Letter: MPs' ill-fated trip to Turkey

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The Independent Online
rom Mr Clive Furness

Sir: The trip to southern Turkey and northern Iraq conducted by Ann Clwyd, Jim Cousins and myself, has been overshadowed by the internal politicking of the parliamentary Labour Party. A trip that provided a major boost to the minority, Social Democrat, members of the Turkish government, along with their fellow reformers, that gained access to northern Iraq for members of the international press, and that saw the only international observer team in the area of the Turkish incursion has been sidelined in a petty feud emanating from the PLP Whips' Office.

The messages given to the very highest levels of the Turkish government - that the troops must be withdrawn and the territorial integrity of Iraq respected; that there should be smooth passage for mine-clearance equipment into northern Iraq; and that there should be human rights monitoring - have received no publicity.

I was with the two MPs when they were rung from the Commons. They were told that they should get back to London for a vote on the Disability Bill. The physical impossibility of the demand did not seem to enter into the whips' consciousness. They were told of a Tory rebellion, of how the Ulster Unionists were coming back en mass to vote with the opposition, and of how every Labour vote was being dragged back to the House.

There was some consternation then when the result of the divisions were announced and it became clear that there were 37 Labour MPs missing from the first vote, 20 from the second vote, 28 from the third vote, including Tony Blair and seven other members of his frontbench team. Similar figures appeared the next day. After this, the Whips' Office leaked the news that Ms Clwyd was to be sacked as a shadow Foreign Minister. Both MPs reacted in the same way. The votes that they were being bullied to return for were not even close to unsettling the government majority.

On Wednesday, 34 of the PLP were missing, with 11 frontbenchers including the pairing whip, Ray Powell. It was Mr Powell who had argued in the press that Ms Clwyd should be sacked because she was unable to come back from an official trip to Cambodia in 1984. On that occasion Neil Kinnock stated in no uncertain terms that Ms Clwyd was staying.

At no time were the MPs told of a flight that had been booked on their behalf back to London. Because of time difference and communication difficulties, liaison was conducted through a senior member of the Turkish SDP with the Whips' Office in London. The arrangements made were that they should be back in London on the Friday. They were.

There is a growing feeling that knives were being sharpened for Ms Clwyd. Mr Blair has lost one of the most respected and energetic of his foreign affairs team and with it has reduced his own reputation. If he was looking to wield the axe, he should have begun elsewhere.

Yours sincerely,

CLIVE FURNESS

Secretary

Campaign Against Repression and

for Democratic Rights in Iraq

London, N16

5 April

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