The Libya vote was a seminal moment in Parliament for me.
First, we were in the very odd position of being asked to debate and approve a measure that was already a fait accompli. That was difficult enough.
More importantly, here was an issue of a genuine international moment where I felt very conflicted. I felt (and feel) deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of 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.
Now there’s a lot of nonsense spouted in many quarters about “lobby fodder” and 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 with 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%. This is at the very heart of the party based system we use.
There are always exceptions made for moral issues and for anything where you may have a very strong constituency interest for example. But on the whole, if you resolutely don’t follow the Whip, there’s really not much point being elected on the party ticket. You should stand as an independent.
The complications come when something like Libya pops up. This plainly wasn’t in the manifesto and couldn’t really be portrayed as consistent with it either. It also has a clear moral dimension.
So while I clearly believe it is my duty in many instances to support the Government, in this case it was a decision for me alone.
I had been publicly against the Iraq war and was very inclined to vote similarly in this instance. I had even told the Whips that this is what I was likely to do.
And then I was struck by a thought about the UN.
If I voted against the action, in effect what I was doing was saying the UN had no value - that we might as well resign from it. Resolution 1973 had been passed through the Security Council and had 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, it was internationally backed and had genuinely saved lives. It became clear to me that I had to vote in favour.
As to the breadth of the resolution, well that’s a whole new argument which we will no doubt struggle to interpret for some time to come.