By Andrew Gimson
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At the heart of government, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats get on surprisingly well. Nothing the Lib Dems have said or done in Glasgow has forced a revision of this view.
It is true that Vince Cable set out to be rude about the Conservatives: “We’ve got dog-whistle politics orchestrated by an Australian Rottweiler.”
But what else does one expect from Mr Cable? It would be much more worrying if he managed to suppress his anti-Antipodean prejudices, stopped playing to the Lib Dem activist gallery and instead expressed his complete approval of everything done by David Cameron and George Osborne.
When asked if he would ever quit the coalition, the canny Mr Cable replied: “I think President Obama has just proven very eloquently in recent weeks the danger of parading your red lines in public.”
So it seems Mr Cable is determined not to back himself into a position where he feels obliged to take action instead of striking attitudes.
By Andrew Gimson
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Nothing during Prime Minister’s questions was as striking as the personal statement made by Nigel Evans (Con, Ribble Valley) immediately afterwards. Mr Evans has just stepped down as deputy speaker while he robustly defends himself against charges which include sexual assault and rape.
One might have expected that he would make a very brief statement, no more than a sentence or two, saying he had stepped down from the deputy speakership in order to concentrate on clearing his name. But Mr Evans instead took the chance to offer his heartfelt thanks to many friends and colleagues, including the Speaker, John Bercow, “for their unstinting support”.
Mr Evans said he found himself in “the land of limbo”, but also quoted Winston Churchill’s words, “when you’re going through hell keep going”, and described this as “sage advice”.
Mr Bercow responded by praising the “exemplary service” given by Mr Evans. In earlier times it seems likely that the greater part of these cordial exchanges, made to a packed House, would have been saved for after the legal proceedings were over. Many observers did not know quite what to make of it all, but perhaps that is always the case during a period of modernisation.
Prime Minister’s questions offered no such innovation. Mr Cameron did, however, employ a wider range of tone about Ed Miliband than has recently been the case. The Prime Minister actually thanked the Labour leader for welcoming the fall in the unemployment figures.
This site is quick to boo David Cameron when it disagrees with him - as earlier today, for example, when considering HS2. By the same token, ConservativeHome should be swift to cheer him when we agree with a decision he's made. I wrote earlier this week that the Government is in a good position to offer a lead to other countries on Syria and aid (that was before Putin's spokesman apparently dismissed Britain as a "small island", and the Prime Minister crafted a Hugh Grant moment in response). A combination of humanitarian feeling and self-interest should move Ministers both to help Syria's refugees and support its neighbours: were the civil war to spread across its borders, the consequent turmoil would be likely to shake the world's economy and thus ours. I repeat: a way of beginning to grasp the scale of the Syrian conflict is to imagine that it was Britain. Were this the case, over 20 million people here would be in need of food, water, medical care, shelter - or would simply have fled abroad: that's more than three times the population of London.
I sent out yesterday the following series of tweets on Syria, which re-iterated the case against intervention. Here they are:
This morning, I'd add a further thought:
In the aftermath of yesterday evening's vote - apparently unparalleled since 1782 - it is impossible to know which version of events is the more accurate. What is clear, however, is that the failure of the Prime Minister's gamble over Syria is a reminder that the success of his summer to date has not bridged the gap of trust which persists between him and his MPs, and which at times can widen into a gulf.
Number 10 would be in panic mode were it immediately to effect the changes recommended below - the first two of which this site has been campaigning for since I became its Editor in April. But until or unless they are implemented, the progress which Downing Street has made since the Queen's Speech and the Baron amendment will be at constant risk of being set back. A hung Parliament requires a more collective style of leadership.
By Andrew Gimson
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In Chambers Dictionary, the word “authentic” is defined as “genuine: authoritative: true, entitled to acceptance, of established credibility: trustworthy, as setting forth real facts…”
Our politicians are very often dismissed as a bunch of proven liars: greedy, bogus, unreliable, untrustworthy and unentitled to the benefit of the doubt. So one can see why they would prefer to be considered authentic.
But how does one attain authenticity? One cannot go around saying “I am authentic”, any more than in former times one could go around saying “I am honourable” or “I am a gentleman”.
The quality of authenticity has to be shown rather than proclaimed. It proceeds from being seen to be true to oneself. But for a politician, this requires the courage, or foolhardiness, to believe that one’s true self is what the voters are looking for.
By Mark Wallace
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Having had a few hours to mull the implications of last nights extraordinary defeat for the Government on their watered down Syria motion, here are my eight observations on what it means for Britain, Westminster, the Conservatives and David Cameron
1) Iraq Syndrome has afflicted Westminster.
In The Path Of Power, Margaret Thatcher wrote of "Suez syndrome":
"[The political class] went from believing that Britain could do anything to an almost neurotic belief that Britain could do nothing."
It took until the Falklands to shake off the affects of Suez Syndrome on Britain's political will. While the onset has taken longer, and the symptoms are more complex, Iraq Syndrome has undoubtedly set in.
The new affliction is more pernicious than a simple lack of confidence - not only has it made MPs sceptical of UK military capabilities, it has shattered Parliamentary and public faith in the intelligence services.
Cameron was blunt about the limitations of intelligence, apparently as a counter to memories of Tony Blair's messianic certainty. He couldn't guarantee the outcome of war (who can?), nor could he declare 100 per cent certainty about what happens on the ground in Syria. It wasn't enough.
The Blair Government has more to answer for than first realised. While they wheeled and dealed to get what they wanted over Iraq, they apparently gave no thought to the longer term consequences of their willingness to do anything to win. In their belief that the moral imperative to save Iraqis from Saddam justified almost any tactic, they have inadvertently today helped to condemn Syrians to continued suffering at the hands of Assad.
One day, we will almost certainly say "never again", again.
2) Parliament is in the ascendant over the Executive
The 2010 manifesto promised "greater democratic control" of Royal Prerogative powers like war-making. 81 Tory MPs wrote to the Prme Minister earlier in the summer demanding a vote on arming the Syrian rebels, and earlier in the week at least 70 MPs of all parties campaigned for a Commons vote before any military action be taken in Syria. ConHome supports that principle.
Last night we saw the first test of this Parliamentary Doctrine. It certainly makes things less predictable, and in this instance shows the potential for the Commons to make policy more representative of the people.
I was half expecting Cameron to stand up at the end and produce a cautious statement about how the House doesn't support action against Assad "at this stage", but instead he accepted the verdict as final.
Parliament has gained the upper hand over the Executive in what ought to be a permanent way. I don't share MPs' opinion on what is right to do in Syria, but I am glad we now require the representatives of the people to vote before we fight. What that means for how our foreign policy works in future is still unclear.
3) Relations with the US are rocked, while Putin will gloat
It's true to say that the Americans can - and still may - act without us. If they do it will likely be with France as their main ally, and without British, Chinese and Russian agreement at the UN Security Council.
Vladimir Putin will be delighted that he has succeeded in dividing those who pose a threat to his own foreign and domestic plans, while Washington will be justifiably unsure if it can rely on British promises ever again. This isn't the destruction of the special relationship - the anglosphere is built on cultural and trading ties rather than just political agreement - but it is the start of a new age of more uncertain alliances.
4) Cameron's summer sun didn't last long
Before the recall of Parliament, the Prime Minister was having a brilliant summer. Labour were in disarray, the backbenches were pleased that Wharton's EU Referendum Bill was making progress, Abu Qatada had finally gone away, Andy Murray won Wimbledon, England won the Ashes and so on.
But now he is back to where he was before the summer. Unable to control his party, and on foreign policy in the awkward situation of being unable to make reliable promises to his allies. We had predicted that the return of Parliament would swiftly threaten the love-in in the Conservative Parliamentary Party, and it has collapsed even more spectacularly than we would have imagined.
5) Relations between the leadership and the backbenches are at a new low
As well as the biggest defeat on foreign policy in living memory, and the first Government defeat on a matter of war and peace since the vote which saw us lose America in 1782, this will inject a new tension into the already fraught relationship between the centre and the backbenches.
The Prime Minister may have fronted up to the defeat, but it is undeniably a painful and embarrassing experience for him - particularly as he lost at the hands of his own MPs, not the Opposition. John Major's "bastards" never inflicted anything so personally damaging. We have already heard reports of Michael Gove shouting "disgrace" at the rebels last night, and no doubt others feel the same way.
It will take a cool head and a lot of rising above to prevent this turning into a total breakdown of communications between the ministers and other MPs.
6) The Whips are in for a thrashing
An remarkable aspect of last night's defeat is the part which the Whips played, or rather failed to play. Many MPs heard almsot nothing from their Whip until the night before Parliament returned - and some weren't contacted until the very last minute on the day itself.
We don't yet know who made the misjudgement, but there seems to have been an assumption that the Government's majority was not under threat. Perhaps Sir George Young miscalculated, or perhaps he warned Downing Street and was ignored.
Either way, alarm bells should have been ringing when MPs were tweeting about how light and free vote-like the whipping operation was. Instead, the Government seems to have thought everything was fine until the very last minute.
7) "Coffee with no biscuits" for Justine Greening and Mark Simmonds
Reportedly, these two Government Ministers somehow missed the vote by accident. Accounts vary as to whether they were in a meeting somewhere and didn't notice the time, or that they didn't hear the division bell, or both.
It's extremely embarrassing, and not the kind of thing a Minister would choose to do immediately before a reshuffle. I'd expect there will be some stern words this morning.
8) Miliband is still a mess
Despite Labour's attempts to claim this as a victory for them, in fact their strategy - such as it was - turned out to be fairly irrelevant. Miliband's decision to pledge support to the Prime Minister and then backtrack may have destabilised Cameron's plans at a crucial moment, but it doesn't seem to be what the Labour leader wanted to do.
Instead, he was caught up in in-fighting among his own Shadow Cabinet and even lost a Shadow Minister over the issue. His alternative yesterday was one of the most muddled things to come before the Commons that I can remember, and his flip-flop is not a good sign for his decision-making on serious matters.
Voters may not agree with Cameron's plan, but they certainly won't be attracted by an Oppposition leader who can't make his mind up.
Some believe that the executive should control foreign policy, others that the legislature should do so. But whatever view one takes of the theory, one thing is certain about the practice: an administration that can't shape its foreign policy risks being seen abroad as weak. This is precisely where the Government stands today. Yesterday morning, it was poised to move a Commons motion proposing immediate military action against the Assad regime. A day later, it is proposing one suggesting such action later…perhaps…after the report of the U.N Investigation Team…despite that team having no mandate to "apportion blame" (in the words of the motion)…and after further efforts to secure a Security Council resolution…despite previous efforts to do so having been unsuccessful because of the council's "failure…to take united action" (again in the words of the motion). These contortions and contradictions only highlight what is not so much a U-turn as a V-turn.
It isn't yet clear whether Ed Miliband took a lead, and went for Cameron's throat in the same way that he eventually went for Rupert Murdoch's over Leveson, or whether he merely followed his own Iraq-traumatised backbenchers' reluctance to support the Government. Similarly, it also isn't apparent whether the Prime Minister took the initiative in amending his own motion, or whether others in government confronted him with the brutal reality - namely, that he was set to lose this evening's vote. Hence the climbdown. The simple fact is that Cameron began the week by talking very big about Syria, and will end it by acting very small. In one sense, this is arguably for the good. It isn't clear why a missile strike on a few Syrian military compounds or Presidential palaces would deter the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again, assuming (as it is reasonable to do) that it used them recently in Damascus. And as I have written many times on this site, Britain must not be drawn into Syria's civil war.
By Mark Wallace
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Things just keep getting worse and worse for HS2. After the IEA's cost warning, the revised financial estimates by Treasury officials and the criticism of the scheme by Alistair Darling and this site's own Tim Montgomerie, now it turns out even its target market don't want it.
A survey of 1,300 business leaders, carried out by the Institute of Directors, shows that 70 per cent think that HS2 offers them no improvement in productivity.
Aha, supporters cry, of course the majority wouldn't expect to benefit directly, as HS2 is targeted at particular regions. That's true, but unfortunately for them only 29 per cent of the business directors polled in the North West think it offers good value for money.
There's also a handy reminder that Yorkshire and the North West are not the sum total of "the North" - support in the neglected North East is even lower. In fact, in no region of the UK do more than 35 per cent of those polled think HS2 is good value for money - and this is from a survey carried out before the IEA and Treasury's higher cost estimates were released.