I have read much criticism from members of each of the Parties about the leadership shown by the leaders of other parties, but I’m afraid to say the leaders of all three main political parties have come out of the debate on military intervention in Syria with their reputations in tatters.
Firstly the Prime Minister
One of the most important lessons in politics is that before you ask a question you should be darned certain you know what the answer will be, otherwise you can end up looking anything from ignorant through stupid to incompetent.
David Cameron had staked a great deal of time, effort, and his reputation on being able to build an international coalition to make a military intervention in Syria. Having convinced himself that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons against their own people, he has personally pressed the leaders of other nations to support and participate in joint action to chastise the Syrian regime.
When it came to presenting the case to Parliament he was unable to provide either the balance of evidence to convince Parliament to vote to support action, or a coalition of those who supported the idea of military action strong enough to defeat those who were simply not convinced.
As of Thursday evening it will be impossible for anyone sitting around an international negotiating table with this British Prime Minister to take him at his word that he can deliver British support for anything he is negotiating.
Before David Cameron recalled a parliament that had already made clear after Iraq that it was so sceptical of the Executive taking this country into war it insisted on its views being heard first, he should have assessed whether he was certain of a decent majority or not for the resolution he was proposing, something he clearly failed to do.
In recalling parliament David Cameron was staking his reputation in the international community on being able to stand side by side with Barak Obama as their troops launched an attack on unspecified targets in Syria.
He failed to achieve that and as a result now leaves us with a lame duck prime minister who can not sign up to any international deal because he can not guarantee that parliament will sanction it.
Secondly the Leader of the Opposition
Let us be clear on this, at no point did Ed Milliband oppose military intervention in Syria, his amendment to the Governments notice of motion called for exactly what he had already negotiated and got agreed in that Government notice of motion.
Ed Milliband negotiated with the Prime Minister and was delivered every ask he made.
- Can we have a second vote? Yes
- Can we have the inspectors report before deciding? Yes
- Can the Government motion be redrafted to say this? Yes
The difficulty is that having secured everything he needed he then insisted on tabling his amendment anyway. In doing so he rallied those on the opposition benches who would have voted to support the Government motion to vote instead on Party political lines.
Ed Milliband could be today the man who enabled the Prime Minister to deliver British military support for the very action he wanted, whilst at the same time forcing the prime minister back before the commons for a vote on that action prior to it being taken, and ensuring that the weapons inspectors have reported back on their investigation into the use of chemical weapons.
By overplaying his hand, in the way Labour leaders so often do, Ed Milliband went into the chamber on Thursday night and lost his amendment, the identical substantive motion and also any faith that any other party might have in his ability to deliver on any future deals (including coalition deals).
Further more, were he to become Prime Minister he will enter into the ‘special relationship’ with the reputation of being the man who wanted the British side by side with America, and then bungled it so badly he blocked that from happening.
Finally the Deputy Prime Minister
Nick Clegg went into the house on Thursday knowing full well that the Labour amendment would deliver exactly the same policy as the Government proposal, he even repeated that belief during the debate.
Why then was he so determined not to accept the amendment and achieve his objective of ensuring Britain stood side by side with America, and yet he was so willing to do down Ed Milliband that he lost sight of what he wanted to achieve for the people of Syria and urged that the amendment be defeated?
In his summation of the debate Nick Clegg rallied the Labour party to vote on party political lines against a notice of motion that would have said nothing different had the Labour amendment been passed.
What had started with misguided good intent ended with the spectacle of all three leaders failing to get what they all three wanted, and destroying their own and Britain’s reputation in the process.
I have stated elsewhere on this blog that I opposed the notice of motion, and the grounds for my opposition, I am one of the people that Paddy Ashdown was rebuking when he proclaimed his disappointment in the British Nation. Let me make clear, when the nation makes a decision and its elected representatives carry out that decision we call that democracy.
All three party leaders have shown themselves unsuitable for the roles they hold, and the sooner the parties see that the better.