Ken Loach: Was it futile to march? No! No! No!

We recognise what Spain has highlighted - that we must move from protest to politics
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A month after two million people took to the streets last February to say in no uncertain terms that an attack on Iraq would be morally unjustified and politically irresponsible the bombs started falling on Baghdad. The message was loud and clear from the Government and official opposition: we have heard what you think and we are going ahead anyway.

It would have been easy in such circumstances to feel disillusioned and helpless. But imagine if no one had turned up to demonstrate on 15 February 2003. Imagine if there had been no organised voices of dissent. The world would be a very different place now.

Millions of people across the Middle East would have got a very clear message: that we did not care about the illegal invasion of an Arab state.

Instead, we built bridges of solidarity across the globe and to the Middle East, connections that can now be used to discuss and debate what other kind of world we want to live in that does not have conquest for oil or strategic advantage as its priority.

These links are part of a global movement that is challenging those in power with an alternative vision based on sharing resources, democratic government, environmental sustainability and mutual respect.

Even if New Labour took no notice of the demonstrations, there were millions in Britain who did not march but did listen. In fact, the country was turned into one great debating chamber. This debate was fuelled by the ever increasing numbers, young and old, who turned out in their town or city square to oppose the assault on Iraq.

It seems that the low turn-out in the 2001 general election was not due to apathy but to a lack of a broadly-based alternative to the three main parties that went far beyond the concern about the environment the Green Party offers.

Spain has just witnessed the dramatic impact such a protest movement can have on a governing party's fortunes. Those who voted with their feet turned on a government they felt had ignored them over the war and lied to them about the consequences. Demonstrations and mass protests changed a government and the world. This message cannot have gone unheard in Washington or London.

In fact, the US-led coalition is falling apart. Far from making us safer, their war has put us on the front-line. Bush and Blair collude in the oppression of the Palestinians, they use violence without the sanction of the UN, they are repeatedly caught lying and, as self-proclaimed Christians, are responsible for a state terrorism whose casualties far exceed those of individual terrorists.

People are more savvy than they are given credit for. They know this is a class war. It is waged by the most powerful ruling class in the world in the interests of US capital. The economies of the Middle East are to be re-formed, giving US corporations access to markets and resources. September 11th was a convenient excuse to implement a decision to invade Iraq which had already been taken.

Unluckily for New Labour, it is not only opposition to the war that the demonstrators have in common. When Gordon Brown told Tony Blair he would spend whatever it would take to prosecute the war, our response was that we need a government that spends whatever it takes to rebuild a compassionate welfare state and works with others for worldwide peace and security, not one that joins the Bush administration in seeking to establish the global dominance of free market economics by force of arms.

So where do we go from here? Many of us have decided that having voted with our feet we now need to provide the millions of people who were with us in either body or spirit a real choice at the ballot box. We recognise what Spain has highlighted - that we must move from protest to politics. It is for this reason that we launched the Respect Unity Coalition. For those who oppose the war and the New Labour project, there is now an electoral alternative. About time, too.

Ken Loach is a film director and Respect European candidate