November 4, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Who’d be a Prime Minister? Faced with pictures of civilians dying in Syria, David Cameron has to make a decision about whether to commit British troops to try to resolve the situation. Cameron actually possesses a ‘Royal Prerogative’, which means he can make this decision himself. It being a democracy, and with the Iraq War fiasco still hanging over UK politics, he won’t do so without the consent of Parliament. It doesn’t look like he is going to get it. Which comes back to what must feel like a creeping sense of helplessness over the situation. After all, solve Syria and you can also help solve the refugee crisis.
Despite possessing a majority, Cameron is unlikely to use a three-line whip on this issue. He knows that there are plenty of what might be termed Tory “rebels” if that was a fair term to use for people who are wary of committing our troops to harm’s way. Some of those Conservatives against intervention in Syria are concerned that it would result in a direct confrontation with Russia, who appear to be supporting President Assad. Others are concerned about the lack of a definable plan to fill the space that would exist should Assad’s forces be defeated. Without an identified opposition party and leader to take over Government of the country, and with a civil service, judiciary and legislative branch cowed by 45 years of Assad rule, it is doubtful that there can be any sense of smooth transition. Into the vacuum that could be left, Islamic State could expand.
This confusion over the future of an Assad-less Syria is what is accounting for the 40 or so Labour MPs who it is believed could vote with the Government to commence military action. Should a plan emerge, things might be different. Without one, Parliament will not vote for intervention.
Into this situation has stepped the new Labour Leadership. Whereas Ed Miliband seemed to suddenly throw political calculation into the mix when he suddenly decided to whip his MPs to vote against intervention in 2013, Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to any military involvement is consistent and clear. He argues that there are no problems that military action can solve. It is worth bearing in mind that he feels this way about ANY military action. Thus he raised the prospect today of not just voting against Syrian involvement, but reviewing the decision to vote to provide air support in Iraq. This was a vote that was overwhelmingly supported in Parliament, by Labour MPs included, partly because the Iraqi Government invited the UK to do so (obviously not the case with Syria). Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn had to to quickly point out that the vote still stands. One senses a long term Corbyn leadership might overturn quite a few of these votes and political positions. One of those being a change to his views that there must be political solutions to everything.
Linked to this are the reported comments of Catherine West, the Shadow Foreign Minister to a meeting of ‘Stop the War’, a pressure group co-founded by Jeremy Corbyn, and with whom the clue is in the name. West told the meeting that Labour would consult them before they made any decision on british military involvement in Syria. Leaving aside Hilary Benn’s explanation that West was talking to the Syrians in the room, for West to tell a pressure group with such a clear aim and view on a political decision that they will be consulted on it, is effectively saying that this Labour leadership has no intention of supporting military intervention. This means that Cameron will get no help from the Opposition on this issue.
Now, you might think that is normal. Why should the opposition help the Government. But remember. This isn’t just about Politics. People are dying.