David Cameron makes a case for military attacks in Syria

Infighting in Labour as Jeremy Corbyn appoints Ken Livingstone to review policy

 David Cameron: The prime minister’s hopes of winning a Commons majority for his new war were enhanced yesterday by Labour’s growing disarray over defence. Photograph: PA Wire

David Cameron: The prime minister’s hopes of winning a Commons majority for his new war were enhanced yesterday by Labour’s growing disarray over defence. Photograph: PA Wire

 

There was a dark whiff of 2003 and the prelude to the Iraq War around the Commons chamber yesterday as prime minister David Cameron sharply upped the ante in his campaign to persuade MPs to back military intervention in Syria.

Like Tony Blair before him, Cameron talked up the desirability of a United Nations mandate for such action, before making clear that he had no intention of waiting for one.

“The point is that Russia has different aims from us and has repeatedly threatened to veto any such resolution. Of course, it is always preferable in these circumstances to have the full backing of the UN Security Council, but what matters most of all is that any action we would take would be both legal and help protect our country and our people right here,” he told Angus Robertson of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

“As I said yesterday, we cannot outsource to a Russian veto the decisions we need to keep our country safe.”

In retreat

But last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris have shifted the international and domestic context, making a vote to bomb Syria much more likely to succeed.

A YouGov poll for the Times found a majority of UK voters were in favour of allowing the Royal Air Force (RAF) to bomb Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria, with 58 per cent in favour and 22 per cent against.

Some 43 per cent also favour sending ground troops back to Iraq, more than twice as many as last year, with 37 per cent against.

Internationally, the burgeoning rapprochement between Russia and France over Syria in the wake of the Paris attacks and the downing of a Russian aircraft by IS could help to make the military operation against the group more coherent.

The engagement of Russia and Iran, as well as the United States and Sunni monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, in the Vienna talks over Syria’s future, could foster greater co-operation in the fight against Islamic State.

Cameron’s hopes of winning a Commons majority for his new war were enhanced yesterday by Labour’s growing disarray over defence.

Shadow defence secretary Angela Eagle sat next to Jeremy Corbyn during prime minister’s questions, her features more thunderous than Storm Barney.

Defence policy

Ken Livingstone

Unfortunately, she heard the news on Twitter.

When a junior spokesman on defence, Kevan Jones, suggested that the former mayor was not the best man for the job, Livingstone said Jones “might need some psychiatric help. He’s obviously very depressed and disturbed.”

Jones, who has spoken frequently about his experience of depression and the treatment he has received for it, demanded an apology, a call echoed by Corbyn.

Livingstone spent much of the day refusing to apologise, before offering first a grudging semi-apology and finally an “unreserved” expression of regret.

Eagle and Livingstone are on opposite sides of Labour’s internal debate over the future of the Trident nuclear deterrent, with Livingstone sharing Corbyn’s opposition to it.

Clumsy comments

Labour

Eager to embarrass Labour, the SNP is planning to call a vote on Trident in the Commons next week, urging that the programme should be scrapped.

Corbyn would like his MPs to abstain, but many are determined to vote against the SNP motion, arguing that they will be voting in accordance with Labour Party policy.

Corbyn’s clumsy comments in response to the Paris attacks, when he questioned whether British police should be allowed to pursue a shoot-to-kill policy when confronted with an imminent terrorist attack, have further turned his already hostile parliamentary party against him.

The Paris attacks have also increased the number of Labour MPs who are willing to back military action in Syria if it comes to a vote.

Military effort

However, it also warned that policymakers should be under no illusions about the scale of such a commitment, its likely duration and its potential impact.

“In the absence of a wider political settlement in Syria, the UK’s military campaign may need to be sustained over a period of several years. In these circumstances, it is possible – perhaps even likely – that the operation could end without achieving a decisive strategic effect.”

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