Iraq rebellion

Last night, 32 Labour backbenchers, including tellers, voted in favour of a closure motion at the end of an adjournment debate into the Butler Report.

It was the 272nd Labour rebellion since 1997, and the 13th on Iraq since the recall of Parliament in September 2002. While most of the rebels were well known to the whips, the 32 also included some more infrequent opponents of the Government, including Tony Clarke, David Drew, Clive Efford, Diana Organ and Marsha Singh. All 32 had already voted against the Government over Iraq.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat frontbenches abstained, but two Liberal Democrats – Sue Doughty and Mike Hancock – and two Conservatives – David Heathcoat-Amory and Richard Shepherd – together with SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs, joined the Labour rebels in the aye lobby.

During the debate, Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House, called upon the Prime Minister to ‘consider making way’ for a new Labour party leader. Marsha Singh, the Labour MP for Bradford West claimed that Britain would never win the war on terror by waging war against Muslim countries, and claimed that Britain had ‘lost the trust of Muslims across the world, and this is a heavy price to pay’. Harry Cohen called for the resignation of both the head and the deputy head of defence intelligence for failing to reveal crucial new intelligence.

The Government lobby slumped to 255. Absent from both the rebel and government lobbies were many Labour MPs who made critical speeches during the debate, including Robin Cook, Peter Kilfoyle, Clare Short, Michael Meacher and Malcolm Savidge. Cook argued that by invading Iraq, Britain had responded in precisely the way that Bin Laden wanted: ‘We will have to live with the violent consequences of this strategic blunder’. Peter Kilfoyle, the former Defence Minister, said that the claim about WMD in Iraq was ‘a fallacious argument that should never have been made’. Clare Short questioned why the UN inspectors had not been given more time, while Michael Meacher said he was ‘deeply uneasy’ that there had been no international criteria that gave legitimacy to the war on Iraq. Malcolm Savidge, the Labour MP for Aberdeen North, said that the Iraq war had made the UK a more likely target for terrorists.

Despite the criticisms, and the relatively large size of the rebellion, the newspapers hardly commented upon the revolt, focussing instead on Tony Blair’s imitation of Margaret Thatcher over the Falklands – ‘Let us rejoice that Iraq has been liberated’ – and on Michael Howard’s decision to argue that he would not have backed the Government motion last March, but that nevertheless he still supported the war.