Monday, 16 April 2018

Morally Wrong, Strategically Disastrous, And Illegal

On 28th October 1971, the great Labour coalition of 1945 was destroyed when 69 Labour MPs voted in favour of the Conservative Government's European Communities Bill, while a further 20 abstained, easily cancelling out the 33 Conservative votes against it, and thus granting victory to Ted Heath.

By common consent, the Parliamentary Labour Party was never the same again after that night. It was the end of the sense that, in spite of everything, all Labour MPs were essentially on the same side. Within 10 years, many of the rebels had left the Labour Party altogether. It would be 26 years before that party would again enjoy a workable majority in the House of Commons.

At some point in the coming days, there is going to be a Commons Division, however symbolic, on the Government's actions in Syria. It is possible that the DUP will vote against the Government. It is highly likely that a certain number of Conservatives will do so. If the Government won on the votes or abstentions of Labour MPs, then the great Labour coalition of 1997 would be destroyed, and the great Labour coalition of 2022, hitherto gestating healthily, would be aborted. There would not be another Labour Government in a quarter of a century.

As to that Commons Division itself, it is wholly irrelevant whether or not there ought to have been one before the bombing of Syria. There was a Commons Division before the war in Iraq, but that war was still morally wrong, strategically disastrous, and illegal, categories that are not entirely discrete. There was a Commons Division before the war in Libya, but that war was still morally wrong and strategically disastrous, at least. And there could have been a Commons Division before this, but it would still have been morally wrong, strategically disastrous, and illegal.

As in the case of Iraq, legality would have been conferred by a Resolution of the United Nations Security Council, on which Russia legitimately exercises in support of Syria the same veto that the United States regularly exercises in support of Israel. But in either the Iraqi or the Syria case, the moral and strategic arguments, beyond the morality or the strategic advisability of ever breaking the law, would have been wholly unaffected by such a Resolution.

The motion needs to be tabled: "This House regrets the British military intervention in Syria, and calls on Her Majesty's Government to cease and desist from it immediately." It needs to be tabled every week, not only until it passes, but until it is given full effect. Do not be distracted.

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