreeing
Jack Straw was heckled today as he told the Labour party conference Britain was in Iraq "for one reason only: to help the elected Iraqi government build a secure, democratic and stable nation".
A delegate, who was 82 years old and has been a Labour party member for 60 years, was bundled out by security guards after he shouted, "That's a lie," during the foreign secretary's keynote conference address.
The outburst came during one of the few mentions of Iraq in the conference hall this week.
A second delegate was expelled for complaining at the treatment of the first heckler.
Mr Straw ignored the outburst, to add: "We can and will only remain [in Iraq] with their consent."
The foreign secretary warned the conference to "expect more dark moments" from Iraq, but compared the situation with postwar Germany, where it took four years before national elections were possible. "In Iraq it was less than two" he said.
He told delegates: "Two wars have followed September 11. In each case, alongside the US, we in the British government worked tirelessly for an alternative. But there was a moment of decision where we had to judge which was lesser of two evils: to stand by and allow these two monstrous regimes to go on defying the international community, or to act. In each case we chose the latter course.
"And I believe we were right to do so."
Earlier Mr Straw watched as a union official, Barry Camfield of the TGWU, used the debate on Britain and the World to accuse the government of refusing to pull out for fear of "loss of face", despite the "occupation" fuelling the escalating crisis.
"Our troops should be pulled out now and quickly," he urged.
"You cannot invade a country and declare war on it on an unacceptable and false premise then decide to occupy it on the basis that you were wrong in the first place and that it might be a little embarrassing or involve a loss of face to give Iraq back to the Iraqis. He won a loud ovation from delegates."
But Iraq, which has been noticeable by its absence even from much of the fringe in Brighton, took up only one page of Mr Straw's nine-page speech on foreign affairs.
He began by paying tribute to Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary, whom he acknowledged had "made a big difference" to his own personal election result in Blackburn. Mr Cook campaigned for Mr Straw despite their differences on Iraq.
The two other big themes of the foreign secretary's speech were Turkey and Iran.
Mr Straw referred to Turkey's bid to join the EU, over which negotiations start next week.
Britain currently holds the EU presidency and Mr Straw said admitting Turkey, a country with a large Muslim majority would set "a shining example across the whole of its neighbouring region".
Despite preliminary talks having already begun, large majorities in France, Germany and other countries oppose the expansion. Pointing out that Turkey joining the EU was first mooted in 1963, Mr Straw said it would be a "huge betrayal" to "turn our back" on the country, not least of the programme of reform currently being instigated by its prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Mr Straw said that by declaring Iran "non-compliant" with its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the international community sent a strong signal that commitments had to be respected. "But if Iran does come into compliance the door will be thrown wide open to cooperation - economic, political and social - between another great people and the EU," he added.
Mr Straw also repeated calls for reform of the UN, saying the UK had been "in the vanguard" for change at the Millennium summit a fortnight ago.
While noting an improvement in the past year in the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, with the withdrawal from Gaza and a new Palestinian president, the foreign secretary specifically called on the Israelis to "alter the route of their security wall."
Earlier, Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, had congratulated the conference for Labour's role in promoting the Make Poverty History agenda.
He said: "For this is the year in which the world not only heard the truth about the condition of humankind, but decided to do something about it.
"Make Poverty History forging a global coalition of millions to push for change. The voice of humanity asking not for charity, but for justice.
"It's our voice too: Labour's internationalism, a part of our history for more than a century; Labour once again leading the world in the fight for justice."
The Guardian, "Straw heckled over Iraq", 28 September 2005.
Daily Telegraph, "Heckler, 82, who dared called Straw a liar is held under terrorist law", 19 September 2005.
The Foreign Secretary was telling the conference that Britain was in Iraq "for one reason only" - to help the elected Iraqi government - when Walter Wolfgang shouted: "That's a lie and you know it."
Mr Wolfgang, a refugee from Nazi Germany and a Labour Party member since 1948, was immediately surrounded by security staff in full view of the television cameras and ejected from the hall in Brighton as officials revoked his pass.
When he tried to re-enter the secure zone, he was stopped by a police officer citing the Terrorism Act.
Steve Forrest, the chairman of Erith and Thamesmead Labour Party, was also thrown out after complaining about Mr Wolfgang's treatment.
He said that five security guards moved close to him in an intimidating manner after he shouted "Hear, hear" during an anti-war speech in debate.
A few minutes later, as Mr Wolfgang was being escorted away, he protested: "Leave him alone, he's an old man." At that point he was hauled out himself.
He said: "Where is the democracy in this party? It seems that the leadership is full of paranoia."
Mr Wolfgang, a vice-president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said the episode showed how intolerant the Labour Party had become.
"A few years ago nobody would have objected to anyone heckling like that." He said a Labour official had told him that the reason he was thrown out was because he had been asked several times to be quiet and had taken no notice.
But Mr Wolfgang said that was not true. He had received no warning before being thrown out by "two toughies".
He said: "When you have an international debate that does not deal adequately with the international issues of the day, the least you can do, if someone is talking nonsense, is say so."
At first Sussex police denied that Mr Wolfgang had been detained or searched but a spokesman later admitted that he had been issued with a section 44 stop and search form under the Terrorism Act.
Mr Wolfgang said: "We have reached a situation where freedom of expression has been threatened. I am not surprised, because the Labour Party has been taken over by a gang of adventurers who are on their way out."
Alice Mahon, the former MP for Halifax and a prominent anti-war campaigner, said she saw several security guards "dive" on Mr Wolfgang.
"This other chap a couple of rows in front turned round and said, 'You must be joking,' because this was simple political heckling. He wasn't threatening anybody. He got manhandled out as well. I think the security people were really over the top."
Linda Riordan, the current MP for Halifax, said: "We have had one speaker in this debate on Iraq and we have 8,000 troops there. The silence on Iraq at this conference is deafening, absolutely deafening."
Daily Telegraph, "Conference sketch", 29 September 2005.
The Blairite regime yesterday moved to defend itself against the growing threat of insurrection in Brighton.
The Independent, "Walter Wolfgang: 'We have been lied to about the war. I dared to speak the truth'", 30 September 2005.
My case is not important. But what happened to me when I was ejected from the Labour conference - simply for a one-word protest during Jack Straw's speech this week - tells us there is something deeply wrong with the culture of our Government under Tony Blair.
We have been lied to about the war. But not only that. The party has been manipulated so that it has not been allowed to discuss the issue properly.
Indeed, the Labour leaders have got so nervous of criticism that when I shouted the single word "nonsense"- when the Foreign Secretary sought to paper over the issue with smooth words - party officials sent the bouncers in. Even one word of criticism, it seems, was too much.
Party leaders have increasingly controlled conference over the last few years. We used to have a very inclusive culture in the party. But New Labour has damaged that. We must reclaim it before it is too late.
The Guardian, "What elephant?", 29 September 2005.
Cartoon: Martin Rowson on Labour's handling of Iraq.
"The Insider" mailing list article, 28 September 2005.
Tags: British, government, Tony Blair, JackStraw, Iraq, party, conference, heckled, critics, expelled, thrown, out, , conspiracy theories.