Paul Marsden was the Member of Parliament from 1st May 1997 to 11th April 2005. He represented the people of Shrewsbury and Atcham in the county of Shropshire. He was most well known for rebelling against the Labour Whips over the war in Afghanistan and crossing the floor of the House of Commons twice (the first MP since Winston Churchill to do so). Paul Marsden was also the last MP of the 20th century to ask a question to the Prime Minister Tony Blair at PMQs.
Paul was elected against all the odds on a sunny day on 1st May 1997. Labour had never won the seat before and in fact started in third place based on previous election results for the 1992 general election behind the Liberal Democrats. However, over the course of an 18 month campaign and with a doughty band of supporters Paul concentrated each day of the run up to the polling day on the rural areas of the seat covering 80 of the 120 hamlets and villages. These traditional Conservative areas liked his personal approach and ultimately voted in significant numbers on the day together with the traditional Labour areas in the town of Shrewsbury to give him a majority of 1,670.
After a relatively peaceful first term in office supporting the New Labour Government and being a loyal 'Blairite', Marsden fought a bitter re-election battle against a traditional set of Labour opponents in his constituency. He was securely re-selected by his local party with 80% of the vote and against the odds when onto secure a big swing in the 2001 election to more than double his majority to 3,579 with the backing of enthusiastic supporters. For four years, Marsden was a member of the Agriculture Select Committee and focused diligently on constituency issues securing around £30 million of investment, including a new hospital wing, flood defences and a road bypass
Then came 9/11. In 2001, Marsden took on the Whips after the Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong tried to silence him over his strong views against the military action starting in Afghanistan. In October 2001, Marsden flew to Pakistan and the Afghan border to highlight the effects of the US bombing raids which had sent waves of refugees across to Pakistan. On 10th December 2001, after facing taunts and physical abuse, Marsden had enough and sadly left the Labour Party to join the Lib Dems.
In 2002, Marsden visited Malawi to highlight the African famine sweeping across the continent and in 2003 he visited the Milosevic trial in The Hague, the Netherlands to support the successful bringing to justice of the dictator.
In July 2004 Marsden announced he would not seek re-election. Marsden drifted away from the Lib Dems towards the end of 2004, becoming the most rebellious Lib Dem MP voting against their whips more times than any other Lib Dem MP.
In April 2005, he surprised Westminster by announcing he was re-crossing the floor of the House of Commons to sit on the Labour benches. However, he still retired from national politics at the 2005 general election.
Voting record: The Public Whip.
Western Mail, 9th October 2001
Paul Marsden MP, “protested over the failure to allow the Commons a vote on military action against Afghanistan.”
The Mail on Sunday Editorial, 21st October 2001
“Paul Marsden has rightly voiced these heartfelt concerns [bombing innocent civilians in Afghanistan] to the Commons.”
The Guardian Editorial, 23rd October 2001
Paul Marsden is an unlikely hero. All of a sudden he has become a shining example of its [the Commons] strengths. First he cheeked the prime minister in a Commons debate over air strikes on Afghanistan, calling for a parliamentary vote on the use of force. Then he compounded the sin by going public about the government’s private response. On both counts he has done British democracy a service.”
Sunday Mercury, 9th December 2001
“Paul Marsden is a martyr bravely shielding the flickering flame of freedom…...”
“You may disagree with Mr Marsden but nobody who believes in democracy can want him silenced.”
The Independent Editorial, 11th December 2001
“….he is a man of principles…”
Daily Telegraph Editorial , 11th December 2001
“…his decision [to join the Liberal Democrats] commends admiration…”
The Times, 11th December 2001
“Like more and more people in this country, I have lost confidence in the Labour government. I have had enough of their obsession with control freakery and spin.” Paul Marsden MP
The Sunday Telegraph, 16th December 2001
…..”Marsden may be principled which is often perceived of as a kind of lunacy in modern politics. “
The Big Issue magazine, 6th January 2002
“Your hero of the year was the man who became Blair’s nemesis – MP Paul Marsden, who stood up against the Labour whips to speak against the bombing of Afghanistan…”
“He has the courage of his convictions,”
“he’s the only MP to share my belief that a decision to go to war should first be discussed in Parliament, and to say so.”