Iraq: The Hardest Choice

03/03/2003

Last week I had to face the hardest choice of my political life in a vote in the House of Commons. The words on the order paper seemed bland enough: the Prime MinisterÂ’s motion talked of approving Government policy so far; the amendment said merely that the case for military action against Iraq was as yet unproven. But we all know that it boils down to where you stand on the almost inevitable conflict with Iraq.

I certainly wasnÂ’t short of advice in the run-up to the vote. Some of my friends, family and colleagues are opposed to the war and either went on the Stop the War march or otherwise supported it. Labour Party members IÂ’ve known for decades, people who during the 1980s helped drag Labour back from the edge of lunacy and into electability, urged me to oppose it. Some of my best friends in the Commons went in to the division lobbies to oppose the war. Many constituents rang or wrote or e-mailed me and urged me to oppose it too. They probably speak for a majority of voters in Hyndburn. So why did I vote the other way?

Some have suggested that it is a dereliction of my duty as a Member of Parliament to vote against the probable wishes of my constituents, or worse it is sheer arrogance on my part. I do understand that it is my duty to represent you to the best of my ability, but it is also my duty to do what I believe is the right thing for our national security and the security of the international community. If, come the next general election, you believe that I have let you down and that I have made the wrong judgements, then you will have the opportunity of replacing me. But please believe me when I say that I would rather lose and be honest with you than win having voted for something I donÂ’t believe in. I know that what IÂ’m doing isnÂ’t popular but I do genuinely believe it to be right. Only time will tell.

I can see why good people, appalled at the prospect of war, would want me to vote for the “not yet proven” option, although I am sure that some of them are really in a “not under any circumstances” camp. But I would suggest that Saddam would not have allowed inspectors in, let alone destroyed any of his missiles, if it wasn’t for the credible threat of military force. By the way, the missiles that he has started to destroy last week should have been destroyed under the terms of the treaty that ended the gulf War 12 years ago. Under Saddam, Iraq has invaded two of its neighbours, missile-attacked five of them and gassed, tortured and used chemical weapons on its own people. What message would we be sending, not only to Saddam, but to other murderous tyrants if we were to walk away now?

Some people have said to me that there are more people who voted for me opposed to what I have done than my majority. A fair point and I realise that the stakes are high for my political future. But just think how much higher they are for Iraqis desperate for liberation from tyranny. I respect the opponents of war when they say “not in my name”. But I genuinely believe that there is a principled, moral case for doing this in the name of preventing yet another generation of innocent Iraqis, their neighbours and possibly even us suffering at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

Finally, do let me know what you think. E-mail me at popegj@parliament.uk or write to me at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. I am now getting so much correspondence about this I may not be able to reply properly to every point, but I do promise that I will carefully read it all before there is another vote in the Commons.

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