Government run close on inquiry call

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.

8 Responses to Government run close on inquiry call

  1. Benjamin says:

    The govt takes another surreptitious step towards the database state. New Labour to the marrow:

    http://society.guardian.co.uk/health/news/0,,1936403,00.html

  2. Emma L says:

    The usual suspects. The likes of Corbyn, McDonnell and Wareing have been voting against the government for nine years. These rebellions go right back to welfare reform in 1997. Many MPs disliked the reforms but realised the were necessary or at least that it was necessary to support the government and they did their duty. I bet there were MPs who voted for the government today out of duty despite their personal feelings. That is what they are elected to do. Abstaining is acceptable if the governments’ majority is not threatened but MPs voting against the government should be expelled. Alan Simpson has already come close to expulsion and he and the other eleven backbenchers should be throw out of the party for voting with the Nationalists.

  3. Benjamin says:

    Emma

    Assuming your contribution is not a spoof, I must say I have a different conception of British parliamentary democracy from you.

  4. Nick says:

    The whips only seemed to realise they were in trouble at quite a late stage on this one, so a fair number of MPs were actually away on business. I imagine that might be why the high number of abstentions.

    I think there should usually be a presumption in favour of voting for the whip in a party system, but it’s not an absolute presumption.

    Expelling anyone who breaks it would create something of a constitutional crisis in my view, but more practically most backbench members of the PLP have now rebelled at least once so there might not be much of a party left!

  5. I suspect that the reason the PLP is so rebellious is that backbench Labour MPs don’t feel that they are included in making policy by the government, so that they can only influence decisions with a choice of Aye or Noe in the lobbies.

    I think that’s why, more recently, there have increasingly been more sophisticated attempts to influence legislation by tabling amendments and negotiating with the government before Bills reach the floor of the House.

    These are the tactics that the soft left of the PLP are increasingly adopting, but they only work because the alternative is rebellion.

  6. Andrea says:

    The rebellion was less big than expected (at least by me)..some of the “usual suspects” abstained or didn’t turn out for the vote (Lynne Jones, Diane Abbott and Kelvin Hopkins for ex. Jones and Abbott were present in the Commons, not sure about Hopkins)

    A funeral oration would have been more lively than Beckett’s speech. She spoke slower than Nanny Patty Hewitt.
    Some Labour MPs interventions weren’t exactly worth to remember (Adrian Baily first question was pretty silly..the Guardian called it idiotic). Some Lab MPs were just trying to switch the topic of the debate away from having an inquiry
    Kitty Ussher is a case on her own…she didn’t even realize what they were discussing. No wonder everyone was laughing at her.

    Moving the motion, Adam Price wasn’t very good at the beginning of his speech, but then he picked up and the second part was ok.
    Michael Moore, the LD foreign shadow, was boring! Kennedy’s first speech since his ousting as leader was ok.
    Clare Short was sitting with the Libdem ladies on the second to last bench…at the beginning of the debate on that bench there were DUP MPs, Opik, Goldsworthy, Swinson, Teather and Short. Then some went away and so when Short spoke, IIRC Jo Swinson was sitting next to her.

    I suppose that if Hilary Armstrong had been in charge, she would have managed to lose the vote even with a low number of “aye”, just not recolling MPs who were away

  7. I think many anti-war Labour types such as myself will be comfortable with a government victory on this one.

    I’ve always thought that major rebellions should be reserved for issues of principle – and situations where it’s possible to have a positive influence on policy – rather than helping the opposition parties in point-scoring against the government.

  8. tyger says:

    I think many anti-war Labour types such as myself will be comfortable with a government victory on this one.

    Not this one! Although I expected the Government to scrape through, the BBC all but promised they would…

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