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The gamechanger and the fall out

The PM speaksI really detest the phrase, but last night’s Commons vote that ensured the path to war with Syria is one that won’t be taken is definitely a “game-changer”. Here are my quick thoughts on the fall out – some domestic, some not.

1. It is regrettably true that Ed led his Parliamentary troops into voting against the government on technical rather than principled grounds. Whether he’s a copper-bottomed shit or not, his opposition was based on tests involving standards of proof and legal justifications. It was neither principled nor based on an understanding of the specifics of the situation. Yet, the PLP was instructed to vote the right way for the wrong reasons. I’ll take that.

2. Last night was less a victory for Ed Miliband than a catastrophic loss for the Prime Minister. In true Flashman style Dave was determined to bulldoze through on the flimsiest of pretexts. And a pretext last week’s chemical attack was, because an intervention is something he and William Hague have been wanting for some time. Some have accused the Labour leader of playing politics. Of course, what is war butpolitics with cruise missiles? Things could have been very different. It was incredibly short-sighted of him not to back Labour’s motion, especially when it wasn’t a million miles away from his own. Had he done so the consensus he wanted would have been his, the road to military action cleared, and today the commentariat would be talking about divisions in the opposition. Not his own party.

3. Speaking of internal divisions, the Tory rebels have inflicted the most embarrassing and damaging defeat on him possible. No doubt in future they will be emboldened. Waverers who’ve gone with the whip in the past might be find themselves more inclined to being awkward.

4. I think it is a bit much to claim last night’s vote as a victory for the anti-war movement, Lindsey German has done. But certainly the ghost of Iraq was busy on the green benches, rattling its chains in members’ ears – even though, I accept, there are significant differences between what happened 10 years ago and now. Nevertheless as last night will embolden Dave’s critics in the Tory party, I think it will have extra-parliamentary ripples too. For the first time in a long time the number one government priority has been derailed. Much show has been made of MPs “listening to their constituents” and polls have consistently shown big majorities opposed to military action. Coming after the brushing aside of mass mobilisations of the last decade – the anti-war movement, anti-fees, and the numerous anti-austerity campaigns – the defeat of the government while the world was watching could well give the politics of protest a needed shot in the arm.

5. What of the “Special Relationship”? Dave’s inability to carry his own party in support of foreign policy aims can only diminish him in the eyes of the White House. The once-dependable Britain can no longer be taken for granted by Obama and his successors. A Rubicon has been crossed. No British Prime Minister can offer a carte blanche again.

6. “Britain has all the foreign policy credibility of Luxembourg!” moans Dan Hodges in his whiny resignation note. Presumably, so does Germany, Brazil and India for not contemplating intervention in Syria either. “Credibility” in geopolitics is not about one’s willingness to bomb “rogue states” or even the size of the military, though of course that is important. Politics in the international arena is, as well as at home, concentrated economics. Britain is, as it was yesterday, one of the world’s richest and largest economies. It would be difficult to name a country where capital from these shores hasn’t been invested, or to find somewhere a British multinational isn’t active. The days of the British Empire are thankfully long gone but it remains a key lynchpin in the international order. Silly hysteria from right-wingers and paid-for commentators does not render this fact of life null and void.

7. The situation in Syria remains grim. The Americans and France could still go ahead and administer their pointless punishment beating. In so doing they risk getting drawn in further. Either way matters will not be helped. Not one life will be saved, though attacking and weakening Assad’s military capability could well prolong the conflict. If Dave was sensible, he could still play the respected statesman by turning away from war war to jaw jaw. Yes, if Dave is sincere and really wants to help the Syrian people he could throw his efforts into establishing a pushing a peace plan. Sure, it’s not as glamorous as phoning up submarine commanders and telling them to launch. But it’s infinitely more constructive.

This article first appeared at A Very Public Sociologist

One Comment

  1. Rob Mackenzie says:

    Summary: The chemical weapons “attack” by Assad was actually an accident on the part of a group of rebels who had been supplied with chemical weapons, but no training, by Saudi Arabia.

    If the report turns out to be accurate it would cast a huge shadow over the “intelligence” on which Cameron’s Commons performance was based. I think it unlikely that UK Intelligence would be unaware of Saudi intentions.

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