Skip to comments.Blair rallies the Commons for war
Posted on 03/18/2003 3:33:27 PM PST by MadIvan
Tony Blair spoke in the Commons for 50 minutes about Iraq.
The Prime Minister yesterday summoned all the authority of his office and deployed all his rhetorical armour to rally his divided party and the House of Commons behind a campaign against Iraq.
He suffered one of the biggest rebellions against a governing party, as more than 130 Labour MPs rebelled, but even so, the revolt was far smaller than seemed likely last week.
An amendment saying that the case for war had not been made was defeated by 396 votes to 217, a majority of 179 15 fewer than in the last debate last month. The main vote endorsing military action was passed by 412 to 149, with many rebels returning to vote with the Government.
Under President Bushs 48-hour deadline to Saddam, war could start at any time after midnight tonight.
Tony Blair had launched the debate with an impassioned appeal to the Commons to back him, even hinting that he would quit if he were rebuffed. To retreat now from military action would put at hazard all that we hold dearest and tell allies that at the very moment of action, at the very moment they need our determination, that Britain faltered.
With his wife Cherie watching anxiously from the public gallery, he declared: I will not be party to such a course.
The message was lost on none of his backbenchers. And after one of his most effective Commons performances, he managed to contain the rebellion within his party.
Mr Blair had been helped beforehand by the confirmation that Clare Short had decided against all the odds of a week ago that she would stay in his Government. But he suffered the unexpected blow of the departure of the loyalist John Denham, a Home Office Minister of State. Lord Hunt, a health minister, also joined Mr Denham and Robin Cook in resigning, as did a handful of ministerial aides.
The Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith, also suffered resignations in advance of the debate.
The mood in the chamber was sombre and restrained and only the joint attacks by Labour and the Tories on the Liberal Democrats war stance Mr Blair said they were unified in opportunism and error lifted the atmosphere.
Mr Blair, who has for six years been criticised for shunning Parliament, stayed at the Commons all day. He listened to many of the speeches, met backbenchers in his office, and spoke to the Queen by telephone rather than make the journey to Buckingham Palace for his weekly audience.
It was, he admitted as he began his speech, the Governments greatest test, and its majority was at risk. Mrs Blairs rare attendance was an added recognition of the seriousness of the occasion. She had even spoken to one or two Labour MPs to try to dissuade them from voting against the Government.
Opening the ten-hour debate, the Prime Minister told a packed House that the Government faced a stark choice: to stand down the thousands of trooops now hours away from war, or to hold firm to the course that had been set. I believe we must hold firm.
The outcome of the current crisis would determine the pattern of international politics for the next generation. Back away now from this confrontation and future conflicts will be infinitely worse and more devastating, he said.
If this House now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, that British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning and that is what it means what then?
What will Saddam feel? Strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states who tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, what will they take from that? That the will confronting them is decaying and feeble.
This is not the time to falter. It is time for this House to give a lead, to show that we will stand up for what we know to be right.
Mr Blairs speech set the tone for a debate in which backbencher and backbencher spoke from the heart for their allotted few minutes. Mr Denham, delivering his resignation speech, said that American disdain for international opinion had led to the UN Security Councils failure to agree a new resolution authorising the use of force, and he gave warning of the dangers of acting without UN support.
If I believed it would work I could swallow my qualms. But I dont, he said. I believe the reaction to this way of working will be as dangerous as the problems we are trying to solve turning many parts of the world against us, undermining friendly governments, fuelling terrorism and those who will join it in the future, making it more difficult to sustain international action against common problems.
Ms Short, whose decision to stay in spite of her criticism last week of Mr Blairs reckless behaviour caused dismay and surprise among her friends on the Left, said that it would be cowardly to resign because she would be offering no alternative way forward or making any contribution to resolving the problems ahead.
I know I will be heavily criticised for my decision and many people will feel I have let them down. But I am doing what I think is right in the circumstances which we are now in. But her support remained qualified as she said that she was still critical of the Governments handling of the crisis. She admitted that she might be given the boot afterwards.
Mr Duncan Smith promised Conservative support for military action. It is a solemn moment in the life of our nation and our thoughts and our prayers today must be with our troops and their families as they prepare for action.
He added: We recognise on this side of the House the heavy responsibility the Prime Minister has to bear and the Government also with him must bear. But Mr Blairs decision came at the end of 12 years of too often indecision by the international community, he observed.
Hmm...a spot on (British expression) description of our own liberal Democrats.
Feedback is unanimously strong and proud...proud of the man and our two Nations' unbreakable bond in the face of international cowardice...
Was it predicted to turn out so well?
He is walking proof that great leaders rise to the occasion, and stand up to the nay sayers.
And then here in the US, we have that piece of dog sht, Tom Daschle et ilk.
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