Opinion: The Syria Milishambles

See Saw Cameron MilibandEd Miliband has once again done his best impression of a statesman. On Thursday morning, with bags under his eyes, he declared that he was tabling an amendment to the government’s motion on Syria. His amendment would require a ‘clear legal basis’ for military action, and a second vote in the House of Commons following the forthcoming UN weapons inspectors’ report.

The government’s motion, on the other hand, requires a ‘sound legal basis’ for action, and a second vote in the House of Commons following the forthcoming UN weapons inspectors’ report. Snap!

Miliband stumbled and stammered in the Chamber Thursday afternoon as he tried to draw a line in the sand between his amendment that wasn’t an amendment and the government’s identical policy.

The story we were being fed this morning was that Miliband had forced the government’s hand by demanding a second vote in exchange for Labour support for military action. With a substantial likely rebellion on the government benches, Cameron and Clegg would have had little choice but to accept such an offer.

So why did Miliband table an amendment demanding concessions he had already secured? I have heard a rumour that Labour tabled their amendment before they had seen the government’s motion. If this is true I find it hard to draw any but one of two conclusions.

Firstly, it is possible that Labour were so convinced they had failed to secure the changes they wanted, that they just rushed ahead and tabled their amendment without bothering to look at the motion they were amending. Oops.

Secondly, it is just possible that Labour’s intentions were never sincere, and that while they supported the government’s policy, they wanted to use their amendment to undermine the government. In this scenario, Labour didn’t care what was in the government’s motion because they had already decided on their political strategy. Indeed, if Labour were sincere in their doubts about intervention they could have backed Green Party MP Caroline Lucas’s amendment, which actually criticised the case for war.

The trouble was that to distinguish themselves from the government, Labour were forced to spend the afternoon making the anti-war case. So the Labour Party was using the arguments of the Green Party to attack its own policy which was being proposed by the Conservatives and Lib Dems.

On Thursday night, the House of Commons turned its back on 70 years of British foreign policy, as far as I can tell by accident. As looked likely, the government lost the vote by a small majority, and Labour’s non-amendment was defeated, despite being effectively identical to the policy it was supposed to oppose.

It is impossible to guess what is going through Ed Miliband’s mind at this moment. On the one hand, he has just inflicted a humiliating defeat on his arch-nemesis, David Cameron, increasing his own chances of becoming Prime Minister one day. On the other, Miliband now knows that if he ever becomes Prime Minister, he will have to explain to Barack Obama why he prevented the British Government supporting the United States in a policy that he himself supported.

If Miliband becomes Prime Minister, based on Thursday night’s performance nobody will be able to call him a poodle. But to me he looks more like a dog that has bitten its own tail.

* Westminster Insider works within parliament

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  • Philip Welch 31st Aug '13 - 10:15am

    I think to blame Miliband for this latest Government mismanagement is so complacent. What this shambles demonstrates is that Cameron can no longer rely on the support of his party. Under these conditions shouldn’t we be questioning the viability of the Coalition?

  • Bill le Breton’s post on the Clegg video article describes what happened far better than this piece.
    Was just reading it, so am going to post the link. Agree totally with him, and it’s encouraging to see how many members see things as they are, not as the party spins them.


    Bill wrote at 9.11am ‘So, in their Parliamentary tactic Clegg and Cameron betrayed their own arrogance, hubris, political inexperience and ruthlessness in pursuit of political gain.” The rest of his post explains how/why.

  • Milishambles seems an apt portmanteau since it implies that it was 1 one thousandth of a shambles. At worst you can accuse Miliband of political opportunism; not exactly the biggest criticism of an opposition leader, is it?

  • David Woodbridge 31st Aug '13 - 10:51am

    “…Miliband now knows that if he ever becomes Prime Minister, he will have to explain to Barack Obama why he prevented the British Government supporting the United States in a policy that he himself supported.”

    Yeah, this. Obama is going to be about as well-disposed towards Miliband as a Syrian Provisional Government is going to be towards Britain generally, following our stance on intervention.

    gg Ed

  • But Ed Milliband will never “have to explain to Barack Obama why he prevented the British Government supporting the United States in a policy that he himself supported.” A British prime minister is not obliged to explain anything to a US president. A British prime minister is there to serve the people of Britain not to serve the US president. The last prime minister who did that was Tony Blair and he dragged Britain into two unpopular wars. The majority of the British people currently oppose military attacks on the Syrian government. Therefore, Ed Milliband did exactly the right thing in ensuring that no military attacks will be launched at present. I was unaware that British foreign policy for the last 70 years was to always support US foreign adventures. I am glad that British infantry never burnt villages and the RAF never dropped napalm in Vietnam and for that matter I never saw US Marines helping to recapture the Falklands or patrolling Belfast. We are an independent nation and should remain so. I suspect when Barak Obama writes his memoirs, we might find that he did not support many of the actions (Guatanamo, drone attacks, support for foreign despots) that his position as president has obliged him to follow for electoral reasons.

  • Mr Milliband has, I think, gone up hugely in the eyes of the electorate; criticism such as the above smacks strongly of sour grapes. In my opinion, Mr Cameron and, more especially, Mr Clegg found themselves totally on the ‘wrong side’ as far as the British public is concerned. “On Thursday night, the House of Commons turned its back on 70 years of British foreign policy,…..” Yes, let us hope so. Great Britain is no longer a world power; we have no Empire, but stupidly we have been acting as if we did for the past 70 years. Finally we can now put to rest all ridiculous ideas of British military might and face the reality of what Britain is – a small, proud and democratic and often magnifiscent northerly island off the coast of mainland Europe. i do understand that for many this will be a painful and difficult culture shock. Good on the LibDem ‘rebels’ and good on the Labour Party (for once).

  • Dave Orbison 31st Aug '13 - 11:08am

    In the last election I voted for the LibDems. I moved from Labour to LibDems precisely as a result of Blair bouncing us into the war against Iraq and the misleading of Parliament on such a serious issue. I too was impressed by Nick Clegg’s promise of a ‘new style of politics’, a grown-up style where we focussed on policy substance rather than personal attacks. Having read many LibDem Voice posts I noted frequent references, with some justification, to tribalism with both Tories and Labour.

    By implication, it appeared that LibDems wanted a more considered and UN backed approach to the issues of military intervention than we had previously experience, wanted to be less tribal, less personal and more ‘grown-up’.

    Yet what have we seen during and in the aftermath of the Syrian debate, that many notable LibDems are doing precisely what they criticised other parties for doing. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in this article.

    Why is there any need to make any references to Miliband and his appearance? What is grown up about that? Talking the wording of Labour’s amendment literally, there is nothing whatsoever I could disagree with. It seemed less vague that the Government’s motion and seemed intent to avoid the mistakes of the past re Iraq.

    The main thrust of criticism seems focus on the motives ascribed to Miliband in making such an amendment. It appears this ‘suspicion’ and that it was a Labour amendment, was the reason the Tories and LibDems would not support the amendment. Now who is being tribal?

    It is true that Labour could have voted with the Government. They at least attempted to justify the reasons for the amendment i.e. lessons from Iraq. I have yet to hear why LibDems, or for that matter Tory MP’s could not have simply supported the amendment.

    To characterise what has happened in some joking reference to ‘omnishambles’ and to lay that at the feet of Miliband, speaks volumes for the evaporating standards and principles that some LibDems once claimed to hold.

  • For crying out loud. Regardless of Miliband, all responsibility for this shamble lies with the government that, despite having a majority, couldn’t get the votes.

    This blaming of Labour, at least for the Lib Dems, seems short sighted as it will only increase the level of distrust, if not outright hate, Labour party members and supporters have for the Coalition.

    It all but rules out any form of alliance between Labour and the Lib Dems in the next parliament, whether as part of voting reform or government.

    Unless, of course, that’s the intention, and the Lib Dems are now natural partners for Tories.

  • It is totally wrong to claim that Labors Motion was the same as the governments and Edd Milliband was just trying to score political points.
    The start of the governments motion stated
    “Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
    Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law; Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on savings lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons”

    Compared to Labors motion
    “This House expresses its revulsion at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Ghutah, Syria on 21 August 2013; believes that this was a moral outrage; recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons; makes clear that the use of chemical weapons is a grave breach of international law; agrees with the UN Secretary General that the UN weapons inspectors must be able to report to the UN Security Council and that the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians; supports steps to provide humanitarian protection to the people of Syria but will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met:”

    Labors motion did not immediately apportion blame on the Syria Government and call for military action, unlike the governments.
    Labors motion then set out clear and decisive steps on waiting for the UN inspectors findings,
    The production of compelling evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons
    That the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action.

    My mind is not totally made up on what action should be taken on Syria. That’s why Labour’s motion made more sense to me than the governments.

    There was always a substantial risk that the governments motion was going to fail, you only had to listen to the Tory Back Benches to see that Cameron did not have “ALL” of his party on board.
    Labour announced well before the vote that they would be voting against the governments motion.

    Cameron & Clegg carried on regardless, bulish as always and encouraging tribal politics.

    This is what happens when you allow politics become tribal.

    Like I said, my mind was and still is not made up regarding what we should do about Syria. That is why the Labour motion made more sense, because it called for more time and thinking and analysis of intelligence, which lets face it, was not altogether conclusive or convincing at the time when the government published it.

    It is ridiculous for people to accuse Labor with playing politics on this, when Labors motion made much more sense to most people who were uneasy about seeing Britain commit itself to military action against Syria.

    It was your own tribalism which is to blame, because heaven forbid, the government can never support an oppositions amendment.

    As I said, my mind is still not made up as yet, I want to see further compelling proof beyond reasonable doubt that Syria was responsible for these attacks, and quite frankly I am astounded at the hypocrisy of Libdems in Government being so gun-ho on this matter, something they would never have done when they where in opposition.

  • This is disgraceful. Why has LDV abandoned its usual, almost blanket policy, of not having anonymous articles to post a highly partisan piece

    The previous anonymous articles I can recall have usually been from people with particular expertise in a field – which this isn’t

  • Dave Orbison 31st Aug '13 - 11:30am

    Matt, leaving aside the typo’s in my post, you have said this much better than I. The only reason that many LibDems’s and Tories did not vote with Labour was simply because it was a Labour amendment. To Paddy Ashdown, I would say that truly is depressing.

  • Good article. Spot on.

  • Why do people keep saying things like “Britain is no longer a world power”? It’s just not true. We have the fifth most powerful military in the world (http://www.globalfirepower.com/country-military-strength-detail.asp?country_id=United-Kingdom), the 6th or 7th largest economy in the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28nominal%29#Lists), a permanent seat on the security council, nuclear weapons, four of the ten top universities in the world, and the sun *still* never sets on the British Empire (http://what-if.xkcd.com/48/). We may not be the globe spanning empire of old, and we may not be able to compete with the likes of the US but we’re still a major player on the world stage.

  • Also, if the amendment was so similar why did the government not support it? Was it not just as shallow politics from the coalition not to back the amendment?

  • @Stephen W
    Consider two people in a cafe.
    Person A notices the quarter-pounder burger on the menu. Person B says, “no, I’m going to have the 125 g one instead, it’s bigger”. Person A says “ok, but the quarter-pounder would be just the right size for me”. They legitimately disagree on which is better. Anyway, the waitress comes and tells them that the quarter-pounder is off, and only the 125g burger is available. At this point person A says “In that case I am having nothing”. Such behaviour would seem odd because it is difficult to believe that Person A’s true preference order is quarter pounder, followed by nothing, followed by 125g burger, or that he has become a vegetarian at that exact moment.

    On Thursday there were two votes
    1. Govt Version vs Labour Version
    after which followed
    2. Govt Version vs No motion passed
    The first vote was whether to keep the original motion or to substitute it for a slightly different one, so the non-rebel government MP’s behaviour makes sense (to the extent that one can say bombing Syria makes sense, but that’s being discussed elsewhere) in voting to keep the original motion if that’s what they want, as does their decision to vote again for that motion in the second vote. The Labour MPs decision makes a lot less sense because (assuming they would have voted for the amended motion if they had won the first vote), their preference order has to be assumed to be 1. Labour Version, 2. No motion passed 3. Govt Version, which is odd and strongly suggests that the main factor determining their views on Syria is the identity of who is speaking at any particular moment and that they are therefore unfit to be in any position of responsibility over others, whether in business, local administration and especially national government.
    There was never a vote on 3. Labour Version or No motion passed, but perhaps the government MPs would have shown themselves to be no different. Perhaps they wouldn’t have.

    By the way – people are saying AV would be a better way to choose between three options are wrong. De Condorcet should be used instead (voters rank possibilities/candidates in order of preference and the option winning pairwise comparisons with all the other options is declared the winner. This may well be the middle compromise option which would be eliminated earlier on under AV as it might still be 3rd of 3 in terms of first preferences).

    @Jack – political opportunism (rather than genuine disagreement) about military/foreign policy is only very rarely practised by opposition leaders because it is not generally to the credit of those practising it.

  • What Hywel said.

    And not even correct. The Labour motion was much better drafted, unfortunately. This particular (junior?) Westminster insider is sadly deluded if they believe this sort of innuendo and rumour is a substitute for engaging with serious issues.

  • Some Lib Dems have become so tribal or should that be conservative. Obviously some LD members want to join the tories, just go. PLEASE.

  • @Joe Otten

    “Yes the tone was different, but the effect was the same. Labour’s conditions were all things that were either happening anyway, or that they could reach a judgement on whether they were met before the second vote.”

    That is not right at all.
    The governments motion at the very beginning said “Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime,”
    Note *Assad Regime*
    Labors motion, did not use this language in their motion, they set out very clear and decisive steps for the government to undertake in order to come to conclusive evidence that this was the case, and then, come back to the house once all the steps had been carried out, so that the house and the country for that matter can be fully satisfied that all possible steps have been taken, That the Assad Regime where guilty beyond any reasonable doubt , Then a further vote to take place to commit the UK in Military intervention.

    This seemed like a much more sensible and cautious action which most people in the country wanted to see take place. The country was and still is not convinced by the evidence that was supplied by the government.

    The Labor party where seeking to do the right thing by the citizens of the uk who were and still are unsure about the action that should be taken in Syria.

    It was pure tribalism of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats not to support an opposition’s motion.

    And to be quite frank, I think the British people are getting more and more angry, especially towards the Liberal Democrats, when they keep behaving in this form of Robust Tribalism and blame game.

    The British public know’s exactly how the Liberal Democrats behaved whilst in opposition when it came to any kind of Military intervention, always calling for more evidence and assurance . They can see the way they are behaving in government now, which quite frankly is totally hypocritical in my opinion.

  • Labour: calls for ‘The production of compelling evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons’

    Govt. Motion: ‘Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime…’

    Spot the difference?

  • @Hywel :

    “This is disgraceful. Why has LDV abandoned its usual, almost blanket policy, of not having anonymous articles to post a highly partisan piece”

    Hywel, your criticism is grossly-unwarranted. The considered views of House of Commons litter pickers are never adequately represented on the internet! 🙁

  • On the other, Miliband now knows that if he ever becomes Prime Minister, he will have to explain to Barack Obama ….

    Miliband stumbled and stammered in the Chamber Thursday afternoon…

    Miliband has behaved like the Tea Party here…..

    This is so infantile its sad.

  • Bill le Breton 31st Aug '13 - 1:07pm

    “The House of Commons turned its back on 70 years of British foreign policy.”

    70 years! I am tempted to ask when you were born? What can you remember of those years?

    They include the horror of Suez, Malaysia, Kenya, Rhodesia, Apartheid South Africa, almost but not quite Vietnam (fellow readers, please help me fill the list for this author until we get to …) Iraq, Helmand, Syria, Bahrain – the majority of which were opposed by genuine Liberals in the face of the Established FCO policies.

    I dare you to put down an emergency motion at Conference and see just how the Party’s long standing representatives react. Of course that might require you to come out of the shadows and reveal yourself. Not a bad thing in a democratic party.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 31st Aug '13 - 1:15pm

    This article simply proves what a brilliant strategist Ed Milliband is and what inept politicians Cameron and Clegg are. I would suggest that Ed and the Labour Party wanted to vote against military action all along but did not want to appear uncaring about the use of chemical weapons. Labour tabled the amendment knowing that Cameron and Clegg’s parties would vote it down, thus leaving the way clear for the opposition to vote against the substantive motion. This sort of thing happens in local politics all the time up and down the land but , of course, Cameron and Clegg have never been councillors have they? However, what Labour couldn’t have known was that so many Tory and Lib Dem MPs would have had as many reservations about Cameron’s Syrian adventure as it had; or that so many ministers would forget (sic) to vote on the most important Commons motion for years. So not only did Cameron and Clegg get the stategy wrong they mismanaged the coalition vote too.
    If Cameron and Clegg had simply accepted Labour’s amendment they would never have been humiliated and would have got most of what they wanted. They are responsible for the shambles they’ve created and no-one else.

  • Bill le Breton 31st Aug '13 - 1:34pm

    “Miliband stumbled and stammered in the Chamber Thursday afternoon”

    Yes, and the Chancellor the Exchequer spent the whole time making faces at him to put him off his stride. Whilst he was heckled from the Government benches.

    Was this a moment to show how a democrat parliament listens to its major speakers or was it just a chance to show how infected it is with yobery?

    I am no champion for the Leader of the Opposition, but I am a champion for free, unhindered speech. Wouldn’t it have been real Liberal leadership if Clegg had called a point of order and asked that the Leader of Her Majesties Opposition be heard in silence and with the respect owed to his Office? In stead he sat there with an embarrassed look and let it happen.

    Britain sent many messages to the World on Wednesday, one was that actually it’s highest chamber of debate is an archaic nonsense.

    And an employee of the Liberal Democrats or a civil servant, whichever you are, should not abuse anyone who stutters or stammers.

  • @Mack(Not a Lib Dem)

    “This article simply proves what a brilliant strategist Ed Milliband is and what inept politicians Cameron and Clegg are. I would suggest that Ed and the Labour Party wanted to vote against military action all along but did not want to appear uncaring about the use of chemical weapons.”

    Sorry Mack, I just can not agree with your assertion there at all.

    Hand on heart, I really do not believe that Milliband was being strategic or playing party politics on this matter.

    I do believe Milliband, like the rest of us were horrified at the news reports of the terrible atrocities that have been taken place in Syria. I think like many other people would probably have done, that on first thought, Milliband thought an immediate military response was needed.
    But peoples opinions, doubts and fear can change over the course of a week, especially when we are potentially talking about the lives of millions of innocent people and bombing another country. Those doubts and fears become further endorsed, especially when the evidence of who was responsible becomes quite murky, Those fears are endorsed when we think what affect military action could have on the already suffering people of Syria and the surrounding regions.

    So when there is so much doubt and uncertainties, when the British Public are at unease with taking immediate military action, the right thing to do is to slow down for a moment, stop the gun-ho response, set out a clear path of action that will enable more intelligence, concrete proof that the Assad Regime where responsible, What the Military objectives will be. Present this evidence to the British people and to the House of Commons, then agree a course of action.
    This is what was needed for the British people, The British Public did not want to go Gun-HO in supporting another military strike against an Arab country without those assurances first.

    That’s why I think upon reflection, Labor drew up their amendment, which would give the British people those assurances.

    I do not believe for one second that Milliband and Labor wanted to vote against military action all along , but feared doing so for appearing uncaring as you suggest in your post.
    I believe Labor did what most people in the country would have wanted the Government to do, To present the evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that the Syrian Government had carried out these atrocities, that the action we would then take would be legal and proportionate and any military response would be in the interest of the Syrian people , to protect the lives of civilians as much as possible, deter future use of chemical weapons and most of all, not to make a bad situation even worse.

    That should be the response of any responsible government, it is a shame that the 2 parties in government acted so tribal and rejected what was a reasonable amendment by the opposition.

  • Richard Dean 31st Aug '13 - 1:53pm

    Miliband has also appeared “weak” in a number of TV interviews recently, and I wonder if it’s a deliberate strategy to attract voters who are fed up with the “archaic nonsense” of the Bullfight at the Commons Corral.

  • “Miliband stumbled and stammered in the Chamber Thursday afternoon”

    Do you know what, I am not surprised one bit that he may have done so on a couple of occasions.
    But you know what, I am glad.
    Mr Milliband was addressing this country and with the whole world eyes upon on him, on taking potential supporting military action, bombing another country, where the lives of Millions of people is at stake, not to mention those of our brave armed forces who have to do the fighting.

    I am glad that Milliband was reserved at times and may have stumbled as people call it. But then I do not want to be led by another Thatcher, Baire or even Cameron for that matter who are so hard faced and closed to listening or reasoning, who think they can behave bullish all the time and the only opinions and decisions that should be listened to are that of their own. This Country has had enough of Prime Ministers who behave like that.

  • I think the result exposes poor judgement from all the party leaders. Cameron (and Clegg) for putting the case for retaliation to a vote prematurely, Clegg for forcing Cameron to take the case for retaliation to a Parliamentary vote (which is fine by itself but meant backing a flawed and premature proposition which disregarded Lib Dem principles such as support for the UN), and Milliband for stringing them along and then leaving them in the lurch.

    History may be kinder to Cameron and Clegg than to Milliband. Being on the losing side of a Parliamentary vote means you can say “I told you so” when things turn out wrong. As the Lib Dems found to their credit with Iraq.

  • paul barker 31st Aug '13 - 2:10pm

    I cant see any evidence of strategic thinking by Milliband/Labour only a pathetic obsession with scoring short -term victories & next mornings headlines.
    There will be a whole series of results from this vote & I cant see how any of them help Labour in the long run.

  • I am a republican by inclination, the case for an unelected Head of State seems to me to be facile and goes against everything I regard as ‘democratic’. Acccording to the Concise Oxford Dictionary “a republic is a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives…….”. What we saw Thursday evening was the British parliament exerting its legitemately-held power in the name of the people. That sounds rather lofty, but to me it is not. Thursday evening was an example the people’s elected representatives showing their power in republican fashion, in a way that does not happen (but should) in many ‘republics’. Notably the USA. To me this adds credence to the decription of Britain as a ‘republic with a monarch’.

  • May I make a suggestion ?

    Instead of mocking the appearance of Miliband, why don’t you ask the LibDem MPs why they didn’t back the governments motion ?

    The first division was for the Labour amendment. If you’re so convinced that Labours amendment was the same as the govt motion, every MP would surely have voted for it. Surely you’re not trying to claim that party politics prevented them from voting for the amendment ? Such hypocrisy !

    That so many LibDem and Tory MPs didn’t even vote for the govt motion suggests that it was flawed but instead of trying to get to the bottom of that, some commentators prefer to mock the appearance of their opponents. Lets remember that opponents oppose. The polling done prior to the vote showed that the public did not want bombs being dropped on the Syrians by our govt forces.

  • @paul barker

    I think you are just plain wrong Paul and exhibiting the worse kind of tribal politics, which the Libdems used to condemn.

    What a difference a term in Government can do to a party.

    Maybe you could tell us Paul, what was your opinion of the Governments motion?

    Given the flimsy evidence that the government produced, were you happy with the first part of the Governments motion which stated
    “Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;
    Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law; Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on savings lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons”

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 31st Aug '13 - 4:07pm

    “Hand on heart, I really do not believe that Milliband was being strategic or playing party politics on this matter.”

    Matt, I certainly don’t think he was playing party politics. I believe he was as sincere as you say he was. His genius lay in holding his party together. There were many potential rebels who would have split the labour vote if no amendment had been introduced. If the government had won on their motion the labour party would have been characterised as having been split and divided over Syria and again Ed would have been characterised as weak. What he did so brilliantly was provide an amendment that reflected the labour party’s reasonable concerns and misgivings as well as the country’s and gave most Labour MPs a default position and something to rally around. When it was lost, as presumably Ed thought it would be, this left the way clear for all non-rebellious Labour MPs ,including himself , to join the Labour rebels and legitimately refuse to support the Government motion without attracting obloquy for doing so. I think that Ed was as surprised as anybody at the number of Tory and Liberal democrat rebels who cared no more for bombing Syria this weekend than Labour did. The result was that Labour remained united in their opposition to Cameron and Clegg’s motion, the motion was lost and the Tories and the Lib Dems looked weak and divided. Cameron and Clegg were humiliated. The good sense of the House of Commons prevailed. Some credit must be given to those Lib Dem and Tory MPs who stopped Cameron and Clegg in their tracks. Ed Milliband has a head as well as a heart: indispensable qualities for a statesman. By keeping his party united he achieved a remarkable victory. Neither Cameron nor Clegg could keep their parties united, which is why they went down to defeat.
    As for the rest of your post I find myself in complete agreement with it.

  • Paul Pettinger 31st Aug '13 - 6:03pm

    Extraordinary – after everything that has happened our ‘Westminster Insider’ still tries to blames Labour. You can fool some of the people all of the time, and they are the ones you really need to focus on.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 31st Aug '13 - 6:16pm

    But he did achieve his preferred policy which was to stop Britain’s military action against Syria this weekend. I believe that he was sincere in putting forward the amendment which would have stopped the bombing of Syria this weekend and would not have affected the principle of intervention. It wasn’t Ed’s fault that the Tories and the Lib Dems rejected it. Again, bad politics by Cameron and Clegg. By rejecting the amendment , which did not rule out intervention,they gave their rebels no option but to vote against the substantive motion, Surely the Tory and Lib Dem whips must have known they had so many rebels? Their defeat and humiliation was the consequence of Ed holding his party together, not party politics. If Labour had split the substantive motion would have carried.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 31st Aug '13 - 6:19pm

    The above reply was to Joe Otten

  • @Joe Otten

    Can you please explain to me, what was wrong with Labors amendment?

    Now in my opinion, the amendment put forward by the opposition, called for a more measured approach, to seek more clarification on evidence, which lets face it, was not entirely conclusive in the evidence that was given by the government.
    A clear majority of the British public was not convinced or ready to endorse military intervention.

    The Government knew that they did not have the full support of their own parties, many Tory MP’s expressed this. Indeed many ended up voting against the governments motion and many more did not turn up to vote at all.

    The Government knew well in advance that Labor were not going to support the governments motion, so it stood to reason that the motion was at severe risk.

    So why knowing how the British public felt, knowing that the government did not have full support from their own benches.
    Why would they not vote for the oppositions amendment? What possible sense did it make not to vote for an amendment that would have alleviated a lot of the public’s genuine concerns.
    I am intrigued

  • Also, remember all week, we had Hague going all Gun-Ho talking of military action, before any evidence had been released from the Government, Cameron was doing the same and all backed up by Clegg.

    There was even talk of having a weekend sitting of parliament for the 2nd vote, like which happened with the Falklands. All indications coming out of the government, was like they wanted to rush everything through so in order to start a bombing raid by the end of the weekend.

    All this rush rush talk was before the slightest piece of evidence was presented to parliament.

    Is it really any wonder that many MP’s from all sides of the house had their reservations about this.

    What the opposition motion intended to do, was to put a break on the Gun-Ho mentality and address the reservations that the people of this country had, which in my opinion was entirely the right thing to do.

  • Paul in Twickenham 31st Aug '13 - 9:00pm

    As of 8pm the Cyprus government has declared that no strikes against Syria may be launched from Cyprus territory. What has caused this decision? It would seem that Cyprus (which you will recall was essentially wiped out by the EU earlier this year) has a 2.5 billion euro loan from Russia. Russia has agreed to reduce the interest on that loan from 4.5% to 2.5% and to delay the start of repayment. In exchange, Cyprus has agreed… The machinations are making me dizzy.

  • @Jedibeeftrix. More mighty in what respect……. Militarily? –The USA (by a long way), Russia, China and India. Economically? – The USA (by a very long way),
    China, Japan, Germany, France and Brazil. Land mass? – Russia, Antarctica, Canada, China, USA and then 77 other countries larger than the United Kingdom.
    Population? Well the UK is 22nd in the world in terms of population. ………… But I will suggest that we can be mighty good (relative to the rest of the world) when
    it comes to democracy.

  • Obama would not have gone to congress without the result in the Commons. Our influence in the world has increased.

  • The most interesting figure from tonight Survation poll on Syria was that 55% of those polled didn’t even trust Cameron/Clegg’s judgement judgement over whether Assad was even responsible for recent chemical weapons attacks.

  • Tony Greaves 1st Sep '13 - 12:08am

    ” Westminster Insider works within parliament”

    Cleaning the toilets perhaps. (Not that it isn’t a vital job that someone has to do).


  • Clear Thinker 1st Sep '13 - 12:40am

    … whereas being a Lord isn’t a job that we should support at all. Even toilet cleaners can think, write, form logical arguments. Will we ever get to the depths of this pool of contempt for the ordinary working person?

  • David Allen 1st Sep '13 - 1:16am

    Too much fevered imagination on all sides here. It wasn’t a shambles by Miliband, it wasn’t a coup by Miliband. And above all there wasn’t a majority for military action.

    Cameron had been repeatedly rowing back, making it two sequential votes rather than one vote because he saw he would lose if he just had one vote. Miliband was rowing back, having almost committed himself to support Cameron, then realised the growing feeling in his own party would not accept that.

    Cameron said that the first of his two votes would not settle the matter, so his sceptic MPs should support it. The sceptics recognised that it was a softening-up tactic and turned against it.

    Cock-up ruled, not conspiracy. But in the end the right thing was done. We will not rush into a blunder. Neither will Obama. Thanks to the lesson learned from our parliamentary democracy. Decent people, thinking about real lives and not about stupid party games, voted the right way.

  • Paul In Twickenham 1st Sep '13 - 8:07am

    @moggy- I agree with your quotation marks “Cyprus government” since they appear to have neither fiscal nor military jurisdiction over their own country.

    @jedi – absolutely, the UK base areas are excluded from the Cypriot government’s ruling. But it creates an unwelcome complexity if the bases are being used for missions that are expressly forbidden by the Cypriot government on their own sovereign territory.

    The Russians have an agenda in improving the terms of the loan, and that agenda is not driven by altruism. The big boys are playing their games by proxy – business as usual.

  • Tony Harwood 1st Sep '13 - 9:48am

    Thankfully there was Lib Dem gold on show at yesterday’s London demonstration against Western military intervention in the sectarian chaos of the Syrian civil war (and for meaningful even handed drive for peace through the UN without regime change pre-conditions). There were also many Syrians with experiences of this civil war which the British establishment / BBC neglect to acknowledge as they re-double their efforts to undo Thursday night’s historic Parliamentary Syria vote, and seek once again to pour fuel onto the tragic Levantine conflagration to – advance wider regional aims.

    The struggle to re-set the UK default intervention on Middle Eastern crises of cruise missiles, bombs and depleted uranium munitions to constructive peace-building through the UN is still not won. Liberal Democrats must do everything in their power to break this tragic cycle of self-defeating neo-imperialist gun boat diplomacy in the region. Sadly, Paddy has become the self appointed figure-head of the war lobby and other Lib Dem opinions are being drowned-out (particularly on the characteristically strident pro-establishment BBC, which thankfully has a waning influence over public opinion – even with ironc images of Iraq purported to be Syria). Our more thoughtful senior party figures (particularly in the Lords) need to ensure that more moderate and constructive voices are heard by the public.

  • Bill le Breton 1st Sep '13 - 11:28am

    Paul in T – the use of loans – all very reminiscent of the way finance packages by France were used to lever Serbia away from Austria-Hungary , and by Germany to lever Bulgaria away from accord with Russian – and the effects these had on weakening Austria-Hungary and and increasing the bellicosity of Russia UK ally) in the months before 1914.

    The German finance package was passed by the Bulgarian parliament on the 16th July 1914, 12 days before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

  • Bill le Breton 1st Sep '13 - 11:42am

    Who is quizzing the military on the possible consequences of what our leader in his letter to the party still insists on describing as ‘targeted’ military action – even though Russia ships have stationed themselves in a position to provide Damascus with both intelligence of missile launches and a capability to interfere with US naval communications/command and control of weapons.

    Am I right in recalling that we do not have a party representative in the Ministry of Defence? We may yet come to realize that we have paid a huge price ( by sacrificing Nick Harvey ) in order to get David Laws back into Government.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Sep '13 - 12:27pm

    @Joe Otten
    This sounds very much like the usual Lib Dem -Tory position: i.e., if Labour win the argument accuse them of playing party politics.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Sep '13 - 12:27pm

    @Joe Otten
    This sounds very much like the usual Lib Dem -Tory position: i.e., if Labour win the argument accuse them of playing party politics.

  • Richard Dean 1st Sep '13 - 1:39pm

    jedibeeftrix’s point is well taken. Now that Obama has given us all time to reflect, would LDV be interested in running a competition to find the best ideas on how to move forward? It would be easy to do – just make the question the subject one of the articles by “The Voice”.

    There might be several prizes. One might be for the best overall description of the current situation. One for the best strategy on Syria in particular. One for the more general questions of whether and how an international community might effectively enforce the Chemical Weapons Convention and other aspects of international law?

    I don’t know what principles might be used to judge entries. “Best” might mean “accurate” and/or “comprehensive” and/or “un-biased”. Evidently one would not want to embark on courses of action that are not based on realities, or which would obviously be ineffective or counter-productive.

  • David White 1st Sep '13 - 1:49pm

    Milishambles? No, certainly not. To suggest that is to deny the complete incompetence of the frightful Flashman. The PM failed completely to gauge the true mood of his OldCon back-benchers. He and/or his people failed to maintain close contact with NewLab over the possibility of changing feelings amongst MiliBean’s flock.

    Then the Head ToryBoy lost his temper and began to stamp his dainty foot in frustration because Santa Claus hadn’t delivered the desired toys (lots of bombers and missiles winging their ways to kill yet more Syrian civilians). In fact, since the blitz civilians (or not) debate, ‘Call Me Dave’ has behaved more like Violet Elizabeth Bott than Flashy: ‘If you won’t let me, Willum, I’ll thcream and thcream and thcream until I’m thick; and I can you know.’

    Has the UK ever had a more feeble PM? I dunno, though I can’t think of one, and even the ConDem backbenchers seem to feel the same.

    What is worrying is that some our (alleged) party leaders are still willing to trudge through the Yes Lobbies in support of a Mega-Loser. Why? The more these people illuminate any genuine differences they have from the OldCon socio-political and economic extremists, the better will be their chances of retaining their seats – and of salving at least some respect from the truly liberal majority of our great political party.

    Yet again, I apologise for any typos caused by my fast-developing cataracts. It’ll be months and months before the newly-privatised NHS will be able to help this enfeebled geriatric!

    Flashy isn’t even fit to be MP for an unimportant corner of rural Oxon, where most of his ‘kitchen supper’ chums have been arrested and charged with heinous crimes, let alone PM of a nation which I feel could still be great.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Sep '13 - 2:16pm

    @David White.
    Cameron couldn’t even pass the winning post at the General Election despite all the help of his friends in the media, including the Guardian. He should now resign immediately. If Gordon Brown had lost such an important vote you can bet every two bit pundit in the land, especially those at the BBC would be screaming for his head. But why should the media scream for Cameron’s head when his pal Osborne has handed them such huge tax breaks?

  • Side from the Syria issue which is uncomfortable on both sides. Events of the last week should serve as a warning shot should Liberal Democrats ever be in a position to be negotiating a coalition with Labour. They are likely to play as dirty as possible.

  • It beggars belief that Liberal Democrat Voice should be castigating Ed Milliband for his action on Syria. It is clear that Milliband has represented the will of the people, unlike Cameron and Clegg. It was sickening to watch Clegg sitting nodding agreement to Cameron’s every word during the Commons debate. It is clear that most Liberal Democrat MP’s in Parliament are willing to continue to prostitute themselves to the Tory’s, no matter what their former principles were. I don’t think the public will forget come the next election.

  • So let’s see, the way things went approximately…

    Dave on holls receives a phone call from Barack about Syria; Dave agrees with the Barack on the phone and believes he can deliver, after the call ends Dave contacts William whose staff arranges for a TV slot Monday morning to prepare the public and country, John has been informed they may need MPs back to parliament early.

    Monday the BBC Today show William does his bit.

    Tuesday the BBC Today show Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander warns, against the will of parliament being ignored, later that day Dave informs the world by tweet that Britain was planning Syria action 12:30 ish I believe. Speaker agrees parliament to be recalled.

    NOTE…Not considering action but planning action.

    Tuesday just after tweet I guess

    No 10 arranges a meeting at 3pm with the opposition office to see Mr Milliband
    So Mr Milliband and Mr Alexander joined Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg and Mr Hague (and I presume a secretary or two to keep notes, not sure)

    Mr Milliband and party had a list of questions
    US evidence of attack, Legal authority for action, concerns for escalation, the role of the UN
    Robust exchanges apparently, with Mr Cameron saying there can be a “UN moment in New York”.
    The meeting lasted 45 minutes and closed on the understanding the parties would talk again

    Mr Milliband called No10 twice Tuesday evening
    1 about UN inspectors and why parliament needed evidence
    2 about Security Council issues
    Mr Cameron apparently listened but said little…

    Another tweet to say PM had submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council
    “all necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria.

    Note… remember Libya no fly resolution had those same words, and no way was that going to be passed again.
    Same day Ban Ki-moon pleaded for more time… 4 days

    Another meeting arranged with the same people from both parties where Mr Cameron presented Mr Milliband with the governments draft resolution for Thursday vote, no evidence from US presented.(expected the opposition to support)
    Mr Milliband said there needed to be more than a UN moment and a concern over international law, no agreement reached.
    Mr Milliband discussed with shadow cabinet and Labour decides to table an amendment, 5 pm Mr Milliband calls Mr Cameron with details of the amendment, the conversation was heated with Mr Cameron apparently accusing Labour of letting America down and siding with Lavrov (Russian foreign minister).

    Within two hours the government released a revised motion for vote on Thursday, the whips warned No 10 there would be difficulties.
    We know the outcome of said votes… who is playing who

  • I haven’t read all the comments but it seems that Nick Clegg has two options if he is serious that Lib Dems are centralists. I don’t think we are but let’s follow the plot. The options for centralists is to build political bridges with parties on either side of the so-called centre – that includes Tories and Labour but also any smaller parties.

    As so-called centralists we should never be sucked into facing one way but listen to the opposition too. I am tired of being in a government which follows the Cameron path because the PM has no principles we can recognise as tried by party members, party conference, party in parliament. Cameron doesn’t know his own party so how can Clegg take Lib Dems into the Cameron Neverland? I am warming to the Miliband brand as it seems more intelligent than Clegg can ever muster unless he starts looking both ways and listening to his own party and OUR principles. The big mistake in government is to win a vote against your own principles. Winning that will lead to losing millions of your voters.

    Why would any Lib Dem vote take out our anger for wrongs done on innocent women and children? On interventions a party has to consider every nuance which does the opposite to what was intended. Is Nick up to the task?

  • @Joe

    I am sorry, I just do not get your reasoning at all.

    I think we both agreed that the opposition amendment, though it could be argued as being similar, the language in the oppositions amendment was more measured and careful language in pinning accusations before the full facts had been established.
    This seems to me perfectly reasonable considering the countries apprehensions at the time.
    There was also wide spread skepticism from the governments own benches in the governments motion and a lot of Tories expressed this publicly.
    On that basis it stood to reason that the governments motion was at risk of failing, especially because Labor had declared their position the day previously, that they were not going to support the Governments motion.

    Surely then it would have made sense for the Tories and the Liberal Democrats to support the oppositions amendment, as this would have ensured that the government would secure the 2nd vote and they would have been following the path that they intended to follow anyway “allegedly”

    Why do you believe it was not right for the government to support an oppositions amendment?

  • Richard Dean 1st Sep '13 - 8:31pm

    But, @jedibeeftrix, it’s not just a matter of military capability, it’s also a matter of willingness to use it.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 1st Sep '13 - 10:46pm

    @ Joe Otten

    I’m sorry, I thought I had responded. I really don’t think that there’s anything more that I can add because you do not seem to accept that the motion was lost because insufficient coalition MPs could bring themselves to vote for it. All that Ed did was to ensure that if Labour’s amendment was rejected then all of the PLP would vote down the original motion. Ed gave the House options: Cameron gave them none. Nor was Cameron willing to compromise in order to gain a concensus of the House. That’s why he should resign.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 2nd Sep '13 - 7:22am

    @Joe Otten

    On fuirther reflection it seems to me that what you are suggesting is that Labour MPs should have voted for an original motion they didn’t approve of and couldn’t support (their vote for the amendment showed that) in order to prove that hey were not playing “party politics”. Further, that the orginal motion’s defeat had nothing to do with the fact that a substantial group of Coalition MPs and ministers couldn’t bring themselves vote for their own side’s motion on a matter of the gravest enormity. Either those ministers should resign or Cameron should or they all should. But from Labour’s point of view Cameron is such a liability for the Tories it might be better if he remained in office.

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