The Sketch: Eloquent, impressive - if only every day was like this

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The Independent Online

If Parliament mattered, every day would be like yesterday, with eloquent, substantial – and often noticeably aged – members swaying their listeners from side to side. It might have been just me swaying, because it had been a pretty impressive lunch. And the MPs did not line up in their predictable battalions.

If Parliament mattered, every day would be like yesterday, with eloquent, substantial – and often noticeably aged – members swaying their listeners from side to side. It might have been just me swaying, because it had been a pretty impressive lunch. And the MPs did not line up in their predictable battalions.

Most of the Tories were for the war and large numbers from the government benches were against it – though lefty Ann Clwyd came out for fighting and dusty Douglas Hogg came out for Chris Smith (don't take that the wrong way).

The former minister of culture had tabled an amendment to the government motion saying the House found "the case for military action against Iraq unproven". Ken Clarke, the Tories' great lost leader, agreed, adding: "The revolting nature of the Iraqi regime is not a legal basis for war, much as we deplore it." He said he didn't believe there was a link between Saddam and al-Qa'ida, nor a present threat to New York or London. How many terrorists would we recruit with this policy of war, he asked; and the next time an unstable Arab state toppled and was taken over by fanatic fundamentalists, he asked, how much would this policy have contributed to it?

John Gummer was terrific (yes, do not adjust your set). Were we to lose the moral high ground by acting before it was clear to the world that war had to happen? The timetable for this war, he said, speaking with great certainty, had been laid down before the US had any intention of going through the UN. "I speak as one who supported Pershing missiles when the Prime Minister was marching to support CND!"

Sir Patrick Cormack added his mass to the gravity of the situation but on the other side of the scales. He quoted Gladstone's resolve to clear the Turks out "from the provinces they have desolated and profaned". If anyone had desolated and profaned their lands, it had been this evil tyrant, he said, and if we let him get away with it we would move into the new century with no credible international institutions.

Tony Blair came in for much Tory praise. His courage in taking an isolated position. His leadership. His track record in foreign policy. This was also noted by Labour's Bruce George. The Prime Minister had been widely opposed in going into Sierra Leone, but he'd been right. Macedonia, Kosovo. Afghanistan. He'd been right. So Mr George was going to trust his judgement this time too. There are worse arguments.

Alex Salmond remembered the Democrat response to Barry Goldwater's pre-emptive philosophy – "In your heart you know he's right." Their response? "In your guts you know it's nuts."

Peter Kilfoyle lined up the next states to be pacified by the pax Americana: North Korea. Iran. Syrian. Libya. Yes, it sounds nuts all right. But at least the House of Commons had the chance to say so.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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