Last night’s vote in the House of Commons not to endorse the Government’s proposed intervention by the UK armed forces to deter any future use of chemical weapons in the Syria’s brutal civil war is – whichever side of the principal argument you are on – a victory for British democracy and our parliamentary system.
Personally I had considerable doubts about British intervention on either side of the Syrian conflict as, to my mind, the parties are equally unpalatable. The Assad family’s brutal regime has supported international terrorism over many decades and has kept its population in a constant state of fear. The dissidents are, by all reports, closely connected to a range of other Middle East terror groups including the Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda. Neither side would make very attractive allies for this country and an intervention would in any event likely not conclude with a swift air strike. As we know from Britain’s engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, these things never end well and almost invariably cause much loss of life on all sides.
Moreover, it is not yet clear who has been responsible for which attacks on the beleaguered Syrian citizens, whether using chemical or conventional weapons. Given where their supplies are coming from it is more than possible that the regime and rebel forces are both in a position to inflict considerable pain, and then blame the others for doing so. Without solid intelligence, particularly from the UN’s inspectors on the ground, it would in my view be wrong to commit to any action.
It seems that a majority of Members of Parliament took a similar view last night. The result surprised the Prime Minister who believed that he had a guaranteed majority in the division lobbies. But he forgot that MPs are not simply lobby fodder, going whichever way their leaders want. It was impressive that many of those on the coalition side of the House, as well as those sitting opposite, had used social media to be in touch with their constituents in the run up to the vote. The message came back clearly that there is no support in the country for military intervention now. Thus it was that the people’s representatives – or a majority of them at least – chose to vote against the Government motion. That is democracy. Thank goodness.