Friday, August 30, 2013

Tony Blair's very finest handiwork

There are a number of obvious dangers attached to taking Nick Robinson's billing as a political expert too seriously. If I had turned the television off in disgust after hearing his 'reveal' of the Labour leadership result three years ago, I might still be firmly under the misapprehension that an entirely different Miliband had become Leader of the Opposition. I didn't make that particular mistake, but unfortunately I did stop paying much attention to the Syria debate yesterday after Robinson insisted that the government were assured of a win, mainly because their own foot-soldiers wouldn't want to give Ed Miliband any sort of fillip. I should, of course, have known that the government were doomed to defeat from the moment those words passed his lips.

The moral issues at stake yesterday weren't straightforward, because the use of chemical weapons is indeed different to the use of conventional weapons, and there's certainly a danger of a slippery slope if the world is seen to shrug its shoulders at a moment like this. But there are alternatives to studied disinterest that don't involve bombing civilians to kingdom come, or opportunistic Anglo-American attempts to alter the balance of power in the Middle East, or exercises in rank hypocrisy from politicians (including, disgracefully, Liberal Democrats) who spend much of their leisure time lecturing us about how failure to accept NATO as a first-strike WMD club is a sign of political 'immaturity'. Just for once, the Commons have stunned us all by getting a judgement call entirely right.

And for that we have Tony Blair to thank, paradoxically enough. He is the unwitting author of this result. It's worth making a comparison with the 2003 parliamentary vote on the invasion of Iraq - back then, the only real question was whether a majority of Labour backbenchers would vote for the war. Overall victory for the PM was assured in spite of the fact that the motion before the House was an umambiguous authorisation of military action that was just hours away. Fast forward ten years, and a watered-down motion that wouldn't have authorised anything has been rejected outright by a chamber in which the government hold a handsome majority of 77. And all because Blair lied, and because people's memories aren't quite as short as he'd care to think.

Philip Hammond suggested that the result of this vote would have a negative impact on the 'special relationship' with the US, which is presumably code for a marginally less slavish loyalty to US foreign policy. Now that's the kind of Blair handiwork of which I can thoroughly approve. It's almost as splendid an irony as Mrs Thatcher turning out to be the midwife of devolution.


  1. Brilliant analysis.

    I do understand what you say about chemical weaponry, and the slippery slope, but I remain unconvinced that it is much worse to have your life snuffed out by poison rather have have a ten storey building blown up on top of it.

    (It's fair to say that Syria is not a signatory to the protocol that banned this type of weaponry.)

    At the moment I'm not sure that we know which side used the chemical weapons, or indeed, perhaps it was both sides.

    It's hard then to know who to condemn and who to aid.

    In matters of the Middle East I'm always inclined to reach for Robert Fisk's articles (The Independent). He seems to have a feel for the area as well as in depth knowledge of the complexities of the politics. This article was interesting to me, and I was pleased to see reflected my uneducated gut instincts.

  2. On watch with plato the Syria vote is (of course) bad news for the SNP.

    It shows that Scotland doesn't need to be independent not to be dragged into england's wars. Yes, they are actually that blinkered to reality.

  3. "On watch with plato the Syria vote is (of course) bad news for the SNP."

    Yes, it must have truly crushed the SNP to be on the winning side in the vote.