After the intemperate language hurled at Mil The Younger came the plainly nasty suggestion that, if Labour were not to obediently toddle along after Young Dave and his jolly good chaps, they would be “giving succour to Assad”. There was a clear desperation in Government ranks, and so, when the vote was taken and Cameron came up short, nobody should have been surprised.
And, while Cameron accepted his defeat with magnanimity, others could not contain themselves: Michael “Oiky” Gove went berserk, his voice ascending the octaves before he had to be instructed to calm himself. Then the blame game began: it was all Labour’s fault really, because of what Tone and Big Al did on Iraq. And that is total horseshit: there is nothing to be gained from our intervening.
Long serving Tory MPs such as Edward Leigh put the question: what would we do by dropping bombs on Syria, other than add to the death toll? The conflict there is already heavily influenced by other countries, with Iran propping up Assad, and Saudi Arabia assisting some of the rebels (note that there is no single, coherent group of rebels, and the same may now be true of the Government side).
If Cameron, and anyone of like mind, wants to show their support for the people of Syria, then there are far better ways to show it than stand off the coast and launch cruise missiles into what is already a highly combustible situation. The Prime Minister is a keen exponent of international aid, so let’s see him get behind practical help for refugees: food, clothing, shelter and medical supplies are all needed.
What Cameron needs to show is leadership, and at such times the definition of that art by the economist and commentator J K Galbraith should be required reading. “All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”.
Right now, Cameron is presiding over a sluggish economy and over two and a half million unemployed. He talks of tackling the deficit, then proposes spraying tens of millions up the wall bombing somewhere in the Middle East. Some of his MPs, like Sarah Woolaston, who represents the Devon constituency of Totnes, have sounded out their electorate, and their major anxiety is clearly not attacking Syria.
Indeed, when she asked for voters to give their opinion on the idea of military intervention, 53 were in favour, but 507 were not. Sarah Woolaston voted against the Government last night. Others in the Tory Party gave their support out of loyalty to the Blue Team. But the message was clear: Cameron has failed the basic test of leadership. He cannot blame anyone else for that but himself.
And those pointing at something that happened ten years ago are just deluded.