How the U.K. Is Reacting to the Fumbled Syria Vote

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 30 2013 6:49 AM

How the U.K. Is Reacting to the Fumbled Syria Vote

178320341
British Prime Minister David Cameron Leaves Downing Street on Aug, 29, 2013, in London. Not a happy camper.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

LONDON—The last time the House of Commons voted against the government on an issue of war was Feb. 27, 1782. That vote was on whether to keep up the war against the 13 rebellious Colonies. It failed by 19 votes, and PM Frederick North is remembered to have reacted by wheezing, "Oh God, it's all over." North resigned less than a month later.

So you can see why the British press has reacted to last night's defeat of the Syria resolution as an apocalyptic failure for the government of Conservative PM David Cameron. He lost 30 members of his own party and nine members of the Liberal Democrats who make up the rest of his coalition. It certainly looked bad, with education secretary Michael Gove shouting "you're a disgrace" at the Tory rebels, reportedly being restrained by his colleagues before he went too far.

The headlines reflected the sense of the shambles. Among them: "The Humbling of Cameron" (the Daily Mail), "Obama's Syria Plans in Disarray" (the Guardian), "No to War, Blow to Cameron" (the Telegraph). The most pungent little commentary I saw came in a cartoon in the Mail—the conservative paper that, on other pages, reminded readers that it had "warned the prime minister" about "the folly of wading into this bloody morass." The illustration portrayed David Cameron giving an "I Have a Dream" speech, imagining himself as "Statesman Man" lobbing missiles. Alas!

photo (6)

There's no spinning away the failure for Cameron, who called the House back early to hold this vote. His unsuccessful pitch acknowledged some of the reasons for skepticism, while appealing to holdouts to stick with "my good friend and ally, the American president." Cameron, who voted for the Iraq War, said he was "deeply mindful of the lessons of previous conflicts and in particular the deep concerns in the country caused by what went wrong with the Iraq conflict."

But this is not like Iraq. ... We are not invading a country. We are not searching for chemical or biological weapons. We must not let the spectre of previous mistakes paralyze us.

That wasn't enough, obviously, for Labour members who saw a chance to embarrass the government; if it put Barack Obama on the defensive, so be it. Cameron's said "the government will act accordingly" with the vote, which means, potentially, that the U.K. can't allow the U.S. to use its air bases to launch attacks. Faith in the government—any government—to get involved in another Middle East adventure remains totally depleted, and that lack of faith is easy to exploit.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?