Hasan Suroor

12 Labour MPs cross-vote

LONDON: British Prime Minister Tony Blair survived a close vote on Iraq in the Commons on Tuesday night, but suffered the humiliation of seeing as many as 24 of his own MPs not voting for the Government despite a party whip.

While 12 Labour backbenchers abstained, another 12 voted with the Opposition on a cross-party motion demanding an inquiry into the Iraq invasion and its aftermath. Initially, nearly 50 Labour MPs had reportedly indicated that they would support the motion, brought by two regional parties, but many changed their mind after they were warned that a defeat could trigger calls for the Government to resign.

Besides, some potential rebels could not bring themselves to be seen voting with Tories whom they accused of "opportunism'' over Iraq. They said that having backed the Iraq invasion to the hilt, the Tories were now trying to take political advantage of the anti-war sentiment in the country by criticising the conduct of the war. Questioning the Tories' motives, Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingrid said: "It is not because they disagree with our actions in Iraq but because they want to score some cheap political point, to gain political advantage at a difficult time.''

After a long and acrimonious debate, which saw the Government repeatedly come under attack over its Iraq policy, the Opposition motion was lost by 25 votes.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, while rejecting calls for an inquiry, acknowledged that a time might come "when the House and the country will like to explore these issues... and to learn whatever lessons we can from them''. But she made clear that an inquiry at this stage would send out a signal of weakness and not be good for the morale of British troops still in Iraq.

"There is an important tradition in this House that all political parties give our troops, and are seen to give our troops, their full support while they are in conflict,'' she said.