Angry Labour MPs deride Blair's Middle East 'rethink'
TONY Blair's claim to be "rethinking" British foreign policy was yesterday rubbished by angry Labour MPs who said nothing had changed in the Prime Minister's approach to the Middle East.
As Mr Blair returned to Britain from his United States tour, his Scottish MPs were organising an attempt to recall parliament from its summer break to give members a chance to express their fury at his continued refusal to call for an immediate end to Israeli attacks in Lebanon.
Ann Clwyd, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and a Blair ally, said the "vast majority" of Labour MPs disagreed with the Prime Minister.
She said many rank-and-file MPs were "very angry", adding: "The vast majority of them felt there should be a ceasefire and the vast majority of them are very critical of Israeli policy."
In a speech in California on Tuesday night, Mr Blair tried to assuage his party critics by promising to "change dramatically the focus of our policy" in the global war on terrorism, confronting extremism "at the level of values as much as force".
This was presented by No 10 as a major change in direction, but most MPs were sceptical, pointing out that he had not altered his strong support for the US or his refusal to criticise Israel over what many Labour MPs regard as unacceptable attacks in Lebanon.
Several members of the Cabinet have let it be known they are unhappy about the direction the Prime Minister has set.
Paddy Tipping, a parliamentary aide to Jack Straw, the leader of the Commons, described Israel's military actions as "excessive, aggressive and disproportionate". In remarks understood to have been authorised by Mr Straw, Mr Tipping accused the Prime Minister of "failing to speak for the government".
One back-bencher, normally loyal to the Prime Minister, described the presentation of Mr Blair's "rethink" as "a fairly desperate bit of spin from No 10 - I think they're panicking a bit".
Joan Ruddock, a former minister, derided the "extraordinary contradictions" in Mr Blair's speech. "I don't think anything we have done has been consistent with values," she said.
She said many Labour people were despairing. "I have not met any member of the Labour Party who agrees with our policy - many people are writing to [Mr Blair] to protest," she said.
One of those writing to the Prime Minister was Dai Harvard, a Labour MP on the Commons defence committee. "You do not speak for me or for the vast majority of my constituents and I do not believe you speak for the British Labour Party," he wrote. "You are in effect sanctioning the wrong strategy, wrong tactics and unacceptable actions."
The Commons is not due back from its 76-day summer recess until October, but two Glasgow Labour MPs, Mohammed Sarwar and Ian Davidson, are leading calls for an emergency recall.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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