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FactCheck: did Harman call for an apology over Iraq?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 26 June 2007

Harriet Harman now says she never said the government should apologise for Iraq. Is her memory serving her well?

The claim

"I've never said the government should apologise [for going to war in Iraq]."
Harriet Harman, deputy Labour leader, Today, BBC Radio 4, 25 June 2007


A new deputy Labour leader is crowned - and the spin machine goes into overdrive.

With deaths in Iraq still looming high in the headlines each day, change in the party leadership could be seen as an opportunity to draw a line under previous Labour policy.

Gordon Brown, the bigger half of the Labour leadership team, voiced his support for the decision to go to war during the campaign.

Meanwhile, in the deputy leadership ring, justice minister Harriet Harman joined left-wing candidate Jon Cruddas to voice regret for the invasion of Iraq.

Or did she? With the deputy position in hand, she was quick to qualify exactly what she meant.


Rewind to the campaign trail and, in particular, Harman's comments in a Newsnight debate on May 29, in which the six deputy leadership candidates jousted.

"Do you think the party should say sorry for what has happened [in Iraq]?" asked the host, Jeremy Paxman.

Cruddas replied: "I do, actually, as part of the general reconciliation with the British people over what's been a disaster in Iraq...". Harman interrupted to say, "Yep, I agree."

Cruddas then continued to say: "I don't think we can actually rebuild a sense of trust and a dialogue with the British people unless we fundamentally reconcile ourselves to what the situation is on the ground and our own culpability in creating it."

Harman cut in again, saying, "I agree with that".

Slip of the tongue?

Hardly - according to a post by "Harriet" the next day on her official blog: "I was glad to have the chance to spell out on Newsnight that we have to acknowledge that we got it wrong on Iraq because there were no weapons of mass destruction".

The position chimes with her other campaign statements on Iraq. At a May 16 hustings event, she called for an inquiry into the war. And in an earlier blog post - made after Iraq was raised at a hustings event in Sheffield - she says again that she wouldn't, with hindsight have voted for the war: "We were wrong on that - there were no WMD's. We have to admit that".

Did things change after her ascent to the deputy leadership? Less than 24 hours after the results were declared, Harman denies calling for an Iraq apology on the Today programme, saying merely that she was trying to state her own position and calling for the need to "recognise the anger and bitterness around Iraq".

'If I knew then what I knew now I wouldn't have voted for it'.'
Harriet Harman

She said: "I voted for the war on the basis that there were WMDs. That was clearly a mistaken belief and we have to acknowledge that... if I knew then what I knew now I wouldn't have voted for it, but I've also said that we've got to support our troops in Iraq."

So what about the call for an apology? A few hours later, Harman popped up on the Daily Politics to set Andrew Neil straight on exactly what she'd meant in the Newsnight.

"I agree with what he said about a reconciliation with the British people," she says, maintaining that her "yep" didn't, actually, mean a call for an apology on the Iraq war.

FactCheck rating: 4

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Every time a FactCheck article is published we'll give it a rating from zero to five.

The lower end of the scale indicates that the claim in question largerly checks out, while the upper end of the scale suggests misrepresentation, exaggeration, a massaging of statistics and/or language.

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Harman may not have marched up and down in front of parliament shouting "stop the war" through a megaphone, but in political terms she came pretty close: making a number of comments expressing regret for Iraq while campaigning to be elected deputy Labour leader.

Post-election, she repeats that she felt the vote for the war was a mistake because of the mistaken belief that there were WMDs, but steers shy of saying sorry.

Pre-election, however, there seemed to be far less of this caution - most notably when she leapt in to say that she agreed with Cruddas at the Newsnight debate.


Today, Radio 4
Fabian Society/Progress Deputy Leadership Hustings, 16 May 2007
Harman denies Iraq apology call, BBC news
Harriet's blog
Iraq decision was right - Brown, BBC news

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