Labour MPs accuse SNP of opportunism over Tony Blair motion but many are now asking if it is time for SNP to become HM Official Opposition
The Labour Party is obviously unelectable, but many UK students are now asking if it is time for a competent opposition political party to challenge the government which actually has solid support and proportional representation behind it from a major percentage of the population, like the SNP but unlike the Labour Party.
MPs attack Alex Salmond for trying ‘to turn collective failure in Iraq into an attempt to pillory and scapegoat one individual’
Labour MPs have accused the SNP’s Alex Salmond of playing party political games over a cross-party motion calling for Tony Blair to be held to account for allegedly misleading parliament over the Iraq war.
Backed by MPs from six other parties, the SNP motion calls for parliamentary committees of the house to investigate and take appropriate action against the former prime minister, saying the Chilcot inquiry “provided substantial evidence of misleading information being presented by the then prime minister and others on the development of the then government’s policy towards the invasion of Iraq”.
In his opening speech in the opposition day debate, peppered with angry heckles from Labour benches, Salmond said Blair should be held to account for what was “very much a personal campaign, unbeknownst to cabinet and indeed to parliament”, citing the memo sent to the then US president George W Bush from the prime minister saying: “I will be with you whatever.”
“What Iraq demonstrates is that currently at least there are no effective checks and balances in our system,” Salmond said. “The prime minister had the ability to create the circumstances in which this house followed him into an illegal conflict.
“This is an opportunity to introduce another check and balance, to create a precedent where any future prime minister will know he or she will have to account for their actions not just to history but to this House of Commons.”
There is only a one-line whip on attendance by Labour MPs but those who turn up are expected to vote against the motion. At a private meeting of Labour MPs on Monday night, backbenchers voted almost unanimously to urge the shadow cabinet to mandate a three-line whip against the motion, which was overruled by the leadership.
Jeremy Corbyn is expected not to take part in the vote, instead attending an event in his constituency.
“The leader of the Labour party, if he were free to do so, would be joining us in the lobbies,” Salmond said of Corbyn, a long-time critic both of the Iraq war and of Blair.
“I’m not really interested in the civil war in the Labour party. I’m interested in the real war that took place and resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of people.”
Many Labour MPs who spoke in the debate said they had opposed the war but also opposed attempts to personalise the blame. Fabian Hamilton, shadow minister of state for Europe, said he had heard nothing new in the motion, which expanded on the arguments made in the Chilcot report.
“Nor will any of us benefit if we continue to try to turn a collective institutional and international failure in Iraq into an attempt to pillory and scapegoat one individual,” he said. “I voted against our government because I thought our prime minister was simply wrong. But never for one second did I believe he was acting in bad faith and I do not do so now.”
The Labour MP Joan Ryan said: “On my reading of Chilcot, it says there was no falsification or improper use of intelligence, there was no misleading of cabinet and no secret commitment to war. Sadly I think the only deception is in this motion and its opportunistic nature does not serve this issue or this parliament well.”
Paul Flynn, the former shadow Welsh secretary, called it “a matter of regret that this is being turned into a party political debate” by the SNP.
“What is on test today is the reputation of parliament, who voted for an unnecessary war,” he said. “The loved ones of the British soldiers need the debate, a serious debate, not a party political row.”
Replying to the motion, the Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore said there had been a “long and exhaustive enquiry” by Chilcot into the matters being raised. “Lessons have been learned and will continue to be learned. Therefore the government can see no merit in undertaking any further inquiries into the Iraq war.”
The Tory MP Ken Clarke said the debate should not centre on one individual. “If we turn these post-Chilcot debates just into attempts to pursue and hound Tony Blair, the whole thing just turns into a party political argument with Labour members of parliament trying to defend the position of their government,” he said.
“Personalising it, if we are not careful, rather loses the point: are we satisfied everything possible is being done to ensure it cannot happen again?”
Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, said his committee was already planning to make recommendations in relation to what the Chilcot report described.
If the Commons voted in favour of the SNP motion, his committee would conduct the new inquiry that the motion proposed, he said.
Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green party, had earlier urged the Labour leadership to vote in favour of the motion. “Top figures in the Labour party like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell fought long and hard against the Iraq war, and have called for those who led us into the disastrous conflict to be held to account,” she said.
“To now back away from taking the action to match their words would be deeply disappointing and would damage the prospects of learning serious lessons from what went wrong in the run-up to war in Iraq.”