Britain joins the fight
Overnight the RAF undertook its first air strikes, with Tornadoes taking off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to hit oil installations in eastern Syria. The vote decided, the Ministry of Defence wasted no time in making its operational dispositions, lest the fragile politics of strikes shift again. In the end the Government won by a convincing margin, taking with them almost 70 Labour MPs and several of the smaller parties. The true hero of the hour appears to have been Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, whose barnstorming speech in the closing minutes of the debate won him cross-party applause in the House of Commons, as his boss Jeremy Corbyn sat tight-lipped next to him. Whilst in the end Corbyn was able to command the support of the majority of the party and the Shadow Cabinet, this almost seemed to be in spite of his leadership, and social media was quick to suggest Hilary Benn’s chances of succeeding Corbyn had increased.
Recriminations over the lost vote continue today, with graphic rebukes being thrown at Labour MPs by left wingers who opposed action. Despite a UN resolution and the Archbishop of Canterbury – not a natural warmonger – calling this a ‘just war’, the left are displaying a curious shared characteristic with their sister left-wingers - the so-called ‘cybernats’ of the Scottish independence referendum – in using threats and abuse against those who disagree with them. The leadership of the Labour Party, to their credit, have distanced themselves from such attacks, though that did not stop Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell from putting a dig into Benn this morning that beautiful oratory was what had carried the day when ‘Tony Blair took us into an illegal war in Iraq’, thus implying the Shadow Foreign Secretary was in his view following a similar pattern.
So now the Prime Minister has won approval to bomb, but it was clear from the 11 hours of debate yesterday that he has been given a twin licence to both increase military pressure and seek a diplomatic solution to the mess. David Cameron will have been left under no illusion that this action must not happen in isolation from attempts to win peace for Syria, and must not go the way of Libya when the people there were left to their own devices after Gaddafi’s downfall. The negotiations will undoubtedly be long and tortuous, and there’s no guarantee that opponents of action will not seize on any stalling in the process to renege on Britain’s obligations. The Prime Minister, for his part, will now feel that at least he can play a full part in that process, knowing he and Britain are sharing the burden of our allies.