The Commons vote on Syria: All human life was there and also a few political dilemmas

thatchertankOn December 2nd 2015, the elective representatives of the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland debated for over ten hours and voted on the motion for overt military action in Syria.

The debate captured the whole range of human reactions from the authentic to the sycophantic, from the informed to the inflamed, from the arrogant to the resentful, from the committed to the confused.

The occasion illustrated the maxim that representative democracy is the worst political option except for all the others.

It began with a speech from Prime Minister David Cameron which will be remembered less for its carefully constructed case for military action than for his repeated brushing aside of calls for a more contrite expression of apology for remarks leaked from a private meeting in which he appeared to label opponents of his views as terrorist sympathizers

It ended with a spontaneous (and unusual) round of applause for a speech made by Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn. One  irony was that the son of Tony Benn, one of the most charismatic of Labour figures, was taking a line that would have been loathed by his father (step forward psycho-analysts).

Testing the motives of the speakers

I applied the map-reading and testing approach to suggest dilemmas facing some of the contributors in the debate. I assume that each MP reaches a decision with conscience tempered through considerations of self-interest. I have avoided the hindsight observations that the PM had more trouble than he might have expected with his leaked remarks about terrorism, and that Hilary Benn is being talked about as a future leader and opponent of Mr Corbyn. Leadership students might like to work out the dilemmas facing other contributors to the debate.

Labour supporters of the motion: The vote will antagonize supporters of Corbyn and I will risk losing support of labour voters and even perhaps deselection efforts by them. But by signalling opposition to Corbyn, I help consolidate opposition to him as leader.

Conservative opponents of the motion: I have severe doubts about the point of rushing in to bomb Isis or whatever you want to call the wretched people. I will risk being labelled a fellow traveller and even a terrorist sympathizer.

David Cameron: I am going to win. I can brush aside a weakened opposition. A rapid air strike will further demonstrate my strong and consistent leadership. I will need to justify today or later possible further dangers of terrorist responses at home, big gaps in a coherent long term strategy, mission creep, cost benefits of immediate action, oh yes and remarks about terrorist sympathizers.

Jeremy Corbyn: I will win the moral argument. There is support from many labour activists for this principled opposition. Granting MPs a free vote is consistent with a new political approach. I may be seen as a weak leader. It gives opponents in and outside my party a chance to attack me.

To be continued



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