An interesting night’s debate in Parliament as the Government was run close on a vote for an inquiry on the war in Iraq and its aftermath.
12 Labour backbenchers voted against the Government. These were: Harry Cohen, Jeremy Corbyn, Mark Fisher, Roger Godsiff, Glenda Jackson, John McDonnell, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Alan Simpson, Peter Soulsby, Gavin Strang, Bob Wareing and Mike Wood.
No big surprises there. Soulsby, Strang and Godsiff aren’t really habitual rebels, but they do have a track record on the issue of Iraq. Only 300 MPs voted for the Government including the two Government tellers, meaning that 52 MPs either voted against the Government, abstained, or were not present for some other reason.
Clearly there will be many more Labour MPs who would have backed an inquiry, but don’t want to give the Nats, upon whose motion the vote was on, a victory in the run up to the Scottish and Welsh elections.
Margret Beckett’s argument that an inquiry “risks appearing to set a deadline for our operations in Iraq which would be politically and militarily damaging.”
She seemed to shift ground during the debate, as she said: “It is perfectly sensible and legitimate to say that there will come a time when these issues will be explored in the round and in full so that we can learn whatever lessons we can from them.” Appearing to leave the ground open for a future investigation.
However, that said, the motion was a more of a political stunt by the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Alex Salmond even called the motion an attempt to ‘impeach Blair“.
Far more effective than a Privy Council inquiry, which is what the motion called for, would be beefed-up powers for select committees. They should be able to subpoena witnesses and take testimony under oath, as US Congressional committees can.
This would bypass this kind of grandstanding by opposition parties, and give the committees that count – Foreign Affairs and Defence – the power to find out what went wrong and help provide a desperately needed new direction for UK policy on the middle-east. It would also create new centres of power in Parliament outside of the Government, giving Parliament new relevance and strengthening parliamentary democracy.