David Cameron wins his Syria vote - now comes the hard part

In the end, David Cameron’s victory in the Parliamentary vote on Syria was far more comprehensive than he might have expected.

The attacks in Paris may have changed the tone of the debate, but success on this scale was far from certain.

Just a handful of Conservatives voted against extending British airstrikes into Syria, and 66 Labour MPs supported the Government.

They did so in the face of persistent, and often vile, abuse.

And some appeared to make that decision at the very last moment, after Hilary Benn made one of the greatest Parliamentary speeches of recent times:

Nine hours after Jeremy Corbyn set out his principled case against air strikes, Mr Benn stood at the same spot to deliver an equally principled, passionate case for action.

Mr Corbyn gave his MPs a free vote because he had no alternative, and seemed willing to look the other way while his most unreasonable supporters applied strong-arm tactics on what is, for many, an issue of conscience.

Such actions were not confined to Labour. David Cameron shot himself in the foot by describing some of his opponents as “terrorist sympathisers”.

Binary, black-and-white arguments like that achieve nothing in such a nuanced debate. It’s the language of George W Bush — you are with us or with the terrorists.

While Mr Cameron’s words were intemperate, it appears Labour has now been entirely consumed by internal battles. Activists don't want war in Syria, but they're happy to see one in their party.

Already lists of alleged “traitors” are doing the rounds, with dark threats of deselection swirling online. Twitter turned into a cesspit of moral certitude during the debate, and managed to get even worse after the vote.

A purge would undoubtedly make the Corbynistas feel better. But it would do nothing to help Labour. This is all tiresomely reminiscent of the early 1980s — when Labour edged close to terminal irrelevance.

This cannot go on forever. Parliament only functions when there is a serious opposition to hold the government to account. At the moment, the opposition is so busy spitting poison at its own side, it’s barely has time to do its job.

Mr Benn has calmly demonstrated there are others within Labour who are capable of leadership.


David Cameron took a big gamble in pushing so hard for military action in Syria — and he hasn’t won yet.

The Prime Minister will hope for speedy success, and is likely to be disappointed. Does he have the stomach for a long, difficult operation? How will he cope with setbacks? What if there are British casualties?

Public opinion, battered by Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, remains deeply split on Syria.

And while the politics of the last few days has been gripping, we’ve spent too little time considering the people in that country, whose every moment is utter misery.