David Miliband defends his support for Iraq war
Former foreign secretary David Miliband has urged Labour Party members not to make the Iraq war an issue in the leadership race. Mr Miliband, who is thought to be the front runner in the contest to succeed Gordon Brown, acknowledged that the invasion of 2003 had been a divisive issue within the party but said it was now “time to move on”. He spoke out after two of his rivals – his younger brother Ed Miliband, the former energy secretary, and former children’s secretary Ed Balls – sought to distance themselves from the conflict. In weekend newspaper interviews, Mr Balls said that it had been a “mistake” for which Britain had paid a heavy price, while Ed Miliband said that it had resulted in a “catastrophic loss of trust” for Labour. However David Miliband, who, unlike his two rivals was an MP in 2003 and voted for the invasion in the House of Commons, insisted that much of the old controversy had now died away. “While Iraq was a source of division in the past, it doesn’t need to be a source of division in the future,” he said as he arrived at the annual conference of the centre-left Progress group in London. “I said during the election campaign that I thought it was time to move on.” He said that he stood by his evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry into the war that if it have been known then that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction, there would have been no invasion. Left wing leadership contender John McDonnell – a long-standing opponent of the war – said that the “road to Damascus conversion” by Mr Balls and Ed Miliband had come too late. He challenged them to join him in calling for the withdrawal for British troops from Afghanistan and opposing any move to invade Iran. “Learning lessons from past errors of judgment is all very well but is of limited benefit unless it informs our future actions,” he said. Both Mr Balls and Ed Miliband today reiterated their view that Labour had been damaged by the conflict. Mr Balls, who was an adviser to Mr Brown in the Treasury at time of the invasion, acknowledged that he would have voted for it if he had been an MP but realised now, in hindsight, that it was wrong. “It was a mistake, it was an error. It wasn’t just thousands of people lost their lives, it is also millions of people who lost trust in us because they didn’t think that we did it in the right way,” he said. “There weren’t weapons of mass destruction, the evidence wasn’t sound so we should say loud and clear, in retrospect, we got it wrong.” Ed Miliband, who was also attending the Progress conference, said that he had believed at the time that the United Nations weapons inspectors should have been given more time to complete their work. “We went to war on a particular basis which turned out not to be vindicated over weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that for a lot of people that caused a big loss of trust for us,” he said.