The Sketch: Peace breaks out in the House – just don’t mention Syria
David Cameron’s call to confront extremism was supported by both Tory and Labour MPs
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Monday 03 June 2013
If not for Syria, it would have a been a day when the House of Commons was so united that an ignorant visitor would be forgiven for thinking that Britain was a one-party state.
David Cameron secured wide support for his call to confront the “extremist ideology” that the men suspected of murdering Drummer Lee Rigby had used to justify their “abhorrent crime.”
Cameron, who does these things well, leavened his determination to halt the “conveyor belt to radicalisation” in schools, prisons, and on the internet – which has seen “young men born and bred in this country ... turned into killers” – with a condemnation of the English Defence League’s attempts “to demonise Islam and stoke up anti-Islam hatred.”
There was a touch of Tony Blair about his statement, even though Cameron did not repeat the former Labour PM’s weekend identification of a “problem within Islam”. He said instead that the soldier’s killing was “a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country.”
From a judicious Ed Miliband down, he was backed by a series of Labour MPs. Indeed, the party’s ex-Home Secretary Alan Johnson positively egged him on to revive the so called anti-terror “snooping” bill, which the Lib Dems had managed to kill off before the Woolwich attack.
But on Syria, Cameron’s argument that lifting the EU arms embargo would make President Bashar Assad more compliant in all-too-tentative planned peace talks was met with deep scepticism – from his own side as well as from Labour.
Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wanted Iran invited to the negotiations, which his colleague Peter Hain warned were at the point of “near collapse, if not actual collapse” as a result of Anglo-French policy on the arms embargo.
With several MPs clamouring for a full debate and vote before any arms are delivered to the “official” opposition in Syria, the Tory MP Edward Leigh was worried that Christians – who had already fled Iraq because of “our misjudged intervention” – could be a target for “Sunni extremists, because we have no control of where these weapons will end up.”
A bleak Sir Peter Tapsell despaired of a solution on the grounds that the Syrian civil war was a version of the Sunni-Shia conflict which has already been going for “1,300 years.” While some MPs have trouble going back further than the last 24-hour news cycle, Sir Peter thinks not just in centuries but in millennia.
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