The colourful right-wing Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has found an unlikely political pin up in left-wing British MP and serial rebel Harry Barnes.
Downer has hailed Barnes in the Australian Parliament to bash Labour down under and told Labour MPs that “Having been a very passionate anti-war MP, he has now done the honourable thing. He has set up a group called Labour Friends of Iraq. I would like to feel that our own Labor Party could think about Labor friends of Iraq as well, and take a leaf out of Harry Barnes’s book.”
Downer even offered to ring his own parents-in-law who live in Barnes’ North East Derbyshire constituency to suggest that they vote for him.
A rather surprised Harry Barnes said: “I’m standing down but Mr Downer can suggest that people vote for the Labour candidate Natascha Engel.”
Mr Barnes added: “The Liberal Foreign Minister seeks, for obvious partisan advantage, to use us as a stick to beat the Australian Labour Party. That’s part of the usual political knock about. But I wish to make it clear that Labour Friends of Iraq wish to work with fellow members of the Socialist International to build solidarity with the emerging Iraqi labour movement. The comments by Mr Downer have spurred us into making contact with the Australian Labour Party to seek to work together. Solidarity with Grassroots Iraq is far too important to be used as a tactical weapon. People’s lives are at stake.”
The Director of Labour Friends of Iraq, Gary Kent said: “We’d already been approached about the possibility of an Australian branch of Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) . Like the UK branch, it could do much to bring together people who took different positions on the war to unite behind Grassroots Iraq, the new unions, women’s groups, self-help organisations, democratic parties, newspapers and associations of former prisoners of Saddam Hussein. Mr Downer has done us a favour. He may have a short-term tactical gain but the most important prize is the international labour movement acting together to support our brothers and sisters in Iraq.”
“There is a concerted campaign to physically eliminate the leaders of the new Iraqi Labour Movement. One target is Nozad Ismail, the President of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Kirkuk who has twice escaped assassination but who receives daily death threats. LFIQ has launched an urgent Global Appeal to highlight his case and seek to avert his murder. Support is coming from ordinary trade unionists from across the world, including Australia.”