David Dimbleby: Did You Support the Iraq war?Rhodri Morgan: I Don't Know, I Have Not Looked at the Issues, I Am Not in the House of CommonsAudience Member: Do You Realise You're on TV?

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Byline: By Tomos Livingstone Western Mail

First minister Rhodri Morgan last night refused to bow to pressure and reveal his stance on the Iraq War - saying that expressing his view would be 'gesture politics'.

Mr Morgan was heckled on BBC's Question Time show on Thursday evening for ducking a question on whether he backed the 2003 invasion. Despite repeated questions from the audience and host David Dimbleby, he said the issue was one for MPs to discuss rather than one for him.

He told the Western Mail yesterday he had spent many hours discussing the issue with Labour colleagues - including his wife Julie, the MP for Cardiff North who voted against the war - but it was 'not for us who are not there' to tell Parliament which way to vote.

In the programme, broadcast from Aberystwyth, Mr Morgan was questioned on his viewpoint by a member of the audience.

But the First Minister, who had already stood down as a Member of Parliament by the time MPs voted on the subject, refused to be drawn. Asked to say how he would have voted had he been present, he replied, 'I don't know, I have not looked at the issues, I am not in the House of Commons.'

He was pressed by David Dimbleby, who said, 'You are the First Minister of Wales, surely the people of Wales are entitled to hear from you what your view is on the invasion of Iraq?'

Mr Morgan replied, 'They certainly would have done if I had been in the House of Commons. Not only would they have heard my view, they would have seen which way my hand went up. That's the key thing, it's their job, not my job.'

At one point an audience member asked Mr Morgan whether he was aware the exchange was being broadcast on national television.

He said yesterday, 'I had quite a rough ride from the good citizens of Aberystwyth.' Then he said, 'It's gesture politics, and I'm not interested in gesture politics.

'The real thing was three years ago, and it was an agonising decision for Labour MPs - I know because I'm married to one, I went through all the anguish. I supported her decision, as I would have done if she had come out in support of the war.

'Labour MPs had to decide how to vote on an issue that could have led to the resignation of Tony Blair. It was the first ever body bag issue, an awesome responsibility, knowing that one of your constituents could be killed, and their family could point at the coffin and say 'see that, that's because of your vote'.

'It was the most important vote in the history of the Commons; for the Labour party there were issues of conscience, voting against the party and so on. We lost sleep over it.'

He said MPs had had the opportunity for individual meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior Ministers - something not afforded to him or to other AMs. 'It's not for us who are not there and don't have the advantage of getting those briefings,' he said.

The issue was now how the exit strategy from Iraq was worked out, he said.

In January 2003 the Western Mail asked all 60 Assembly Members their views on the looming crisis in Iraq. But then Labour chief whip Karen Sinclair e-mailed colleagues asking them not to respond. …