Michael Portillo reacted furiously: I voted against a threeline whip for the first time in my life because I believed it was wrong and inconsistent to use coercion on adoption. And he said that Mr Smith's version of events was an unwarranted misinterpretation. Another conspirator, Francis Maude, said that Mr Smith was hardly in a position to criticise MPs for ignoring the whip because he voted against John Major's government 50 times in rebellion against the Maastricht Treaty.
It was left to Ann Widdecombe to inject a little common sense. Comparing the Conservative's current crisis with Labour's in the 1980s she said that MPs needed to restrain themselves because if you're not in power you can't do anything about anything. Tonight Mr Smith has to speak to the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers. A tough assignment which he cannot afford to flunk.
Ariel Sharon is a plain speaker and we should be grateful for that. His assertion, in an interview with The Times, that Iran should be targetted the day after Iraq has been dealt with because it is behind all the terror in the world provides an invaluable insight into the mind of this dangerous man. Will President Bush now rethink his antiterrorism strategy, recognising that the priority given to AlQueda, the Taleban and Afghanistan was a mistake because Iran is the real problem? Perhaps, even at this late stage, attention should be switched from Baghdad to Teheran?
Mr Sharon's words will be heard sympathetically in Washington because Iran now seems the most difficult member of the axis of evil to understand. It is relatively easy for Mr Bush to read Iraq and North Korea but Iran is more complex.
The reality is that Iran is passing through a testing process of change which is pitting the general population and the elected reformist President Khatami against the deeply conservative judicial and religious authorities.
The United States should recognise that the Iranian people have twice voted substantially in favour of President Khatami and that he should be given the support he needs to continue his fight against entrenched autocracy. America's policy towards Iran is a classic instance of the Bush administration's inability to respond flexibly to countries undergoing painful change which, broadly, is moving in the right direction. Mr Sharon's analysis should be rejected, not embraced.
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