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

Ashdown Group: Sales Support - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Internal Sales Executive ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Smart Meter Engineer - Gas and Electric - Dual Fuel

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the installa...

Recruitment Genius: Programme Manager

£30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Two out of five marriages end in divorce but filling in the paperwork wrong can prove very costly  

Divorce is bad enough without the legal process around it making it so much worse

Simon Kelner
 

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum