Wednesday, November 01, 2006


Legislative Timidity over Iraq Inquiry Shames Us

The Guardian today describes Adam Price the Plaid Cymru MP, who earlier tried to impeach Tony Blair over Iraq as someone who

‘has done more to put parliamentary pressure on the prime minister than over Iraq since 2003 than the entire shadow front bench.’

I posted on the debate which he and the SNP facilitated yesterday whilst it was taking place so could not provide the vote result which was a victory for the government by 25 seats, as opposed to the 67 vote majority which it in theory commands. As expected a number of anti-war MPs voted with the government out of dislike for the nationalists- seems the bigger parties can all unite in hating them- and indignation at the Conservatives’ political opportunism.

But like the Guardian leader linked above, I was sorry the vote was lost. Beckett’s plea that a vote in favour of an inquiry now would send the wrong message to our enemies and damage the morale of our lads in Basra, neglects the fact that inquiries took place into aspects of both world wars-when national interests were far more directly threatened- while combat was in progress without any adverse consequences. Indeed a dabate on one was instrumental in installing into power the man who went on to become the principal architect our our victory against Nazism. Moreover, if both the independent Hutton and Butler inquiries did the same thing, how much more reason for the body charged with holding the executive to account to act in this wholly appropriate fashion?

This point is amplified by Simon Jenkins in his passionate and angry piece today. He compares the presence in the UK of Vernon Jordan, a member of the US Congressional Iraq Study Group, chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton. Even though Congress is Republican controlled its Armed Services Committees interrogated a succession of officials including Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, with ‘mounting, albeit partisan savagery’. Generals returning from duty plus Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, were also given the treatment and, whilst this process did not change policy, it laid the grounds for the major change which seems currently to be taking place. Jenkins notes how supine our parliament has been by comparison with Congress with:

‘no indictment of the pre-invasion mendacity or the lack of post invasion planning. The Commons has not cross-examined returning generals or diplomats with anything but cringing deference.’

It was Sir Richard Dannatt, taking his career in his hands, who had to raise the question in public of whether the war was militarily or politically justified. Jenkins judges that of parliament’s tasks, independent legislation has long ceased, debates are worse attended than ‘a pub game of Trivial Pursuits’ and that regarding ‘scrutiny, Of that there is none.’

Aye, you're no wrong.
Given that Jenkins thinks of 1938 as recent I suppose we shouldn't be surprised by the nonsense he comes out with. The tired old cliché that Mr Blair is somehow uniquely contemptuous amongst PMs of parliament doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Neither was there ever a golden age of well-informed debates in the chamber. As WS Gilbert put it more than a century ago - MPs have “got to leave their minds outside and vote just as their leaders tell 'em to". The important work that MPs do is in committees, the corridors and their constituencies...
Not sure Jenkins was invoking a past 'golden age'- merely lamenting the impotence of our parliament to perform its tasks effectively.
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