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Tariq Ali: 'Blair is a war criminal'

PUBLISHED: 16:25 18 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:47 07 September 2010

Susanna Wilkey RADICAL left-wing protester Tariq Ali has dismissed the current political system at a talk – saying all the parties had come to be the same and meaningful debate had died. As an activist, author and film-maker since the 1960s, Mr Ali told a

Susanna Wilkey

RADICAL left-wing protester Tariq Ali has dismissed the current political system at a talk - saying all the parties had come to be the same and meaningful debate had died.

As an activist, author and film-maker since the 1960s, Mr Ali told an audience at Hampstead's Burgh House of his debate with Henry Kissinger and being banned from the US for burning an American flag.

But when it comes to current British politics, the Highgate resident says his interest has been destroyed - particularly by the arrival of Tony Blair's New Labour.

"There used to be debate within the Labour party which has gone," he said. "Attending a Labour party conference used to be a delight because people from different points of view used to argue and debate and local Labour parties were a living force.

"But that has all gone now. Blair completely destroyed it. Political parties themselves have been hollowed out and there are no basic differences between them.

"Labour politicians turned out to be as corrupt, if not more, than most of those they were attacking.

"This election is not exciting to many people. What does it offer young people? Elections have become about punishing the incumbent because they have let us down. Then a new one comes in and at the next election it is the same thing - it becomes musical chairs.

"One party comes to power and it has its own cronies and clients and it is their day to make money and, when the other comes into power, it is their gangs making money."

The firebrand former student leader first hit the headlines during the Vietnam War as a vigorous opponent of American foreign policy and consequently became the face of British left-wing activism.

Known for his strong and sometimes controversial opinions, he did not disappoint the jam-packed audience attending last Thursday's talk - one of the arts centre's Lifelines series.

"I think Tony Blair is a war criminal," said Ali, who was born in Pakistan. "Using the Nuremberg criteria, I argued at a lunch one day that he was and a certain British ambassador said he agreed.

"The death figures in Iraq are really shocking. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died and the infrastructure of the country has disappeared. No-one will be tried for war crimes and the inquiry was only set up to calm people down."

Ali, a supporter of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and social democracy, hoped the recent Wall Street crash would bring about change.

"Brown has gone for the sticking plaster approach," he said. "All the politicians are hoping is that it will work until the next election. No-one is thinking about social democratic capitalism because they know they can get away with what they are doing.

"What is interesting is that we blame individuals for the crisis because we run away from saying it might be systemic."

On the Middle East, Ali said the Palestinians and Israelis were going to have to learn to live together because a two-state solution was not viable anymore.

He said: "I would dissolve the authority and say they are all citizens of one place. Serious Israelis also feel this - the only way is a single state with equal rights for everyone.

"People thought it could never happen in South Africa but it has. It seems utopian but what other way is there."

The next Lifelines interview will take place at arts centre in New End Square on February 25 with actress Maureen Lipman.

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