The Not So Frightening Iraq Debate
31st October, 2006
Note: Please go to page “The Impeachers Named” for a list of those who wish to “try” the PM.
The Hallowe’en Iraq Debate wan’t all that scary in the end.
The big bad bogey man didn’t actually turn up at the party, but the government got by reasonably comfortably without him.
They fought off the call for a full parliamentary inquiry into Iraq, winning with a majority of 25, thus losing 12 of its members to the opposition lobby. The vote was 298 votes to the government and 273 to the opposition movers of the motion. This was the motion.
That this House believes that there should be a select committee of seven honourable Members, being members of Her Majesty’s Privy Council, to review the way in which the responsibilities of government were discharged in relation to Iraq and all matters relevant thereto, in the period leading up to military action in that country in March 2003 and in its aftermath.
An Unholy Alliance
This motion was brought by the combined forces of the Scottish Nationalists and Plaid Cymru, with the support of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. All of these parties, apart from the Tories, have always been against the war, so were at least consistent in their demands for clarity on Iraq decisions taken by the PM and government.
But why did the Tories jump ship? Well, up until last Wednesday, some reorts say up until the last minute, the Tories were set to abstain in tonight’s vote. Which was more “rowing alongside” than completely deserting. They were then persuaded by Douglas Hogg (an impeacher on the list as above) to support the nationalists’ motion, a decision which some of them may live to regret. After all, the Tories originally backed the conflict in Iraq. And Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition travelling on the coat-tails of the smaller opposition parties in this opportunistic way doesn’t quite measure up to their expected status, independence or consistency. Especially when they lose in the end.
Unfortunately for the government Des Browne the Defence Secretary, in a BBC interview afterwards, diluted Labour’s winning position somewhat by saying that “of course there would be an inquiry one day”. The Conservatives retorted that had they known THAT was the government’s position they would have voted with the government after all!
So, who came off best or worst in the end – the DefenceSecretary, the Government, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or the nationalist parties?
The Scottish Nationalists
Even after losing Alex Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist leader, still had it in for Blair. He said repeatedly in interviews after losing the vote that Neville Chamberlain had resigned in the 1940s after winning a vote by 80. So, Salmond concluded, Tony Blair should resign now.
I don’t think so Mr Salmond. You’re not about to hang Mr Blair’s scalp from your belt to boost your spring elections campaign. Pity you’ll have to dump the drafts of those election leaflets – “Brown couldn’t get rid of Blair, but we, the Scot Nats did!”
Adam Price had the rather nervous task of opening the debate and he did reasonably well if a little bit directionless at times. Since he was the first, from my understanding, to discover that there was a possibility of impeaching the PM, if proof were found of his misleading parliament, it fell to him to propose the motion. It could have been in stronger hands but he used some dramatic language quite effectively.
The Liberal Democrats
They have been consistently against the war and were ably assisted tonight by their lost leader Charles Kennedy who returned to take part in the debate. Menzies Campbell, the party leader said that there is “really anxiety in the government and the country” and that the government has to explain its strategy in Iraq.
There were some notable contributions from Sir Peter Tatchell, William Hague, Kenneth Clarke and Sir Malcom Rifkind. Some of them seemed on shaky ground, considering their support for the war, which as far as I understand is ongoing. I get the impression that they are hedging their bets, just in case.
The ghost at the event was noticeable by his absence. I understand that neither the Prime Minister nor the leader of the opposition are required to attend. So the PM would be unlikely to get imbroiled in a debate about a debate. Still, Sir Malcolm Rifkind made irritated and dismissive reference to his absence. Of course, by attending Mr Blair would have put himself in the firing line in a debate about an inquiry he believes is unnecessary. As it happened Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary made a fair fist of the Cabinet’s defence as did the ministers and Labour MPs who spoke, mostly but not absolutely against the motion.
Des Browne, Defence Secretary is likely to be the one tossing and turning tonight after putting his foot in it in a television interview about the future probability of an an inquiry. Downing Street later released a statement saying that there had been some confusion on Browne’s part. Wednesday’s PMQs will see the Prime Minister taunted again, no doubt.
“Impeaching Blair” Fiasco
Of course, this debate was brought by the nationalist parties as a second best choice . They really wanted to impeach the Prime Minister, which basically means trying him in parliament. So knowledgeable on parliamentary procedures were they that they had failed to realise that Mr Blair would appear before the House of Lords, and not the Commons, if impeached.
Ooops! He might use his charm and get away with it in front of the Lords. And anyway, that’d spoil the MPs’ fun. THEY wanted to try him, not the thoughtful, mainly elderly, polite, civilised chappies next door. THEY wanted to wipe the floor with him, watch him squirm under their relentless and well-researched questioning, and well, not to put too fine a point on it, they wanted his blood!
These are the same people, including such eminents as Kenneth Clarke, someone for whom I used to have a lot of respect, who didn’t even realise that the PM wouldn’t be impeached within the House of Commons. What jokers! Why were they so inept at realising this? They’d already signed up around 155 MPs to their cause. This is the Impeachers website (now with their names removed!) See my page 19 Impeachers Named for the full list.
Inquiries Come AFTER A Fall
Anyway, why are they all so defeatist about this war? How can they know that Iraq is already a failed operation? Inquiries are only held into failures and not into successful outcomes of war. With all the accusations of lies and deceit hanging over him this is all the more reason for the PM and his government to work for a successful outcome.
And avoiding an inquiry means the next PM has a cleaner sheet for the next election. All the cabinet are implicated in the decisions to go to war whether they were “deceived” or not. If deceived they were possibly too gullible, if there was no deceit they are equally culpable.
Yes, the government AND the Prime Minister need a successful outcome almost as much as the Iraqi people.
Last year it seems that 36 Labour MPs signed an identical motion which was never put before parliament. But tonight some of those were whipped back onside with the pressure of a possible resultant crisis of confidence for the PM, which could have meant a general election. So perhaps it was more scary than it looked.
Government MPs have a distinct distaste for voting with such opposition motions but that is not to say that there won’t be future calls for an inquiry. Hopefully it will be not so much a post mortem, more a victory review.
I’m still uneasy at the accusations being thrown at the Prime Minister on a personal level. If they can prove that he has misled parliament over weapons of mass destruction or the “dodgy dossier” they should provide the evidence. Otherwise they should keep quiet and let the Prime Minister get on with his busy last months in office, in particular helping to resolve the war in Iraq. There will be time at a later date if there is a case to answer. And it really would not be testimony of a modern day parliament for Mr Blair to be accused of lying while at the despatch box in the Commons and then escorted (by sword-bearing men in black tights, presumably) to the Upper House for “trial”, the MPs jostling in his wake to view and add to the charade! Perhaps the gallows will be resurrected on the lawn outside parliament, just to make the job complete. And a soon-to-be-hooded Mr Blair will be allowed a last glimpse of the great British public and his gawping, victorious fellow parliamentary judges. Enough already! We are no longer in the 18th century.
Malcolm Rifkind had a peculiarly unsavoury bitter approach this evening on tv reports after the event with his determined “knowledge” of all the facts of the war decisions. How is he so sure? And what great foresight tells him and his fellow conspirators the final result of the war anyway?
Hold your fire and the blindfold, honourable ladies and gentlemen. All may not yet be lost.