Clegg “soars” in Iraq debate

A late but perhaps decisive entry for most astonishing favourable media coverage of the week comes courtesy of – make sure you’re sitting down – Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail, commenting on yesterday’s fiery Iraq debate in which both opposition leaders renewed the call for a public enquiry:

But the Opposition leader who seized the attention yesterday was Nick Clegg of the LibDems.

It was a good way for him to mark his first anniversary in charge of his party. The year has not always been easy but yesterday he soared.

Mr Clegg came in for a lot of argy-bargy from Labour and Conservative hecklers. They only made him ballsier.

He accused Mr Brown of producing ‘an extraordinarily rosy account’ of the Iraq business.

Indeed, at one point Mr Brown had spoken of the ‘continuing gratitude’ the Iraqi people felt towards Britain for ‘freeing Iraq from tyranny’.

Such gush may be okay for propaganda broadcasts on the wireless but it is not really acceptable in an adult debating chamber.

On clattered Cleggster, citing the opinion of one Barack Obama that Iraq was ‘a dumb war’.

Labour didn’t like that. Mr Clegg accused Labour of conducting the conflict ‘in secret, unaccountable, behind closed doors’ and concluded: ‘They let Britain down.’

And then Speaker Martin called, ‘Charles Kennedy’, and it was like being dragged back eight years.

Ex-LibDem leader Kennedy, plumper, pinker, pointed out that it was ‘fundamentally remiss’ of Mr Brown not to have referred in his statement to the Iraqi dead ‘who most shamefully the Americans and ourselves have not even bothered to count’.

He spoke with the voice of an ancient mariner. ‘No bodycount, no names,’ said Mr Kennedy.

He did not need to shout or gesture. A staining reproach before Christmas, it was formidably well put.

“Cleggster”? Has my meme worked? You can find Clegg and Kennedy’s full contributions to the debate in Hansard, and Clegg’s I think I’ll give you in full:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would obviously like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the unnamed soldier from 1st Battalion The Rifles and Lieutenant Aaron Lewis, who tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan. Their deaths are reminders of the sacrifice and bravery of all British servicemen and servicewomen who have lost their lives over the past year.

Let me clear: I passionately believe that it was a mistake to invade Iraq, but I am second to none in my admiration for the professionalism, dedication and courage of British servicemen and servicewomen. That is why I share their relief and the relief of their long-suffering families that they will finally be coming home soon. We should all be proud of them. But are the Government not ashamed of what they have asked them to do, and are the Conservatives not ashamed that they cheered the Government on? Listening to the Prime Minister’s extraordinarily rosy account of Iraq, one would have been forgiven for thinking that nothing had ever gone wrong.

Is the Prime Minister not ashamed that he and the Conservatives sent our brave servicemen and servicewomen into an illegal war? When will the Prime Minister apologise for what he did, signing the cheques for George Bush’s invasion? Is not the true scandal today, as we look back at that fateful decision to send our troops into battle in Iraq, the single worst foreign policy decision in the past 50 years, that not one of the men and women on the Government Benches and on the Conservative Benches will apologise for what they did? Is it not time for the Government and the Conservatives to hold up their hands and say sorry to the British people for Iraq?

I am proud to be speaking from the Liberal Democrat Benches today and leading the only party that was steadfast in its opposition to this illegal war. Does the Prime Minister remember that when my party voted—every single Liberal Democrat MP voted to stop the war—his party and the Conservatives booed and jeered? President-elect Obama called the Iraq invasion a “dumb war”. Obama was right; they were wrong.

We have paid a huge cost for the Government’s decision to cover George Bush’s back, following him, no questions asked, into an unethical, unjustified and illegal invasion—a human cost, the cost to our own standing in the world and to the rule of law and good government here at home, the cost of increased radicalisation and instability in the Arab world and beyond, and an immense cost to British taxpayers, at £4 million every day, and counting. Does the Prime Minister now accept Joseph Stiglitz’s estimate that the Iraq war will have cost us £20 billion? That is equivalent to about 800 of the Chinook helicopters that our troops desperately need in Afghanistan.

Will the Prime Minister commit himself to a full inquiry? Unlike the Franks inquiry, it should be open. It should be held in public, because it is the public who need to see and hear that lessons really are being learned. The Government must not end this war as they started it—in secret, unaccountable and behind closed doors. Does the Prime Minister agree— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the right hon. Gentleman speak.

Mr. Clegg: Of course hon. Members do not want to be reminded of the past. They refuse to learn the lessons for the future.

Does the Prime Minister agree that we do not need an inquiry to know who bears the heavy responsibility for invading Iraq five and a half years ago? It is on the record in the votes of the House, because for all the shouting and heckling that we hear today from those on both the Conservative and Labour Benches, they know that they were the ones who let this happen. They know that their votes signed us up to George Bush’s war. They had the choice; they let Britain down.

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  • I’ve always preferred “Cleggosaurus”

  • Richard Church 20th Dec '08 - 12:25am

    It reads well without hearing the performance. It’s is the kind of occasion when Nick does perform well, when he cares about the subject and there’s a bit of heckling to give him an edge.

  • Martin Land 20th Dec '08 - 7:23am

    As I keep saying Clegg needs to show his passion more often. But resist being manic like Cameron.

  • It may read well but it is even better in the flesh – you can watch it here:

    helps remind me why I’m a Libdem. Well done Nick.

  • Clegg's Candid Fan 20th Dec '08 - 11:34pm

    Just watched the extracts of the debate:

    Actually I saw Clegg ticking every box in the petty party-political point-scoring department, and Charles Kennedy expressing an important concern with considerable force and dignity – which it was noticeable that Gordon Brown did not venture to disagree with.

    If ever a parliamentary party really needed its heads looking at, it’s the Lib Dems.

  • Crispin Drigh 21st Dec '08 - 1:34pm

    Need to get this photo on the leaflets.

    Hammer home the message that there needs to be an inquiry as it shows Labour cannot be trusted.

    Show Brown with Bush as it undermines any glow he may be hoping to get from Obama.

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