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British MP resigns from Labour Party

by in the Opposition Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001 at 3:08 PM

British Member of Parliament Paul Mardsen, an eloquent opponent of the War in Afghanistan who had travelled to eastern Pakistan to witness the plight of refugees, has resigned from Tony Blair's Labour Party. The following repost is from the British Guardian -- at the end of the article I include links to five related postings from the Guardian website including the fulltext of Mardsen's statement and a commentary from Julian Glover.

errorLabour MP defects to Lib Dems

Matthew Tempest, political correspondent
Monday December 10, 2001

New Labour suffered its first defection today, as Paul Marsden, the Labour MP who rebelled against his party's line on the war in Afghanistan, left to join the Liberal Democrats.

After two months of bitter accusations from both Mr Marsden and the government, the Shrewsbury and Atcham MP announced his defection this afternoon.

He denounced his former party as "thugs" and accused the prime minister, Tony Blair, of being "arrogant".

His defection - the first from Labour to the Liberal Democrats by a member of parliament - came after he accused several Labour MPs of verbal and physically assaulting him last week.

Mr Marsden said: "The values which I find most important in politics are tolerance and integrity. I have experienced enough Labour intolerance in recent weeks to last a lifetime.

"I want to belong to a party which encourages debate and practises genuine internal democracy. Tony Blair is behaving in an increasingly arrogant and presidential manner.

"His party believes in threats and intimidation to crush internal dissent."

In his statement - released by the Lib Dems - he added:"This has been a tough decision. There's been a lot of agonising over many months.

"Like more and more people in this country I have lost confidence in this Labour government. I'm sick and tired of giving the government the benefit of the doubt."

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "I am very pleased to be able to welcome Paul Marsden to the Liberal Democrats."

The alleged attack came in the early hours in Stranger's bar in the palace of Westminster, after Mr Marsden had voted against the government's anti-terrorism bill.

Despite his opposition, the bill passed its Commons stage and is currently finding huge resistance in the Lords.

Mr Marsden's disupte with his party orginaly stemmed from the refusal of the government to allow a vote in the Commons on military action in Afghanistan.

Despite the fact that any such motion would have received massive support, Mr Marsden's demand embarrassed Mr Blair at question time, and began a sequence of events that led to today's dramatic defection.

Mr Marsden then spoke out against the war at regular intervals - leading to the Labour chief whip, Hilary Armstrong, summoning him in for a meeting.

Details of the dressing-down he received at that meeting were later leaked to the press by Mr Marsden, causing further bad feeling.

In that meeting, Mr Marsden claimed Ms Armstrong compared opponents of military action to appeasers of Hitler, and rejected his appeal that voting against the "war on terror" was a matter of conscience.

Mr Marsden subsequently travelled to Pakistan himself to see the plight of Afghan refugees, and continued to speak out against the war, and, increasingly, the government.

Charles Clarke, the Labour party chairman, refused to accept Mr Marsden's criticisms of the party, saying he had defected solely due to his opposition to the war.

Mr Clarke said: "He was a very loyal backbencher through the whole of the first parliament. What changed after the general election was his opposition to the war on terrorism."

On the specific accusations that Mr Marsden had been assaulted by Labour MPs, Mr Clarke said: "He's imagining things."

He added: "There has been no consistent campaign by the whips to rubbish Paul Marsden."

The chairman of the Shrewsbury and Atcham Liberal Democrat constituency party, Roger Evans, rejected calls for Mr Marsden to re-fight the seat in a byelection as a Lib Dem.

He said: "Paul proved himself as a very hard-working local MP during the 1997-2001 parliament and local people have a lot of time for him.

"I welcome him to the party. He was an honest MP, and he will continue to be one."

His defection is the first time a Labour MP had defected to the modern-day Liberal Democrats.

The Conservative MP Emma Nicholson defected from the Tories before the 1997 election, and Labour has received high-profile defections, including Alan Howarth and Shaun Woodward.

----------------------------------------------

The above article is from the Guardian website: http://www.guardian.co.uk

For commentary on Marsen's decision, check out Julian Glover's piece at: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/columnist/story/0,9321,616618,00.html

For the fulltext of Mardsen's statement go to: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/libdems/story/0,9061,616586,00.html

For "Mardsen's Maiden Speech" go to: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/libdems/story/0,9061,616600,00.html

Key quotes from Paul Marsen: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/libdems/story/0,9061,616538,00.html

And for a story from a few days ago, titled "Labour Rebel attacks 'lousy' Blair", check out: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labour/story/0,9061,615449,00.html
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