US threat deepens Labour unease

Tony Blair's battle to convince the Labour Party he has done the right thing by involving Britain in the Iraq war was made harder yesterday by the threat of US action against Syria.

The prospect of another military strike against an Arab country, however remote the possibility, was enough to spur a former Foreign Office minister to call for an immediate ceasefire.

It is the first time that one of the leading campaigners to stop the war taking place has suggested, since hostilities started, that they should be called off before the coalition has achieved its aim of removing Saddam Hussein.

Doug Henderson, a former minister for Europe and a leading critic of the war, criticised the comments of the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who had warned the Syrian government that it would be "held responsible" for cross-border trade in military supplies to Iraq.

Mr Henderson said the comments highlighted the danger that war in Iraq would spill into other countries in the region and called for the coalition to declare a ceasefire and withdraw troops from Iraq, using strengthened no-fly zones to contain Saddam in the future.

He told the BBC Radio 4 programme The World at One: "As Arab opinion is lost throughout the Middle East, there will be enormous pressure on young Arab persons to join the Iraqis in different ways, and one of the ways will be supplying arms.

"If the American government then said that was totally unacceptable and they would take military action to prevent it, there really would be a major escalation.

"That's always been my fear: that the attempt to remove Saddam would cause such instability in the Middle East and such ill-feeling between the Muslim world and non-Muslim world. Better ways have to be found to contain him.

"All I can see is a major escalation – with all the risks of involving Syria, Iran and Turkey – or a ceasefire and a withdrawal. And I think a ceasefire and withdrawal is, by far, the better way forward."

Meanwhile, some of the Prime Minister's most hardened opponents were meeting in London yesterday to plan how they could "reclaim" control of the party.

There was also increasing evidence of Labour MPs who have backed Mr Blair coming under threat within their own constituencies – particularly in areas with high concentrations of Muslims.

Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune, called for the creation of a new organisation, Labour Refoundation, to challenge Mr Blair over the political direction of the party.

He was speaking at a meeting in London of about 300 delegates to a Labour Against the War conference. The conference voted by more than two to one for a resolution to replace Mr Blair as leader of the Labour Party.

John McDonnell, a left-wing Labour MP, told them: "This is not about Blair. Forget about Blair. He's not the leader of our party. He does not represent me, he does not represent you, he does not represent Labour parties and trade unions. He's gone."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there