The Libya vote was a seminal moment in Parliament for me.
We were in the odd position of being asked to debate and approve a measure that was already a fait accompli.
More importantly, here was an issue of a genuine international moment where I felt very conflicted. I felt (and feel) deeply uncomfortable with sending our armed forces into yet more military action in an Arab country.
We weren’t Whipped but there was clearly a lot at stake for the government and I am, after all, an MP on the governing side.
There’s a lot of nonsense spouted about how MPs are led by the nose by the Whips. What do people expect? Every political party in Britain is a pre-formed coalition of people with differing views but an agreed manifesto. If you sign up to stand on the party ticket, you accept and vote for what’s in the manifesto even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything 100 per cent. There are always exceptions made for moral issues and for anything where you have a very strong constituency interest. But on the whole, if you resolutely don’t follow the Whip, you should stand as an independent.
The complications come when something like Libya pops up. While I clearly believe it is my duty to support the government, in this case it was a decision for me alone. I’d been publicly against the Iraq war and was very inclined to vote similarly in this case.
And then I was struck by a thought about the UN. If I voted against action what I was saying was the UN had no value – we might as well resign from it. Resolution 1973 had been passed through the Security Council with the backing of the Arab League. If the UN was for anything, it was for this. In the end, that was enough for me. The action taken was legal, was internationally backed and had genuinely saved lives. It became clear to me that I had to vote in favour.