Stephan Shakespeare is a founder and global CEO of YouGov. Follow Stephan on Twitter.
A few weeks ago the British Prime Minister indicated to the American President that he would provide support for action against Syria - and recalled Parliament for approval. The vote went against him, and the course of history was at least slightly deflected: the military action did not take place when intended, and the President has himself gone on to seek broader approval before committing to action, creating a potentially important precedent for the future in this type of case (neither Clinton nor Obama sought Congressional approval for air strikes against Iraq in 1996 or 1998, in Kosovo in 1999 or Libya in 2011).
David Cameron had expected to win the vote, if narrowly. All sorts of things might have affected the outcome - a YouGov opinion poll was widely credited with being prime among them. On August 28th, the day before the vote, the front page of The Sun read “Brits say no to war in Syria” and citing “the first poll on the new crisis”, showing a ratio of two to one against missile strikes. The front page of The Times featured the same poll, saying that it “suggests that voters overwhelmingly oppose… the use of British missiles against missile sites inside Syria.” It was also carried in the Daily Mail and The Independent , including data comparing the case made for the 2003 invasion of Iraq with the case for intervention in Syria.
Stephen Tall is the Co-Editor of LibDem Voice. Follow Stephen on Twitter.
The first time I wrote for ConservativeHome, in March 2012, I asked the simple question, “Why don’t people like me vote Conservative?”
"I dislike big government, and support a low-tax, free enterprise economy. I believe competition is a key driver of public service reform, and am relaxed about private sector involvement in the delivery of health and education so long as the principle of "free to all at the point of use" prevails. And I think the state has no business intruding into our private lives, whether to keep tabs on citizens or to legislate against our lifestyle choices. I should be the sort of voter a modern Conservative Party would want to appeal to. And yet to me, and to many who share the same principles, the idea of voting for the Tories is completely off-limits. Why?"
I want to return to that question. I’m an economic and social liberal. For me, the (in)famous Rose Garden press conference in May 2010 was a genuinely exciting political event. Written off today as a moment of madness, for me it showed the radical possibilities of coalition government, bringing together two different parties with enough of a shared agenda. Read the original Programme for Government and the scope of its ambition still impresses.
But we all know what happened next. Buffeted by events, not least the worst economic downturn in a century, the Coalition’s founding purpose has drifted. Activists in both parties will shed few tears if it dies a death in 2015.
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008. Follow Garvan on Twitter.
“A small country that nobody listens to.” The unnamed Russian official stung David Cameron where it hurts most: in his national pride. This Prime Minister – often attacked for having only the most superficial grasp of the very idea of a principle; a man for whom ideas carry a nasty whiff of those twin Tory monsters, the Left and the Continent; a gentleman whose favourite predecessor is reported to have been the decidedly low key Lord Derby – has begun to develop a taste for foreign adventure that owes more to Gladstone than Metternich.
His has grown out of a very different sensibility than that which underlies globalist doctrines of humanitarian war (it is indeed about as far from the formerly Marxist New York-Jewish intellectuals of the New School for Social Research, who became famous as neo-conservatives, as it is possible to imagine in a modern democracy). Indeed, he dismissed their universal ideas as dropping democracy from a plane at “40,000 feet”. Rather, he feels that Britain should stand up for the week against the strong, be on the side of the good against the big battalions, and should still count for something in this world. In this he owes more to Boy’s Own and the basic decency immortalised by Richmal Crompton than the rarefied pages of Commentary. Thus his engaging, if undignified, impersonation of Hugh Grant that’s now been set to patriotic music by a thousand bloggers.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is meeting this week for their 2013 Congress. As usual, we will hear union leaders and delegates reel off the same old dogmatic speeches demanding more public spending, higher taxes and an end to austerity. Their agenda and list of motions for debate offer nothing original. Sounding like a 50 year old broken record, Unite is demanding “mass industrial action to oppose the cuts”, the PCS wants “a co-ordinated programme of industrial action and civil disobedience”, and the RMT are pushing for a “general strike.” The fantasy of millions of workers refusing to work and losing money is an addiction that some just cannot kick.
Union barons who love the sound of their own voice will take to stage and erupt with emotion and passion as they call for workers to rise up against the Government and crush capitalism. They will turn a blind eye to the 1.3 million new jobs in the private sector in favour of demands for more equalities officers, NHS managers and other wasteful non-jobs in the public sector.
There are also motions opposing the Government’s much needed health, education and welfare reforms as well as demands for an end to Royal Mail privatisation and for the railways to be re-nationalised. The vested interests of individual trade unions are also clear for all to see. The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, for example, believe that the nation’s economic, health and poverty problems can be addressed by more spending on podiatrists, while Equity want more money ploughed into local theatres. In addition, we will hear claims from union leaders about companies and the wealthy dodging taxes. But when the PCS union’s own financial report discloses that they hold equities in Vodafone while their leader, Mark Serwotka, hypocritically backs the UK Uncut anti-Vodafone protests, and the GMB’s tax affairs are being looked into by HMRC, their arguments on tax-dodging have no credibility.
This week I have been chairing three panels for the Daily Telegraph with the aim of compiling the Top 100 people on the right, left and the Top 50 Liberal Democrats, all of which will, as usual, be published during the three party conferences. Yes, snigger all you like about the latter. I usually do too. The biggest challenge is to actually find 50 LibDems to choose from.
The panellists are a mixture of MPs, activists and commentators, and believe me, the discussions can become very heated indeed. On the Tory panel there was a particularly spirited discussion about whether Maria Miller should be promoted from 78 in last year’s list. One of the MPs was adamant that she deserved a massive promotion on the basis of her performances at the Despatch Box. “I’ve watched her perform really well with shitty briefs,” she said. After a moment of stunned silence in which we all took time to contemplate the implications of that statement, we all corpsed. “What have I said?” asked the MP in all innocence.
One of the other panellists, an MP’s researcher, proceeded to irritate us all with her precocious certainty about her opinions, interrupting everyone at every possible opportunity. “The Home Office gave me a prison,” she said at one point. “No,” I said. “They built a prison in your MP’s constituency.” But that wasn’t the end of it. It was all about her. It was when she blithely told one of the other panellists he was shit at his job that I am afraid I let my irritation show. “Blimey,” I said to one of the MPs at the end of the meeting. “She’s like what Liz Truss would be like after half an hour on a crack pipe.” She’ll go far.
By Mark Wallace
Follow Mark on Twitter.
Conservatism is a complex thing. It is either not an ideology at all, or a meld of ideas containing numerous internal contradictions, depending on your preference. What other movement can have absorbed both the driving entrepreneurialism of the industrial revoluion and the romantic opposition to it - simultaneously embracing the progress brought by "dark satanic mills" and the romantic view of the English rural village?
Anne McElvoy's Radio 4 series this week, "British Conservatism: The Grand Tour", seeks to explore the evolution (emphatically not the construction) of a creed that celebrates and tries to reconcile such potentially conflicting ideas.
It's fitting that such contrasts within one tradition of political thought should also have a geographically conflicting heritage. The North-South divide has always been with us (William the Conqueror was sowing the North with salt almost a millennium ago, while merrily introducing French courtly customs to the South) - what is interesting in the case of Conservatism is the way that divide has affected our political geography.
While nowadays Conservatives agonise about how to appeal in the North of England, McElvoy points out that many of the ideas and approaches traditionally associated with small-c conservatism evolved in Northern settings. The broad brush stereotype that the home counties are Thatcherite and everywhere north of Watford is socialist would have horrified 19th century aristocrats who disliked free trade as much as it would have annoyed the skilled, Conservative workers of many a Midlands industrial town.
Britain isn't the only country to have seen such changes in its political geography, of course. The Democrats, now painting tracts of the northern USA blue, once dominated the South, while Lincoln led a Republican North against the states which are now solid supporters of his party.
McElvoy has pointed out in the previews of her series that, while continental elites feared the power of the masses in the 19th Century, and invited revolution by trying to suppress democracy, British Conservatives extended the franchise and worked out ways to take their message to the new middle classes and the urban industrial workers.
Perhaps this was informed by the experience of the English Civil War, creating a willingness to work with the grain rather than against it in order to avoid a violent eruption. Far better to harness the new to strengthen the nation, than to have every element of the old swept away.
Wherever the instinct came from, it has proved to help ensure political survival. When Marx sat in London, writing intellectual works about how the people would sweep away the old order, Conservatives were exploring ideas to reduce the cost of living, improve working conditions and develop community ties in the industrial cities.
This period was crucial to the development of a Northern Conservatism. Yes, there were sectarian divides which allied working class Protestants opposed to Irish Home Rule to the Conservative Party, but the campaign went far beyond that. Church, monarchy, industry, nation, family, hard work and the concept of what we now call property-owning democracy all combined into a heady mix which ensured that Marx's revolution never came to pass and the Conservatives would dominate electorally for much of the next 150 years.
The concepts of class driving these political changes were quite confused at the time. We now look back on the middle of the 19th Century as the era which gave birth to the middle class - comfortably off, hardworkers who aspire to own their homes.
For Disraeli, the middle class were greedy profiteers, a slim but powerful layer almost as wealthy as the nobility but lacking the noblesse oblige he longed to see restored. He saw the new form of the world as an unjust, binary monstrosity, writing in his novel Sybil of the dream of there one day being "some resting place between luxury and misery".
He was nostalgic for what he believed was the place of ordinary workers in a feudal village that had in the agrarian Middle Ages, something he feared was being destroyed by industrialisation. We may know today that most feudal peasants experienced short, unpleasant lives, but he believed they had lived in relative comfort, with a true place and part to play in their community. What he described was today's middle class - what he thought he was describing was something altogether different.
Few things could better typify the internal contradictions of conservatism than a Prime Minister who worked to create a ladder into the new middle class while believing he was simply restoring a mythical state of feudal yemoanry. He may not have been an enthusiast for suburban terraces funded by factory smokestacks (it was left to his Liberal rival Gladstone to praise booming Middlesbrough as England's "infant Hercules"), but he bolstered a middle class that was inherently tied to both, regardless of his intentions.
Anne McElovy's excellent series still has two six episodes to go, at 1.45 on weekdays on Radio 4. Hopefully she will use them to explore how the Tory appeal to skilled, aspirant workers developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, but even if not, this is an insightful BBC series without the sneering often seen in Auntie's coverage of Conservatives.
While her series is a history, like all good history it reflects on the present.
It is undeniable that the 21st century Conservatives have a brand problem in large parts of the North of England, but electoral failure masks a small-c conservative culture.
Consider the following broadly conservative values: work should pay more than benefits; straight talking is better than political correctness; immigration might be nice for the well-off but it can negatively affect poorer workers; an economy based on manufacturing is preferable to an economy based on the offerings of lifestyle consultants; experts and elites often pursue trendy hobby horses which cost ordinary people a fortune; taxes are a rip-off.
Now consider them geographically. Many of these ideas would go down badly at an Islington dinner party. Plenty of them are inextricably linked to Northern cultures - the no-nonsense Yorkshireman, the great manufacturing towns of the Midlands and so on. There is an audience for such ideas - that can be seen in the fact that Mrs Thatcher still has positive approval ratings in every region outside of Scotland, and in UKIP's performance in a series of northern by-elections.
The future of the Conservative Party will be dictated in large part by whether it can broaden its appeal beyond its current heartlands. Its past shows not only that it is possible, but contains some hints as to how it might be done.
Greg Clark is Financial Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Tunbridge Wells. Follow Greg on Twitter.
Home ownership in Britain fell during the last decade for the first time in nearly 100 years. This is despite the fact most people still aspire to own their own home. It is an understandable aspiration: a well-supplied home rental market is important for choice and mobility, but home ownership brings the guarantee that you won’t be uprooted because the landlord gives notice, a valuable source of confidence and stability for many families. It’s one of the reasons why Conservatives from Harold Macmillan through Margaret Thatcher to David Cameron have tried to do what they can to help people fulfil this aspiration.
Simplifying the planning laws to remove national targets and giving councils the responsibility to plan for the homes their local community needs is improving the supply of homes. The number of new homes given planning permission has risen by 22 per cent since the National Planning Policy Framework was published last year.
But even so, thousands of people who could afford a mortgage don’t get the chance to own their own home because deposits required by lenders have increased since the financial crisis. In some parts of the country it can take a couple on average earnings ten years of saving to be able to afford a deposit for a house or flat, and for single people longer.
Help to Buy, the Government scheme to assist homebuyers with deposits is designed to address this recent obstacle to home ownership. If a homebuyer can provide a 5% equity deposit the Government will act as a guarantor on the next 15% of the property value.
Some people have worried that providing a route to providing a property with only 5% equity is too small a buffer to withstand any future turbulence in the housing market, in the light of the experience of negative equity in the early 1990s, and the rash lending policies of banks before the crisis.
But there is a vital difference between Help to Buy and the riskier mortgages of the recent past. Every Help to Buy mortgage is required to be taken out on a repayment basis, rather than interest-only. At the height of the boom, many banks advanced interest-only mortgages without any record of a repayment vehicle being in place. This makes a huge difference. For a property at the average UK price of £242,000 a Help to Buy mortgage taken out with a 5% deposit will, through repayments, have built up to a 11% equity share – even if house prices are totally flat – after three years, and a 16% equity share after five years. In subsequent years, the increase in equity accelerates as, typically, more capital is repaid in the later years of a repayment mortgage.
This critical requirement for repayment means that Help to Buy embodies, in effect, a savings scheme that builds to a substantial equity stake – and a buffer against future turbulence that is rapidly established.
In fact, Help to Buy, by reducing the deposit required to 5% and requiring a prudent repayment, is very similar to a scheme operated by Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government, as this extract from the 1961 Which? Guide to Home Ownership shows:
Welsh teachers ‘demoralised’ by assessment and reform
According to a poll by the Times Educational Supplement, three quarters of teachers and head teachers in Wales disapproved of reforms brought in by the Labour administration there. One head described the sorting schools into bands by results (which sounds like a sort of vague, compromise-style league table) as “worse than a waste of time”. Teachers also objected to the introduction of standardised tests in mathematics and English to allow for accurate progress comparisons.
According to TES Welsh reporter Darren Evans, quoted by the BBC, “the "overwhelming message" from the survey was "listen to us, trust us, we're the experts - just let us teach".”
There’s a reason the Welsh government isn’t going to do that, though.
To find it, look no further than this article from the Economist’s Bagehot column published last March. It’s generally a rollicking attack on some leftist pandering Clegg indulged in at the Liberal Democrat Welsh conference, but one section on Labour’s legacy on Welsh education really stands out. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the gist:
In 2001 Welsh Labour, looking for an alternative to England’s nasty and ‘consumerist’ education policy, scrapped league tables. The result:
“Welsh exam results fell so precipitously during the Labour era that academics from elsewhere flocked to the principality to investigate what had gone wrong. They discovered not a funding gap but a man-made crisis triggered by Welsh politicians, who bowed to bullying from teachers' unions and scrapped examination league tables.”
The full article is well worth reading in full, as it quotes extensively from one of those academic surveys. Since league tables were the only portion of the pre-devolution education system that had changed at the time, England and Wales essentially served as a controlled experiment on the virtues of publishing school data and letting parents make informed decisions.
Controlling for all other variables – including the usual excuses like resource disparity – the Welsh disaster was laid square at the feet of the decision to render educators completely unaccountable to their consumers. As Bagehot put it: “Trust me, in education and public sector reform circles, the self-inflicted Welsh education debacle is famous, the stuff of dinner-table conversation.”
It’s good to see the Welsh government has started to take steps to put power back into the hands of parents and make education provision more transparent – uncomfortable as that may be for some of the providers.
An independent Scotland would ‘not have rejected military action’ in Syria
You read that right. According to Alex Salmond, an independent Scotland would not have ducked out of taking action on Syria as the UK has done. The fact that an independent Scotland would have avoided getting caught up in ‘Blair’s wars’ is also an SNP talking point, so they’ll have to forgive us finding this new hawkishness surprising.
Of course, reading further into it reveals that the tough talk isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be. The SNP backed a Labour amendment that did not rule out further action via the UN, but the Conservatives tabled a similar amendment which means that whilst parliament may have voted both down, the sentiment clearly carries the endorsement of most of the UK Commons.
Moreover, since an independent Scotland is apparently going to have a ‘Defence Force’ rather than an army and a fairly miniscule defence budget, the unstated fact is that an independent Scotland might have had an easier time voting for ‘action’ on Syria because there would be considerably less riding on it.
Unless I’ve completely misread Scotland’s post-Union defence situation, there’s no real risk that it will have to send troops anywhere except as part of a UN taskforce or a vast coalition. The UK, on the other hand, has one of the world’s largest defence budgets and globally-capable Armed Forces which are capable of being a genuinely useful partner to the US military in any theatre of operations.
It is this that, as David Blair put it for the Telegraph, elevates us above other Western countries in American eyes – at least until recently – and it means that when the UK votes for ‘action’ it faces the serious prospect of having to put its money where its mouth is. Salmond can claim that Scotland would “work with our allies to help the victims of conflicts, contribute to conflict resolution and ensure that war criminals are brought before the international criminal court”, but he’s basing that claim on his party supporting an amendment that keeps on the table the option of sending the British army into Syria – the one option independence would certainly deny him.
Upcoming election cycle ‘most important since 1998’ for Northern Ireland
Alex Kane, a commentator for Belfast’s Newsletter, provides an interesting analysis of the upcoming major cycle of elections due across the UK in the next three years – local government and Europe in 2014, Westminster in 2015 and devolved in 2016 – which covers each of the Province’s myriad parties.
The most important trend is that, whilst ‘green’/nationalist politics seems to be solidifying around Sinn Fein, the pro-Union side is fracturing into lots of competing alternatives – great for voter choice, but opens the (still somewhat remote) possibility of SF overtaking the Democratic Unionists as the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would have a truly seismic effect on politics there, although not because it would make a united Ireland any more likely (the border poll guarantee prevents the decision being made as a result of a fluke election).
Kane thinks that this will likely be the ‘last hurrah’ for the once-dominant UUP and SDLP, with the latter increasingly hard to tell apart from SF and neither really carving out a distinctive case to put to the electorate compared to their larger rivals. Meanwhile the Alliance Party are pitched against NI21 for control of the ‘nice’ pro-Union vote. The NI Conservatives are dismissed as “to all intents and purposes, dead”. Alas.
The number of children growing up in poverty is 1.5 million higher now than in 1973, shows research by the National Children’s Bureau. 3.5 million children are said to live below the poverty line. The research also found that the wealthiest young people are nine times more likely than those living in the most deprived areas to have access to green spaces, places to play and environments with decent air quality. Children from deprived areas are also at least twice as likely to be obese as those living in affluent areas.
While there is no doubt that this is a sad and disturbing fact, is it only the Government that should be blamed? What about the parents who bring these children up into the world where they cannot provide for them?
Yes, everyone should have the opportunity to have children but you should only have a lot of children if you can provide for them. Otherwise, it is simply irresponsible. Moreover, “provide” does not mean feed them so that they don’t die. “Provide” means, or should mean, giving them a nutritious diet, healthy food, not junk food, spending time with them, outdoors and indoors, investing all your knowledge into your children, teaching them. I see it as, essentially, making them better than us.
Yes, it is more likely that a wealthy parent can just come out of their door and get access to a garden square, or have their own garden, but nobody stops you from going to Hyde Park or Richmond Park if you live in London – it’s free. If you live outside of London access to green spaces is even easier. While I accept that some parents work long hours and don’t have time to go to the park with their child, plenty of parents are simply too lazy to bother. Quite often only one parent works so the other one has time to invest in the kids but just doesn’t want to find time for it; as for the families with both working parents - there is always a weekend.
Jamie Oliver made a step in the right direction by starting a debate on the subject of unhealthy eating habits in poor households. You do not have to be rich to make healthy choices.
Exercising, and not eating in McDonalds is about the culture of you looking after yourself. The State and the public cannot always rescue you. Sometimes you have to rescue yourself and make the right choices.
Assad is a wounded animal, in a fight with the West
Hunters know how dangerous a cornered wild animal can be. It puts up a vicious fight because it is defending its own life and nothing else matters. That’s how I perceive Assad’s increasingly erratic behaviour.
The fight is not so much with the rebels but the West. He is acting recklessly and ruthlessly, as he is not given any real alternative. He (and those in his immediate circle) know all too well what is going to happen to them if they show weakness, if they lose. It’s hard to forget the scenes of Saddam Hussein’s death, and Muammar Gaddafi’s vile murder with militia beating him and stabbing him in the anus, Milosevic's lengthy trial and subsequent death…
The West removed these dictators, not the revolutions. Assad has discredited himself enough for the West not to let him stay alive, let alone continue to rule. He has absolutely no choice. Also, with so many sins on his hands, and if he really believes in God… - this argument should not be dismissed - no wonder he is so scared to die and face Judgment day. Deep down he knows that nothing can justify the evil he’s been doing in his own land.
Russia and China are there on a standby, but they are there for their own geopolitical game and are not going to protect his life if he loses. Just like they didn’t protect Saddam or Gaddafi, or even Milosevic. Nobody is sorry for a fallen dictator.
But is the West right to corner him the way it does? Perhaps it’s time to resume the talks and guarantee some ways of saving his (despicable) life and “pride”? To choose a smaller evil between two evils? What is better: a continuous loss of lives on both sides with an increasing threat of Al Quaeda influence, or a pact with the devil? It might be a tough and unpopular choice but if it can save lives perhaps it’s a choice worth making.
In any case, military action is not the answer. Even a small strike would be perceived as aggression, not just by the Syrians (who might unite around Assad as a result) but it could also fuel other anti-American moods in the world. Many will not really believe in America’s long term good intentions.
The UK Parliament has truly saved Cameron from himself last week. Rushing into the war would have been a disaster, that can’t resolve anything. I believe Cameron has much purer intentions than Blair has ever had but the decision to rush into the war would have been too hot-blooded and dangerous. The vote against the motion was a fantastic result, despite that it’s being perceived as Cameron’s failure. The most important thing was that the message to the world was strong: the UK rejected military interference.
It has benefitted the UK on the world arena in countries where UK-US mistrust is high. The fact that the Parliament said “no” to the war in Syria was a massive boost for:
1) - democracy – setting the example for how things should be done, via a vote, because the UK is not a dictatorship, you know, and for that Cameron deserves praise. He listened to Parliament and to public opinion, and acted accordingly and with dignity.
2) – British image in West-sceptical countries. “Britain is against the war” was the message. Nobody in the outside world, nobody even outside of Parliament and the Westminster village – noticed or paid attention to the motion being changed from a vote on military intervention to one of mere condemnation. People only remembered the first reports of why Parliament was recalled.
Unfortunately, as a result, some MPs who voted with the government fell victims to their own decency as their constituents messaged them with reproach thinking that they had supported military intervention. It was an easy mistake to make. People only heard echoes of the debate, and when the motion was changed it has not been shouted loud enough...
3) - not unleashing World War III. Iran’s and Syria’s defence ministers threatened on Friday to attacks Israel if Assad was in danger. Iran is obviously on the defensive as everybody knows they will be next if and when the Syrian regime falls. Israel in its turn threatened to respond to Hezbollah if it attacks it again, thus drawing Lebanon into war. Iraq could also send troops to help Assad if the situation escalates. All this makes the probability of World War III all too real.
As Britain said “no” to taking part in the war in Syria, it has managed to disassociate itself from its warmongering image, gained a renewed respect for standing up to America’s position, and avoided a direct threat from Assad against anyone who threatens his country.
Yet it also performed the moral duty of voting on this issue. It was an involuntarily wise and right thing to do, regardless of whether someone on the left rather distastefully pursued his own political interests.
* * *
Charity work for benefit claimants
Astonishing figures appeared last week that the number of foreigners on benefits soared to 400,000, up 40 per cent in just four years.
While I accept there are different circumstances in life and some of these people might genuinely need help, I do not believe that the checks of who needs help and who doesn’t are rigorous enough. Also, why do people not leave the country if they cannot find a job?
If a person – foreigner or not - cannot find a job, why don't Jobseekers' Centres work closely with charities, and make the claimants do charity work while they are looking for a proper employment? Why not try this and check how it works? Something tells me the number of claimants will then drop pretty soon… And maybe there will be fewer people en route to the heaven of the UK where money grows on the trees (while, remember, 3.5 million British children live in poverty).
Garvan Walshe was National and International Security Adviser to the Conservative Party until 2008.
Follow Garvan on Twitter.
There are always good arguments against war. They never go away entirely, they are only ever overridden by stronger ones in favour of its necessity. When the government plans to send men and women in uniform to kill and die, it’s right to ask serious questions. Do we have a just cause? Is our action legitimate? Is it likely to achieve our aim? Have we planned it properly? Will it spin out of control? Can we reduce the chances of killing innocent people enough to justify our action? A Leader of the Opposition sceptical of a government’s plans for military intervention can be expected to ask all those questions. Instead we got this.
His first sentence ends with a grievous error. Syrian civilans, Ed Miliband tells us, are suffering a “humanitarian catastrophe,” as though they were victims of a flood, famine or a particularly violent volcanic eruption.
It’s no such thing.
They are deliberately being murdered by a dictator desperately afraid of what his people would do to him if they got a chance to exact justice. To stop this slaughter, he appeals, a soaked and freezing Norse shepherd praying to Valhalla for sunshine, to a meeting of the G20 “to force the warring parties into a solution.” What, precisely, this group, charged with economic co-operation, is supposed to do to force Assad, let alone the Jabhat al-Nusra, Aztec-like in their treatment of captives, to the negotiating table, he doesn’t say.