The governing parties’ surprise defeat in last night’s vote on Syria is just as much a reflection of the immense distrust of the political class across the board as it is a general desire to prevent another in a long line of military adventures.
Even if the government announced that today was Friday, not everyone would be inclined to accept that, so deep is the scepticism after decades of being lied to on a variety of subjects from Iraq to the financial crisis.
A sketchy, half-baked dossier hurried out before the parliamentary debate, claiming that the Assad regime in Syria was more than likely behind the use of chemical weapons, was never going to win over doubters.
This was especially so after a number of senior military figures, including former head of the army General Dannatt, ridiculed the idea that missile attacks would deter future attacks while they could easily lead to an uncontrollable international conflict.
Prime minister Cameron assumed public opinion would rally behind a bellicose British response. Well, enough Tory MPs got the opposite message from their constituents and went on to wreck his government’s majority.
Cameron should have paid more attention to the right-wing Daily Telegraph. On Wednesday, an online poll was running at over 70% against military intervention in the shape of submarine-launched missiles. With the nationalist Ukip also declaring its opposition, it was clear that opposition to an attack was building across all classes.
That’s why Labour leader Ed Miliband retreated from total support for the government on Tuesday to producing an amendment that, as he put it in the Commons yesterday, offered a “sequential roadmap” that ended up with, er, the same military intervention that Cameron was proposing. The only difference was that his plan would take a bit longer to arrive at the destination.
That was too much even for the usually loyal Jim Fitzpatrick to stomach. The Poplar and Limehouse MP told the Commons: "In terms of the Opposition amendment - it's fair to say it's more honest and open and structured. But, from my reading, it essentially endorses the same principle - 'If we can address certain issues, if certain conditions are met, military action can happen'. I don't believe that it should under any circumstances."
Fitzpatrick then promptly resigned from the shadow cabinet before he was sacked. For alleged anti-war MP Diane Abbott, there were no problems for her in backing Labour’s pro-intervention amendment. However, at least another 30 Labour MPs were either absent or did not take part in the vote, including the anti-war MP Jeremy Corbyn.
The refusal to accept at face value what politicians say is one thing; hypocrisy when it comes to selecting enemies is another. For example, thousands have been killed in Egypt by the army and police over recent weeks. Military rule is re-entrenched. Not a peep from Washington, from Cameron, from Miliband.
The Israeli government has a free hand to build settlements on Palestinian land and to occupy territories in defiance of the United Nations. Regimes like the Saudis can run feudal regimes complete with amputations and beheadings, yet Washington just can’t lend these states enough support.
Assad’s regime is truly a brutal one, but Washington has turned a blind eye to previous massacres, notably at Hama in 1982. Even now, as it prefers to launch missiles without the UK’s participation, it prefers Assad to the jihadists and others who have hijacked the initial popular uprising against the government.
Yet, with or without the use of chemical weapons, or the sanction of the United Nations, we have to oppose military intervention on principle. The Syrians have the right to self-determine their own future.
Cameron’s credibility and authority is now on the line in a big way. Never before have Tory MPs felt so relaxed in defying their government in the lobbies. The weakness of the ConDem government is there for all to see following the Syria vote debacle.
The emerging political crisis could well drive on the development of movement to bring down the ConDems. That creates an opportunity to discuss what should follow because, as sure as night follows day, bringing Labour back would not constitute an alternative in any meaningful way.