So British warplanes are on their way to Syria – by the time you read this, they may even have completed their first raid, which means that about half a million pounds of our money wasted already.
David Cameron will get his war, after MPs voted in favour of air strikes against Daesh (IS if you like) in Syria by a majority of 174. This means the votes of the 67 or 68 (at the time of writing the total isn’t certain) Labour MPs who sided with the Conservatives were totally irrelevant.
Some Twits are already suggesting the result could trigger the ejection of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, putting forward the pro-air strikes speech by Hilary Benn as possibly the start of a leadership campaign. This is silly.
First, Corbyn is in no danger as a result of this vote. The number of rebellions has already been compared (favourably) with the number suffered by former Labour prime minister Tony Blair when he called for war against Iraq, and he went on to win another general election afterwards. Labour MPs enjoyed a free vote, meaning they were not whipped to support a line held by the leadership, so nobody rebelled against Mr Corbyn. And, as already mentioned, the low number of Labour MPs siding with the government means their choice did not make a scrap of difference.
Mr Benn’s speech was widely praised, but a pro-war speech from the son of Tony Benn is not cause for celebration. As Rhiannon Valentine tweeted, “Hilary Benn was not applauded because his speech was historic, he was applauded because he is supporting the Tory Government.” His illustrious father, whose pro-peace speech of 23 years ago has been widely publicised in the run-up to the ‘air strikes’ debate, was no doubt spinning so fast in his grave he may have drilled his way to Syria himself. There has been widespread disgust at Mr Benn’s rhetoric. In that context, it seems unlikely that the Labour Party at large will support any attempt by him to usurp the leadership.
I’m not going to rehash the arguments against air strikes that we have all heard too many times already. It seems to me, though, that the best thing Jeremy Corbyn can do now is carry on exactly as he is, and wait for Cameron’s strategy to fall apart.
Will Cameron avoid killing civilians? No. While some have used Iraq as an example of airborne warfare that has not cost civilian lives, the actual number of deaths is 369 (at the time of writing), I’m reliably informed.
Will Cameron reduce the chances of terrorist strikes in the UK? No. The terrorist attacks in France on Friday 13 November were hatched by European citizens and it is likely that any attacks here will be home-grown. The vote for air strikes makes you less safe, because people will believe it is actually doing some good.
Will Cameron end the threat of Daesh? No. But having planes over Syria alongside many other countries means someone else might strike a decisive blow – for which he would then take the credit.
It is Corbyn’s place to ensure the public is fully informed of the collateral damage caused by Cameron’s campaign. He should also keep a watchful eye on those of his own MPs who voted with the Conservatives, in order to make sure they understand what they have supported.
Those MPs are:
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East),
Ian Austin (Dudley North),
Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West),
Kevin Barron (Rother Valley),
Margaret Beckett (Derby South),
Hilary Benn (Leeds Central),
Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree),
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East),
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter),
Chris Bryant (Rhondda),
Alan Campbell (Tynemouth),
Jenny Chapman (Darlington),
Vernon Coaker (Gedling),
Ann Coffey (Stockport),
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford),
Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark),
Mary Creagh (Wakefield),
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow),
Simon Danczuk (Rochdale),
Wayne David (Caerphilly),
Gloria De Piero (Ashfield),
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth),
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge),
Michael Dugher (Barnsley East),
Angela Eagle (Wallasey),
Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood),
Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside),
Frank Field (Birkenhead),
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse),
Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East),
Caroline Flint (Don Valley),
Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham),
Margaret Hodge (Barking),
George Howarth (Knowsley),
Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central),
Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central),
Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle),
Graham Jones (Hyndburn),
Helen Jones (Warrington North),
Kevan Jones (Durham North),
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South),
Liz Kendall (Leicester West),
Dr Peter Kyle (Hove),
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East),
Holly Lynch (Halifax),
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden),
Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East),
Conor McGinn (St Helens North),
Alison McGovern (Wirral South),
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South),
Jamie Reed (Copeland),
Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East),
Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West),
Joan Ryan (Enfield North),
Lucy Powell (Manchester Central),
Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North),
Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge),
John Spellar (Warley),
Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston),
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West),
Anna Turley (Redcar),
Chuka Umunna (Streatham),
Keith Vaz (Leicester East),
Tom Watson (West Bromwich East),
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and
John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).
My final thought is that this vote – and many of the speeches during the debate – shows that the quality of our democratic representatives has fallen to a depressing depth.
The electorate really needs to raise its standards in choosing, not only MPs, but candidates to be MPs.
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