Depressingly, David Cameron is not the first Prime Minister to stand at the House of Commons despatch box and make a convincing case for war – Tony Blair was just as plausible and eloquent before the Afghanistan and Iraq interventions. Yet, thankfully, this is where the similarities end.
Unlike the Blair government, Mr Cameron repeatedly stressed that he was not exaggerating the intelligence about the current security threat posed by the Islamic State and was downplaying this wherever possible.
Unlike the Blair government, Mr Cameron cannot authorise UK military intervention in Syria without the consent of MPs and his detailed response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s misgivings showed that the PM has learned not just the lessons of Iraq, an invasion still exercising the long-winded Chilcot inquiry, but also the 2013 vote on Syria which his own Government lost.
And, unlike the Blair government, the Tory leader stressed that RAF airstrikes are part of a far wider strategy, backed by the legal authority of the United Nations, to neutralise the Islamic State before the world turns its attention is turned to the fate of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad whose use of chemical weapons against his own people remains a scar on the world’s conscience. In contrast to 2003, Mr Cameron did talk about a post-conflict political settlement.
What was striking, however, was the Prime Minister’s resolve that Britain should not sub-contract its national security obligations when the barbaric Islamic State poses a direct threat to the UK following atrocities like the execution of British tourists sunbathing on a Tunisian beach and the mass slaughter of innocents in Paris.
He demonstrated that the Islamic State’s threat to Britons was a significant one and warned that inaction could have serious consequences: “There will be no end to the chaos in which ISIL thrives and which fuels migration, for as long as the conflict in Syria endures.”
Judging by the tone of Mr Cameron’s remarks, and then the 103 forensic questions that he answered from MPs with patience and courtesy, it is extremely likely that the Government will table a motion seeking the country’s support for intervention – and that it will be endorsed.
There was none of the acquiescence which preceded Iraq; MPs were reflective and also quizzical. Mr Cameron was respectful of Jeremy Corbyn’s questions – and the difficulties that this issue poses for a pacifist Leader of the Opposition. His responses to backbenchers were equally constrictive; he agreed, for example, with Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, that it would be useful to invite Muslim leaders to Downing Street to ensure that any airstrikes do not undermine community relations or lead, inadvertently, to the radicalisation of even more impressionable young people from Britain or the Middle East. The PM also assured Shipley MP Philip Davies that any Commons motion would limit airstrikes to Islamic State targets and that its scope would not be extended to include the Assad regime.
Of course, history will judge whether David Cameron’s approach is the correct one – or not. However, as MPs prepare for one of the most difficult decisions of their careers, it should be of some comfort to them that they do so in the knowledge that the Government’s preparatory work has been thorough and that Britain is a Parliamentary democracy in which the Prime Minister can be held to account before the Armed Forces are deployed.
How times have changed.
The Black Friday phenomenon
IT is slightly incongruous that the Black Friday, the new pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, comes less than 36 hours after a hard-hitting Autumn Statement and Spending Review in which George Osborne warned, contrary to the interpretation of some, that austerity is here to stay.
Despite Leeds-based Asda, the retail giant which brought the concept from America to Britain, opting out of Black Friday, and many being appalled by the shocking scenes last year when shoppers fought over cut-price TVs, up to £1bn is likely to be spent today alone by bargain-hunters.
Although this is, of course, their prerogative and not withstanding the fact that this is a ‘make or break’ time for retailers, it can only be hoped that shoppers so more decorum than they did 12 months ago.
After all, they should be mindful of the fact that many of these enticing promotions are loss-leaders involving electrical items and other goods that the shops concerned can no longer sell for cost price and occurrences such as Black Friday make it even harder for independent shops, the beating heart of Yorkshire high streets, to prosper in this new retail environment.