I had never heard of him till i read about this in quora. What an inspiring person, absolutely determined to do the right thing.
Paul Marsden, British Member of Parliament between 1997 and 2005 Shadow Health and Transport Minister First MP to visit the Pakistan/Afghan region in 2001 to oppose the war and highlight refugee crisis First MP since Winston Churchill to re-cross the floor of the House of Commons.
He answers a question on quora on what it was like to stand up to the full force of the parliament opposing the war
Thank you Craig for the question.
When I saw on TV those planes hit the Twin Towers, the smouldering Pentagon and the debris of the remains of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, I was deeply shocked and my heart went out to all those victims. The next day I attended a remembrance service at Shrewsbury Abbey and laid a red, white and blue wreath in memory of all those innocent victims of 9/11. As I turned over in my mind in the hours after the Towers had been brought down I knew I had to make an appeal (however futile or innocuous) when I stood in front of the service and spoke to the congregation. I didn’t know what the mood would be that day but I sensed that people wanted to hear that the deaths of the innocent had stopped in the US and not that more innocent people would be killed in far away places.
When I spoke I spoke from the heart, from the soul and from logic. The counter attacks were being reported as hitting Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and many places. Based on past record whilst claims would be made (quite rightly) that terrorists would be killed, there was almost a certainty that men, women and children who had absolutely no connection and may well hate al-Qaeda would be killed by the blunt strategy of high level bombing. ‘Smart bombs’ are not very smart. For every terrorist turned into a martyr another ten young boys would take their place and take the battle into our own counties again and again.
My speech was quietly well received in Shrewsbury and I pledged to my congregation and to my God that I would do everything humanly possible to show the British and American Governments that in the grief and rage of wanting revenge, they would only get it wrong.
Parliament was on its long summer recess so when it was recalled on 14th September, I spoke to a moving, subdued House of Commons and gently but firmly cautioned against ‘acting out of revenge and not justice’. I was brushed aside by the Prime Minister that my concerns that military action could be taken against Afghanistan and Iraq and other places was merely ‘wild speculation’. Clearly it was not.
I was the last MP to be called to question the Prime Minister that day and I was greatly perturbed. We were sent home and there was no indication that the House would be recalled again in any great hurry. Here was the greatest attack on the USA since Pearl Harbour and the British Government was supporting a new war in Afghanistan and yet did not want the Commons to sit and deliberate. It was a disgrace and the Prime Minister was riding roughshod over parliament. I wrote to the Speaker and urged a recall. Like other MPs I demanded that we be allowed to speak. Finally on 4th October we were recalled again but this time I was not called. Given the subtle influence the Whips have over who might ‘catch the eye’ of the Speaker, I started to sense that my anti-war views were not looked favourably by the establishment. I crossed a Rubicon. I would not be silenced. I had now come to the firm conclusion that when I went to my grave, I had to look my children in the eye and say, ‘I did everything I could to stop a war that I knew was coming’. I was utterly resolute that it was the right action to take whatever the consequences to any Ministerial aspirations I held. I held the granite like resolution that it should be Parliament who authorised a war and not a Prime Minister. On 8th October I was prepared. I had sat down and spoken at length with the Clerk of the House who knows the rules of Erskine May inside and out. There was a technical way to force a vote on the ‘adjournment’. By intervening when the formality of an adjournment was proposed I could attempt to put it to a symbolic vote as long as everyone in the Chamber knew that it was a vote on whether we should go to war. I rose and this time caught the Speaker’s eye (the Clerk had obviously spoken to him) and he knew that to ignore me risked provoking a point of order. He gave me the opportunity to question the Prime Minister and I urged that Parliament should be given a vote on the war. The PM casually swept it to one side and said it was for a discussion on another day.
I remember listening and thinking, ‘No, it should be discussed today. The bombs are dropping and people are dying. War is a matter for the democratically elected representatives to take that decision as well as a Prime Minister’. A few minutes later the questions finished and the Prime Minister was about to escape out of the chamber. I rose swiftly and on a point of etiquette he had to sit back down and I could see he was furious. I asked the Speaker if it was indeed in order to put it to a symbolic vote. There was uproar (recorded in Hansard as an ‘Interruption’). I was a young whipper snapper now challenging the Prime Minister. The Speaker now tried to make a joke of it but as the House jeered I looked up at the microphone and recalled the parliamentary statesmen, Tony Benn tell me, ‘don’t worry about them jeering you those microphones carry your message to the people.’
What followed next was a whirlwind. I tabled motions demanding a vote and then I was hauled up in front of the Labour Chief Whip. She was appalling in sitting there an idly accusing me of being an ‘appeaser’ and ‘war was not a matter of conscience’. I was utterly flabbergasted at her lack of comprehension for what happens when a war is launched. She was living in a parallel world of clean kills that get the bad guys and then going home at night and sleeping without a care in the world. When we finished our surreal conversation, I retreated to the House of Commons library and looking over the River Thames wrote out every last word of what she had said. I wanted a record in case I was smeared or castigated by the Whips. When a reporter asked about the meeting I let him have the transcript.
My world lifted into another orbit when it was published.
I was one of those invited to lead an anti-war demonstration in London. I could speak out but the Whips were circling me and I knew that things were going to hot up. They couldn’t control me and I organised and winged a visit to Pakistan and the Afghan border. I wanted to see for myself the effects of war. It was a terrible sight to see refugee camps filled with terrified innocents who had lost everything. The stories they told were horrific; of bombs blowing the legs off a boy who wanted to play football in England and a bus hit by a bomb that evaporated and left nothing but a scorched shadow on the earth. I came home and I knew I was right. Those responsible for 9/11 should be brought to justice and their terrible deeds shown to the world and punished.
In the same way I opposed the war in Iraq. It was based on falsehoods by an American President and British Prime Minister totally obsessed with a crusade to fight another war based on a deluded vision of what was right. They bent and broke the truth and shredded constitutions to have their way. They have wrecked their own legacies in pursuit of war and have tried to re-write and re-write history again to justify their twisted reasons. They killed tens of thousands of innocent, decent people.
We should show how strong we are as sophisticated democracies that we can pursue a diligent and fair justice. That we will not allow crimes to go unpunished but we will also not succumb to the temptation to destroy all before our angry eyes. We are better than that. From the times of Greece we have evolved a beautiful concept of justice based on the laws of the people. I am no longer an MP because I paid a heavy, heavy price for daring to challenge the system. Some of that price was my own responsibility due to my human failings but most is down to determined opponents working to protect vested interests in Government. I felt the strength of the peace movement behind me and I will always treasure the support and love of many, many fellow peace campaigners who fortified me with belief and a willingness to go on.
When you are faced with rejection, intolerance and anger, there can be only one course of action: total defiance in pursuit of what is right.
So I will still go to my grave and when my children and grandchildren ask why there were terrible wars after 9/11, I will hold my head high and say a prayer for all the innocent who have died from New York to Kabal to Baghdad. I will explain to them that they are going to build a brave new world. That one day the guns will fall silent forever. Just think of it. Humans will evolve to a species that solves the puzzle of cancer, crack the endless hunger of Africa and discover new worlds on new planets. Humans will one day find the DNA to peace.
We simply have to believe in ourselves.