Donald Macinytre's Sketch: Like Robert Walpole in reverse - and just as uncomfortable

 

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron found himself in exactly the opposite position of his 18th-century predecessor Robert Walpole, who, pushed by a jingoistic public into a war he didn't want, lamented: “They now ring the bells, but soon they will wring their hands.”

Instead Cameron struggled - and failed - today to build what he called the “greatest possible consensus” for military action he wanted, but most of a deeply sceptical public did not. And he learnt the hard way that these days, thanks above all to Iraq, the hand-wringing starts well before the first shot is fired.

Yet left in much the weaker position by his humbling climbdown and in the view of many of his own backbenchers with much the weaker argument, Cameron was probably the more eloquent of the two leaders. He dwelt at some length on the video images of Syrian nerve gas victims and urged the Commons “not to let the spectre of previous mistakes paralyse our ability to stand up for what is right”.

By contrast, Ed Miliband arrived as the hero who had forced that very climbdown. Maybe it was the fact the last 24 hours had robbed the debate of the radioactive significance it might have had. Maybe it was because he was seeking to unite those ready to back a US-led strike and those in his party opposed to one under any circumstances. But his speech was flatter than you might have expected from a man thrust into the role of an international statesman slowing the slide to war.

Mr Cameron, he said, had insisted that a strike would get Britain “further involved in the conflict”. Pressing the case to wait for more evidence of Assad's culpability, he said: “For me that does not rule out military intervention... but I do not think anybody... should be under any illusions about the effect on our relationship to the conflict in Syria.” The point was persuasive, if not Hugh Gaitskell at the peak of his opposition to Suez.  

 Cameron got welcome backbench support from former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who confronted doubts about whether Assad was responsible by citing a prosecution for murder where guilt was not “100 per cent” certain but “beyond reasonable doubt”.

But in the end it was to no avail. an undoubted star  was dissident Tory backbencher Julian Lewis, who said the judgement of the Joint Intelligence Committee was not enough to justify military action and invoked the prelude to the First World War, declaring: “Nobody thought the assassination of an obscure archduke would lead to a world conflagration.”

It was a more  convincing speech, and an inevitably a less flamboyant one, than that of George Galloway who argued - just a little more critical-sounding of Assad than he has been in the past - that the Syrian dictator was “bad” but not “mad” enough to have launched chemical weapons on his own people. Normally Gorgeous's support for any cause is enough to turn most MPs off it. But not even that did the trick today. While it's rare enough for him to speak in the Commons at all, it's rarer still for him to end up on the winning side.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
In this handout provided by NASA from the the Earth-orbiting International Space Station, weather system Arthur travels up the east coast of the United States in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida in space. The robotic arm of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System or Canadarm2 is seen at upper right. According to reports, Arthur has begun moving steadily northward at around 5 kt. and the tropical storm is expected to strike the North Carolina Outer Banks  

Thanks to government investment, commercial space travel is becoming a reality

Richard Branson
With a record turnout forecast, Thursday's poll will be unlike any election Scotland, or anywhere else in the UK, has experienced  

Scottish independence: There's been as much hatred as hope. But this is democracy at its best

Andreas Whittam Smith
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week