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

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.