RAF Tornado jets carried out their first airstrikes against Isil in Syria this week after MPs voted for Britain to begin military action.
MPs overwhelmingly backed UK military action against Isil, by 397 votes to 223, after an intense 10-hour Commons debate on Wednesday. 66 Labour MPs voted with the government including 11 shadow ministers giving David Cameron the firm majority that he had sought as a condition for the bombing.
The vote followed a rousing speech from shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn who called on the house to “confront this evil,” declaring that Britain must attack the “fascists” of Isil because “we never have, and never should, walk by on the other side of the road.” It was a remarkable moment in which Benn looked more like the prime minister than the shadow foreign secretary. As Benn sat down the house rose as one. Many of Benn’s colleagues on the Labour front bench reached across to embrace him whilst Jeremy Corbyn remained seated, arms folded, frowning. Was this the night when Corbyn’s leadership was damaged beyond repair?
Unlike Benn, Cameron never got into his stride. He has announced that this was a time for Churchills but reached in vain for any stirring and memorable phrases. He said he was not pretending that the answers to the challenge posed by Isil were simple, nor was he ignoring the risks of military action. “We face a fundamental threat to our security” he told MPs as he lay out why he believed military action was legal, necessary and in the interests of national security. In response Mr Corbyn said the “spectre of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya looms over this debate” accusing Mr Cameron of a “lack of strategy worth the name.”
A total of seven Tory MPs opposed the Government, including Julian Lewis, the chair of the defence select committee who claimed that the air strikes were a “dangerous diversion and distraction.” Other MPs raised legitimate concerns around Cameron’s assertion that there were 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria to support us. Sir Edward Leigh said that “ISIL is an idea, not just a criminal conspiracy” which we are not going to defeat just by military action.
Perhaps the wisest words came from the Tory veteran Alan Duncan. In any debate about the Middle East, he warned, beware those who believe the right path is obvious.
Labour holds Oldham West and Royton
Jeremy Corbyn will be relieved to see that his party won its first test at the ballot box on Thursday holding on to Oldham West and Royton. Jim McMahon was returned to the seat with a 10,835 majority.
UKIP have been chipping away at the formerly solid Labour working-class vote in the North of England and hoped to make the by-election a close-fought contest. However, this defeat shows that unless the party can find money and develop a clear strategy to win seats from Labour it will decline as a force in British politics.