Labour MPs to fight on anti-war ticket

Labour MPs who opposed the Iraq war are to defy Tony Blair by making it a key "issue of trust" at the general election expected on 5 May.

In a setback for the Prime Minister's attempt to "move on" from Iraq two years after the military action, 17 rebel MPs have signed a declaration saying: "I was and remain totally opposed to the war on Iraq. If elected as your parliamentary representative in the forthcoming general election, I will do everything in my power to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end."

The MPs fear a backlash from voters over the war and will try to insulate themselves against one by including the statement in their election leaflets. The rebels' decision to make Iraq "an issue of trust" is a coded attack on Mr Blair.

His personal trust ratings have plummeted after the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq fuelled criticism that he took the country to war on a false prospectus.

The Liberal Democrats and Tories will try to exploit Mr Blair's "trust problem". Labour officials insist the Iraq war is "fading" in most people's minds but admit many voters feel they "lost" Mr Blair to foreign affairs during his second term.

In a recognition that Iraq will be an election issue, a group backing Mr Blair's strategy of "moving on" has issued "lines to take" for Labour Party members. It insists Mr Blair was not backing President George Bush but the Iraqi people when he sent in British troops.

Alan Simpson, MP for Nottingham South and chairman of Labour Against the War, said: "The war and the leader are the biggest factors on the doorstep. Those MPs who opposed the war would be daft not to make that clear to their constituents. It's the biggest single issue driving Labour supporters into another camp - either the war itself or the question of trust."

He added: "At parliamentary by-elections, the party has pursued the Basil Fawlty line. The basic instruction is, whatever you do, 'don't mention the war'. But it's the issue that gets thrown back at Labour candidates on the doorstep."

John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington and chairman of the left-wing Labour Representation Committee, which drew up the declaration, said: "The war is an emblematic issue of trust. Central for the electorate is 'are they listening to us and can we trust them?' Anti-war Labour candidates will be making explicit where they stood on the war. In some cases, it could make the difference between success and defeat."

He added: "I'll be making sure people know my record in opposing the war. It is a continuing issue for a significant number of constituents and is not confined to the Muslim community." Ann Cryer, MP for Keighley, said: "Some of us made a very principled stand to vote, constantly, against the war at a difficult time, we now hope and trust that our constituents will appreciate what we did on their behalf."

Several Labour MPs who have not signed the statement will make clear their reservations about Iraq in their election material. Des Turner, MP for Brighton Kemptown, has put a "personal statement" on his website: "I have consistently voted against British involvement in the war on Iraq, but I would not want my negative views on British involvement in the conflict to detract from my support for British troops who are undertaking a difficult job."

The Labour Friends of Iraq has launched an attempt to defuse the issue at the election. In a campaign pack, the group admits it might have been wrong for Britain to go into Iraq, but insists: "We are where we are. Today, almost everyone wants a sovereign democratic Iraq. The last thing the Iraqi people need is for us to cut and run now. If the multinational force withdrew tomorrow, there will be a bloodbath, civil war, the Balkanisation of Iraq and the end of the hopes of all democrats and progressives."

The group, whose joint presidents are the Labour MPs Harry Barnes and Ann Clwyd, Mr Blair's special envoy to Iraq, denies the Prime Minister is "just Bush's poodle", saying that he opposed the US President on the Kyoto treaty.

It admits "grave mistakes" have been made in Iraq but insists there are "many good news stories" to tell, including the removal of Saddam, the trials of Saddam and his henchmen, the return of Iraqi refugees and the rise of a free Iraqi trade union movement.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London