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 Slate political reporter. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?