How we went to war with Iraq

The aircraft heading to invade Iraq in 2003 took off in the early hours of March 20th. I’ll never forget the date – it was my mother’s birthday.  Speaking to her that morning, she said it was not going to be a happy birthday. 

She knew I’d been arguing for months that invasion would be illegal and do more harm than any possible benefit of ousting Saddam Hussein. (For the full arguments, see my submission to the Chilcot Inquiry and other information in the MP archive here) She’d joined me on the march against the war the previous month.  My 13 year-old son protested in Birmingham against the invasion – he was kettled by the police for his trouble. 

But no-one put the arguments more powerfully than Robin Cook in his resignation speech on March 17th.  As a former Foreign Secretary – also famous for his forensic examination of the Scott Report on the way Britain helped arm Saddam Hussein in the eighties – he was absolutely convincing in his assessment that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Saddam Hussein had been at his most powerful when he was seen as the ally of the West, fighting against the common enemy, Iran.  The US supplied the aircraft that enabled chemical weapons to kill thousands of Kurds – an act that was used to justify the invasion many years later!  

There were many of us on the Labour benches who had taken the trouble to examine the evidence.  I had been particularly troubled by the claim of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, which was plainly ludicrous, but repeated in Blair’s response to my intervention in the debate to authorise war.  By the time it came to votes – first an amendment to the Government motion for war, calling for more time for the weapons inspectors to do their job – the Government arguments for invasion, in what became known as the “dodgy dossier”, looked decidedly thin. 

Hans Blix, chief weapons inspector, was clear that they could complete their job of checking Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions if given enough time – months, not years.  Nevertheless, British participation in the invasion came about because so many of my parliamentary colleagues had managed to convince themselves that it was justified.

In the end, 84 Labour MPs followed their consciences and voted against the war. 69 abstained.  Blair only won a majority with the support of 146 Tory MPs.  It’s also important to record that two other Government ministers resigned, John Denham and (Lord) Phil Hunt.

Many Labour MPs who voted for war, despite their misgivings, later expressed their resentment.  To understand why MPs are so capable of going along with things they know are wrong, we need to understand what motivates those in power and how their strings are being pulled.  Most MPs enter Parliament because they want to make a positive difference but our ‘winner takes all system’ gives enormous power of patronage to the Prime Minister, who, in turn, knows they achieve power through the approval of ex-pat billionaires in control of mainstream media. 

One tactic used by Blair was to threaten to resign if he didn’t get his way.  From conversations in the corridors, I know this had an effect.  Clare Short had threatened to resign but was persuaded to support the war because, like many others, she was taken in by the deliberate twisting of the French President’s words on why he would not support invasion “at this moment”.  I raised this in the debate but no-one wanted to hear the truth. 

Clare cited this misinformation as a reason for her later resignation from the Government.  Like so many others, she didn’t find time before the vote to read accurate reports readily available to the inquiring mind.  It’s not impossible that the resignation of two cabinet ministers – Short as well as Cook, might have prevented British collusion with the US.  We know that Bush, in the absence of a UN mandate, wanted cover from Blair.

Within 48 hours of the debate, the bombers were flying over Iraq.

Shortly before his untimely death, and in the aftermath of the 2005 London bombings, Robin Cook wrote: “There may be room for debate over whether there is a connection between the war in Iraq and the bombings but there is no escaping from the hard truth that the chaos in that country is a direct threat of the decision to invade it, taken in defiance of intelligence warning that it would heighten the terrorist threat.”

In the last few days, Vladimir Putin has, quite rightly been indicted for war crimes.  Yet those responsible for the Iraq invasion and its terrible consequences, above all for the Iraqi people, are regularly wheeled out to pontificate on the parlous state of the world that their misjudgments helped create.

Lynne Jones for Welsh Rep Campaign

Having been quite happily retired from frontline politics for 12 years, it was quite a surprise to be asked to be put forward as the Welsh Labour Grassroots nominee for the place on the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), reserved for a representative from Wales.

As I would be up against former First Minister Carwyn Jones, my immediate reaction after accepting was to be prepared to be humiliated in order that the arguments could be made for more accountability for the role.

Between the launch of our campaign at Welsh Labour Conference in March, through the nomination process, to the last day of voting, we sent out hard-hitting messages on the future direction of the Party and the need for greater democracy and accountability.

^ My official campaign video ^

I wrote an opinion piece for Nation.Cymru, titled ‘Labour must put People and Planet before Profit’, within which I put forward my pitch and vision for the Labour Party:

I also wrote for Labour Hub about how the Labour Party must face up to the challenges of our times, instead of reverting to its comfort zone:

I had a fully bilingual campaign website which can be viewed here:

My campaign pledges were:

  • To be accountable to Party members in Wales and to produce regular reports to CLPs, affiliates and for any members requesting them
  • To do my best to ensure that internal democracy and disciplinary procedures are conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice
  • To promote the progressive policies of the Welsh Government and work for the adoption by UK Labour of the policy platform on which Keir Starmer was elected leader

After the long-awaited publication of the Forde Report, its shocking revelations, and the complacent attitude it received from Keir Starmer, I wrote an article for Labour List ( and added a fourth pledge:

  • To ensure the full implementation of the Detailed Recommendations in the Forde Report, including the requirement for NEC members to act in accordance with the Nolan principles (of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership)

I was not elected, but contrary to my expectations when putting my name forward, nor was I humiliated, receiving 40% of the vote, meaning that a significant proportion of the membership in Wales share the concerns we raised in the campaign.

There is now a window of opportunity to hold the newly elected Welsh Rep to account for the decisions he makes as a member of the NEC.

Another important issue arising from the results was the huge drop (almost 50%) in the number of members voting both in the election for Welsh Rep and in that for the 6 Constituency Labour Party representatives. According to the General Secretary’s report to the September NEC, turnout was 18.4% of circa 380,000 members (compared to a turnout of 26% of 496,000 members the last time these elections took place). Not only are membership numbers slumping, but so is member engagement.

My fear, that fewer active members will mean a return to reliance on support from the rich and powerful, seems to be playing out. Such dependence on approval from mainstream media and on donations from the wealthy meant the last Labour Government did not challenge the Thatcherite economics and vested interests that gave us the 2008 crash.

During the Welsh Rep campaign, I said: “Our job is to inspire people to vote for us because we convince them that we can transform their lives for the better. To do that, we need to be convinced ourselves, so that members are energised and actively engaged in championing our values on the streets and in the workplaces.” That remains my view, even at a time when Labour has soared in the polls because of the huge unpopularity of Liz Truss and her economic car-crash of a short-lived premiership.

Being elected because we are less bad than the Tories is not a recipe for a party that aspires to be the ‘political wing of the British people’.