Last night the government lost the vote to consider, only consider, a punitive attack on Syria after President Assad’s Government has been widely accused of using chemical weapons on its own people. The images and video footage of the alleged attack is gruesome and unbearable to watch. There was even fresh evidence released by the BBC last night of the incendiary bombing of a school. The use of chemical warfare contravenes international law and any other conflict-related law going. Chemical warfare is Obama’s ‘red line’ and it was meant to be David Cameron’s too.

The refusal to even consider military intervention, not even once a UN report has confirmed the perpetrators of the chemical attack, is a serious statement from Parliament. As Nick Robinson on the BBC 10 o’clock News said last night:

‘David Cameron has lost control of his foreign policy’.

No doubt questions will be asked and last night Whips whipped, speech writers scolded and rebel voters handed the black dot (pirate reference). From a political point of view, the impact of last night could be huge and losing a vote, in any circumstance, is damaging for the Government. But huge in what way?

Was this a case of MPs reacting to the overall policy of intervention, with the illegal invasion of Iraq fresh in their minds? Was this hardcore politicking from Labour and the Lib Dems? Would MPs have voted ‘yes’ if Cameron had waited for the UN report? There are………..

A Whole Lot of Issues Going On:

Ed Miliband was employing blind Realpolitik as the party in opposition

Ed Miliband argued that a vote on intervention was impossible before a UN inspection had taken place.  A stance that clearly the majority of the House of Commons agreed with. But Miliband’s position changed in the two days leading up to the House of Commons debate and vote. As Cameron has accused Miliband, why rule out any intervention before the report was published by voting against the motion? Why not at least show a united front to help resolve the desperate situation that is on-going in Syria. You could argue that a united Commons would be better prepared to debate an appropriate response once the UN inspectors had completed their report on who used chemical weapons in Syria. Miliband, you feel, would have done the same as Cameron had Labour been in power.

To at first agree to intervention and then to retreat to a resolutely anti-stance stinks of unabashed Realpolitik and electioneering. I am not questioning whether Miliband was right, only questioning his motives to change position on the issue. 

David Cameron has lost control of his party and has ignored his backbenchers

PM David Cameron will wake up this morning with a sore head. This is the biggest defeat of his premiership and on an issue, military intervention, which is so associated with strong leadership. Cameron would have been expecting a victory at this stage. He might not have actually won the second vote, but to lose the first obviously undermines his authority. As Allegra Stratton on Newsnight discussed last night, Cameron in recent weeks had become closer to his backbenchers. This, however, is a step backwards.

You could see this as a sign of public opinion, democracy at its best. It’s true that the majority of the population would be anti-intervention – because of memories of Iraq, an illegal invasion. (Or more likely, who the bloody hell are Syrians when I’ve got my television license to pay and a family to provide for……..and even more realistic what’s Syria and what is going on there?)

It’s difficult state conclusively either way, because of the sensitivity of the issue, whether this lost vote is a reflection of Cameron’s unpopularity or the singularity of the issue of proposed military intervention.

Losing this vote was a BAD thing for Cameron

Of course it is a bad thing for Cameron – he proposed it. As mentioned above, losing a vote reflects badly on the PM in the public and within the Conservative party. He will need to address the concerns of his backbenchers and those that rebelled in the vote.

Losing this vote was a GOOD thing for Cameron

Slightly less obvious – but, playing devils advocate, maybe this is a good thing for Cameron. Removing the morality and strategic significance of attacking another sovereign nation, NOT having to respond militarily probably increases Cameron’s chances of winning the next election. There were unforeseen risks with the attack and the public is anti-intervention. In a few years, Cameron might be pleased that he never had to do anything. This is a purely British political point of view, but a cynically relevant one.

One also feels that Miliband, again, has come out of this very badly. He has ignored the grave issue of the civil war in Syria in favour of playing politics. When will he do something courageous and definitive? At least Cameron, to be fair he had to, took decisive action and recalled Parliament. Democracy has spoken – end of. Miliband on the other hand just looks weak. Playing the big political game – what on earth will the American’s think of Miliband. There is no way Miliband wouldn’t have called for a vote to consider intervention because of the pressure to remain in sync with America.

Just bad timing?

You have to raise the question – if this vote had been taken after a UN report confirmed that Assad was responsible for using Chemical weapons, would the voting result have changed?

Paddy Ashdown: ‘what’s the point in having an army’

What will America think?

The Obama camp will be disappointed with the British vote. The ‘Special Relationship’ was built on joint-military interventions. It was a long and fruitful marriage, but a lot of people will be happy it has called for a temporary ‘break’. Will Cameron go down in the eyes of the Obama administration after this? You might also ask, what will the world think? Putin will be ‘loving it’.

The bigger question is – what the hell is going to happen to British foreign policy from now on and forever? If we don’t respond with a military intervention to a clear attack using chemical weapons by a brutal dictator, then will we ever again? Not saying it is right or wrong to, but it begs a pretty huge question over out place in the world.

As former Lib Deb leader Lord Paddy Ashdown said on the radio today: ‘what’s the point in having an army?’ He said how ashamed he was and feared that Britain was falling further and further into ‘isolationism’.

What now for Syria – will Britain sit back and watch?

It will be odd to watch America and France head off to bomb Syria without Britain in tow. Fortunately this vote allows us to concentrate on a political settlement (not gonna happen……..Russia hello?) and more importantly, to support the humanitarian response.

The humanitarian response has always been the pressing matter. Now in a sense, with the politics out of the way, efforts can remain solely on bringing support to the thousands of Syrians who desperately need it.

The rights and wrongs of this vote will be discussed for years to come, that is for sure. The difficulty and problem with voting on matters of this significance is that the real issue, the lives of Syrians, you feel, gets lost in the hot air.

(One more time, ahem, RUSSIA, hello there, wtf, can we sort something out?!)


5 thoughts on “Britain will not be attacking Syria: Unwrapping the vote

  1. A bit harsh on Miliband. If you look at the Labour amendment it shows that Miliband did not want to rule out military intervention, but rather insisted on a critera including UN sanctioning, humanitarian provisions and a clear timetable of action. Noble pursuits. when this was defeated and the only possibility remained was open ended military o Surely this has to be the future of military interventions: UN approval and concrete assurances. Not the other realpolitik Cameron pur forward

  2. Noble pursuits but was that what Miliband was after? I can’t be sure. Douglas Alexander has certainly been skirting around the question for the last couple of days. Just suspicious of Milibands motives when he automatically hits the object button.
    I think the motion was always destined to be rejected. The amendment was ultimately pointless.

  3. Pingback: Syria vote: After Cameron’s Commons humiliation, US snubs Britain and gets cosy with France | Mail Online « Dr Alf's Blog

  4. Pingback: David Cameron has lost his authority, and the confidence of the House of Commons | Alfie Steer

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