Dissent in the House
Were our elected representatives speaking with one voice post-September 11th? No, dissent was still to be heard.
The events of September 11th have escaped no one's notice. 'International Terrorism' has pervaded events in the House on many levels, from the symbolic, statesmanlike bluster of the recalls in September to the banality of the almost daily arrival of 'suspect packages' in the last few weeks. This, accompanied by the air-conditioning being turned off, the fire alarms set off by the kitchens and buildings evacuated, has created a workaday see-saw. Similarly the reactions and debates in the House have oscillated in both subject and opinion as the weeks have passed. Charles Kennedy said, when Parliament was first recalled, that "There is no argument to be had here, and woe betide anyone in a position to influence public opinion who tries to suggest that there is," and reactions on many levels bear the stamp of this feeling. Politicians of all affiliations have been keen to show their affinity with the Government. On the face of it there is no argument that justice must be seen to be done, that as the Prime Minister put it "our argument is not with the Afghan people." So we must sustain any military action with humanitarian aid on every level, and we must not be seen to be taking action against the Muslim, Arab or any other community as a whole.
However, to imply that everyone has spoken with one voice would be a misrepresentation. The frustration that has been felt by dissenters amongst the public has been felt no less by some who have spoken in debate. When Parliament was recalled after the bombing began Paul Marsden MP stood to raise a point of order: "There is growing disquiet that for the third time Parliament has been recalled yet Hon. Members have been denied a vote on this war."
From points of procedure to points of principle Jonathan Sayeed MP suggested that there might be a need to understand "why there is such hatred for so many institutions in the United States" in order to address the "deep-seated causes" of terrorism. George Galloway MP has pointed out, in a speech of characteristic passion, that "The American and British Governments invented the Taliban bin Laden's guards were trained in what can only be described as a terrorist training camp near Fort William by the Special Air Service of the British Army."
The legitimation, nature and consequences of the events of September 11th and the subsequent military response have received an airing on the floor of the House, as have a whole range of domestic measures conceived on the back of the international situation, which will include the end of the Asylum Vouchers system, and measures outlawing religious hatred. And indeed, to quote Galloway again, it has been shown that "There is seldom no other way to skin a cat than the way advanced by the Government." The question perhaps should be whether this airing of views has, or will make any difference as battle fatigue begins to threaten the iron consensus.