BENN Hilary
  • David Cameron is restoring his standing in Washington… In 2013, he urged Barack Obama to confront Bashar al-Assad.  But when Obama eventually took Cameron’s advice, the latter could not deliver: his motion for air strikes was defeated in the Commons.  Yesterday evening, he won a big majority for the same measure (albeit against another actor in Syria’s civil war).  The win will buttress his standing with America’s President – and the leadership of the 60 countries that make up the coalition against ISIS.
  • ...But his struggle with Conservative sceptics goes on.  They were squeezed during yesterday’s key vote to a tiny band of seven.  David Davis and Philip Hollobone will be dismissed by the leadership as reflexive rebels.  John Baron is a long-standing opponent of military interventions.  But Julian Lewis is the Defence Select Committee Chairman and Andrew Tyrie is another senior Select Committee Chairman.  They represent a wider constituency of interventionist-sceptics who backed Cameron yesterday but might not in future.
  • Jeremy Corbyn is poised to gain if public opinion turns against air strikes…  His leadership of Labour is a dog’s breakfast, lunch and dinner – over yesterday evening’s vote and everything else.  It is almost impossible to imagine him winning the General Election in 2020.  He may well have been deposed by then.  Among those opposing him yesterday were his own deputy and his Defence spokesman.  But if voters turn against bombing, he is placed to profit.  He would claim that he took a stand on principle, and has been proved right.
  • …And we have a list of the alternative Shadow Cabinet.  Tom Watson, Maria Eagle, Angela Eagle, Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Ben Bradshaw, Chris Leslie, Gisela Stuart, Pat McFadden, John Spellar…all these voted with the Government.  Some are members of Corbyn’s front bench team (he won a majority of Shadow Cabinet members by 16 to 11).  Others are not.  But either way, they represent more collective talent than Corbyn’s present team.
  • The Commons will have been seen to rise to the occasion, not least because of Hilary Benn’s electrifying speech…. Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary was sweeping, heartfelt and reminscent both of his father’s manner (though not his views) and the Labour tradition of anti-fascism, which Mark Wallace wrote about yesterday. He will have sparked a debate about whether the chamber’s standing is being restored.  Others, such as Baron and Dominic Grieve from the Tory benches, made fine speeches too (on different sides of the debate).
  •  …Though not by many British Muslims.  Where most of us will have been MPs cheering Benn’s defiance of terrorists, a lot of Muslims will have seen MPs applauding white people dropping bombs on fellow-Muslims.  It doesn’t follow that they are supporters of ISIS, let alone that they are right in their interpretation.  But this will unquestionably have been their reflex reaction.  The cheering, the clapping, the waving of order papers: to some, this represented “the Commons at its finest”.  But not, as I say, to all.
  • Divided Liberal Democrats. And UKIP. Anti-interventionist SNP.  Tim Farron supported the Government, though Norman Lamb did not.  Douglas Carswell voted with it, too (which Nigel Farage and many UKIP members won’t have liked).  The SNP opposed Cameron, and it’s almost impossible to imagine them backing British military action abroad.  That matters in a Parliament as finely balanced as this one.  These are complex cross-currents of calcuation and principle.
  • The Commons did not, repeat not, vote to return to liberal interventionism.  Some will claim otherwise: that, by supporting air strikes yesterday, MPs have reversed their decision of 2013 – and that the move represents a return to the tradition of liberal interventionism that dominated under Tony Blair.  This is simply wrong.  Cameron was careful to rule out British ground troops.  Much Labour and Tory support was given on that basis. The Commons remains very wary of military intervention abroard.
  • How much did the vote really matter?  From one point of view, scarcely at all.  MPs have voted merely to extend air strikes against ISIS across a border that no longer exists.  From another, quite a lot.  Britain is now matching France as a military actor in the Middle East, and Cameron has restored some of his shine with governments abroad. If there is – and we all pray not – an ISIS terror attack in Britain, some will be quick to blame yesterday evening’s vote.  That Islamist extremists have long been planning mass murder in any event may be forgotten.

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