Friday, November 03, 2006

House Points: The Iraq inquiry debate

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

2003 and all that

When Tobruk fell to Rommel on 29 June 1942, two Conservative MPs tabled a motion of no confidence in the direction of the war. Churchill mounted a robust defence of his premiership and received the support of 475 members. Even so, there were 25 votes against him and 27 abstentions.

That is how the Commons behaved when Britain was fighting for survival. On Tuesday, by contrast, ministers repeatedly told the House that even holding an inquiry into the Iraq war would be a mistake. In the clunking words of Margaret Beckett, there was a danger of "sending the wrong signals at the wrong time".

To be fair, as football managers say, it was William Hague who made the point that Commons debates were held about military events at the height of the first and second world wars. “People didn't say we mustn't ever debate these things because it might encourage the Germans."

But let’s see what Hague was saying last time the Iraq war was debated in the Commons. This was on March 18 2003 and it took the country to war. In those days life was simpler: “there are powerful moral arguments on the side of military action”; “in some of the opposition to the government's stance there is a hint of appeasement”; “The prime minister has put before the house the right decision. He deserves the support of honourable members in all parts of the house.”

And Hague was not alone. There were saner voices from the Tory benches - Kenneth Clarke, John Gummer and Douglas Hogg all voted against the government - but his party was largely enthusiastic for the Iraq war.

Iain Duncan Smith (remember him? me neither) said: “I hope and believe that … the suffering of the Iraqi people will be short-lived.” John Maples said: “If we withdrew our support for the alliance at this late stage, we would destroy the credibility of our foreign policy for a generation.“ Boris Johnson appeared to be calling for Zimbabwe to be invaded too.

Above all, Charles Kennedy was barracked unmercifully because the Tory benches were outraged that he was opposing the government.

The moral, as I am sure William Hague would agree, is that people should remember their country’s history. But we Liberal Democrats remember 2003 as well as 1942.

1 comment:

Bernard said...

Indeed, and let us not forget that the Tories also claimed to have additional intelligence, above and beyond that available to the government, on Saddam’s WMDs. I take it if there ever is any inquiry into the Iraq war, they will publish that intelligence.