Charles Kennedy 'proved right on Iraq': Then-Lib Dem leader's 2003 speech on war in full

The Lib Dem leader launched a strong attack on the decision to go to war

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Indy Politics

After Charles Kennedy's death at the age of 55, political figures including John Prescott and Paddy Ashdown have come forward to say that the former Lib Dem leader was "proved right" in his opposition to the Iraq War.

This is what Mr Kennedy had to say about the war in his speech to the Lib Dem annual conference in Brighton in September 2003:

"It's no longer a question of people being disappointed with this government. After six years of failure, they despair of this government. It's our job as Liberal Democrats to be an effective opposition - and an increasingly tough one as well.

"Taking a principled and consistent stance over Iraq has attracted much criticism from our detractors and opponents. But they couldn't ignore us. And the voters didn't either.

"We should not prejudge the outcome of Lord Hutton's enquiry. It's already exposed a great, great deal - despite its tight remit. We argued from the outset for a far broader independent enquiry - one into the entire basis upon which this country was led into that war.

"And events are increasingly proving us correct.

"The current speculation over the interim report of the Iraq Survey Group raises still more profound questions. Two things however are clear. The full legal advice of the attorney general at the time must now be published in full. And the case for that full-scale independent enquiry becomes stronger by the day.

"Incidentally - do you share with me a certain distaste at the sight now of the Conservative leadership criticising the consequences of a war for which they were the principal cheerleaders? This is a leadership of charlatans and chancers. At the time, they asked none of the key questions. That was left to us.

"Whatever the eventual judgement, the political implications of Hutton are already clear. A devastating indictment of Labour in power; and of our political system itself.

"Consider these words from 1997: "We are not the masters. The people are the masters. We are the people's servants. Forget that and the people will soon show that what the electorate give, the electorate can take away." That's what Tony Blair told his new MPs in his first speech to them after his first election victory. Good instincts. Great ideals. Today tarnished for good.

"No more glad, confident morning for this shop-soiled Labour government. They seek to manage not lead; to manipulate, not tell it as it is.

"I don't actually subscribe to the view that all power corrupts. But absolute power - when secured on the back of massive parliamentary majorities, which don't reflect the balance of political opinion in the country - can corrupt absolutely.

"The soul goes out of politics. So the system itself simply has to change.

"I tell you this: If the British House of Commons had known then what it knows now - about the events leading up to that fateful parliamentary debate and vote on committing our forces into war in Iraq - then the outcome could and should have been fundamentally different.

"But, of course, parliament did not know these things. Because the government's instinct is to shroud itself in secrecy. To act like the office of a president instead of as a collective cabinet government held to account by the elected House of Commons.

"This is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy. What we've seen is a small clique driving us into a war, disregarding widespread public doubts. That is not acceptable.

"A liberal approach is rarely an easy option.

"Our stance on Iraq for a start. That was a tough choice. On the key vote committing the country to war, all 53 Liberal Democrat MPs were in the no lobby. All 53. And of course that decision by the 53 was one of many reasons why we now have a 54th MP.

"Jack Straw taunted us at the time about the iron discipline of the Liberal Democrats. He was jealous of course. But in truth this wasn't iron discipline, Jack. It was iron principle. Liberal principle.

"Two words which this government simply doesn't understand - liberal and principle. And it's principle which inspires trust.

"Politics means facing up to hard choices. And facing down prejudice, short-termism, the easy, tempting court of knee-jerk public reaction."