ALTHOUGH little more than a year has passed since Parliament voted against British involvement in US-led military action in Syria, that period of time has seen the mood of politicians and public alike change almost as much as the situation on the ground.
Last year, Syria’s civil war seemed like a complex quagmire into which Britain was about to be sucked without any clear aims or exit strategy and without any obvious national interest at stake.
Twelve months on, the quagmire is no less complex. Indeed, it has spread to include Iraq as elements of the Syrian resistance have formed the self-styled “Islamic State” and advanced across the region, kidnapping, torturing and murdering with apparent impunity.
And given the presence of British jihadists among them, plainly involved in the kidnapping and execution of British citizens, the impact on Britain is now clear, not least in the growing terrorist threat.
As a result, support has grown for the UK to join US-led air strikes – particularly as they now involve a much broader-based coalition, including Arab states – to the extent that there may well be a very different result when Parliament is recalled tomorrow.
Labour, of course, has its own issues to resolve. Ed Miliband may regard military action in Iraq as very different from military action in Syria, but while “Islamic State” makes no such distinction – indeed, as its name implies, it sees the entire area as one single “caliphate” – there seems little point in making an issue of this.
Nevertheless, it is incumbent on Mr Miliband to demand clear answers from the Prime Minister to a number of questions before British forces are committed to action. Mr Cameron must be precise about the aims of the campaign, the limits of British involvement and the exit strategy. Nothing less will suffice before further Britons’ lives are put at risk.
Labour must confront reality
FREQUENTLY this week it has seemed as if the Labour conference and the real world have existed in parallel universes.
Ed Miliband, it seems, simply forgot to mention such matters as the need to boost the economy, reduce Britain’s enormous deficit and bring immigration under control – the latter issue crucial to Labour voters, as emphasised today by Barnsley East MP Michael Dugher.
Also conspicuous by its absence was any detailed response to the outcome of Scotland’s independence referendum which has left David Cameron making all the running on plans for a new constitutional settlement. And, from the amount of attention in the conference hall given to foreign affairs, few people would have realised that Britain was on the verge of armed conflict in the Middle East.
There is precious little grasp of reality, too, in flagship policy ideas such as health. In claiming that a 0.1 per cent annual NHS budget increase – equivalent to the Government’s own investment – would have a transformative effect, Andy Burnham only highlights Labour’s failure to develop any long-term plan for the NHS. Indeed, the very presence of Mr Burnham in the health brief, a constant reminder of the Stafford Hospital scandal, is clear evidence that the NHS would be anything but safe in Labour’s hands.
The world outside the conference hall, however, seems to be a different place to that existing in the minds of Mr Miliband and his team.
As a result, Labour’s annual gathering has served only to remind the public of how bereft the party is of answers to the most urgent issues facing Britain.
The end of an era
Duchess leaves a special legacy
with the passing of Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, an era has been laid to rest.
The last of the legendary Mitford sisters, who scandalised and fascinated British society in equal measure in the Thirties and Forties, the former Deborah Freeman-Mitford was born into a world that has all but vanished, the high society of a pre-war Britain fast disappearing from memory.
Deborah, however, cut her own individual swathe, one which not only celebrates the past but also leaves a legacy for the future. As the chatelaine of Chatsworth House, she worked tirelessly to preserve her home and its huge estate, opening the house to the public to earn the sums needed to maintain it.
The driving force behind Chatsworth’s farm shop, gift shop and restaurant, she became a pioneer of today’s heritage industry and there can be no finer monument to her than the magnificent country house which she has left in such superb condition.