Leading article: A stout defence that still does not allay all qualms

Share
Related Topics

Yesterday's debate on military action in Libya was essentially a catching-up exercise, following the fast-paced events of last week when the UN Security Council vote, the Prime Minister's Commons statement, the Paris meeting and the first UN-authorised air strikes succeeded each other with scarcely a pause for breath. Nor was there ever any doubt about the result; with scant opposition from any quarter, the vote was always a formality.

The one regret was that MPs had not had the chance to express their views before British planes went into action. Given the imminence of the threat to Benghazi, and the choice between ritual speeches in a near-empty chamber and yesterday's more substantial airing of views, however, the timing was defensible. And an airing of views was necessary, if not for the House, then for the country at large – where a concerned public surely has at least as many questions as their elected representatives.

Not for the first time in his short premiership, David Cameron showed himself to be a fortunate politician – fortune, as he might say, favouring the brave. Time and again, he was able to stress the urgency with which action had to be taken, the humanitarian imperative and the UN Security Council mandate that conferred legality. It was, he – and practically every other speaker – noted in this respect, a situation quite different from Iraq. As if to underline the distinction further, the Government released the full text of its note on the legal basis for the deployment.

He was fortunate, too, in the wholehearted endorsement supplied by the leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband – who cited his own family's history and the Spanish Civil War – and by heavyweights, such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Sir Menzies Campbell, speaking from the backbenches. Sir Menzies, who contrasted his dissenting vote in the Iraq debate with his backing for the Government on Libya, described the international action as "necessary, legal and legitimate". What would Tony Blair have given to have had the House in such a supportive mood?

Any tentative words of warning came almost exclusively from the nether regions of the Labour benches. Yet the questions asked, and the misgivings expressed, deserved their hearing, and on occasion better answers than they received. The combination of Mr Cameron's quiet confidence and Mr Miliband's sombre agreement was seductive. It was also hard, if only for lack of contrary evidence, to challenge the Prime Minister's premise that, if action had not been taken, "Gaddafi would have rolled up the whole of his country in the next 24 to 48 hours".

For the start of the deployment, the Government clinched its case. It was on far shakier ground over what happens next. Is there or is there not an intention to depose Colonel Gaddafi? The head of the UK armed forces, Sir David Richards, had earlier stated categorically that he was "absolutely not" a target – but what if he contrives to hang on? And how truly international is the force? Mr Cameron reeled off a list, but skated over the conspicuous lack of Arab countries, and the head of the Arab League's misgivings about what a no-fly zone would entail. The "protection of Libyan civilians" wore a bit thin as a definition of the mission's overall success.

Probably a more faithful reflection of the qualms in the country generally came from the former Labour defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth – not the only ex-minister to have gained in stature out of office. Clearly scarred by the Iraq experience, he said he was a "late and very reluctant supporter" of the action in Libya. As the operation encounters difficulties, even setbacks, as it surely will, that is a strain of opinion the Government will have to keep constantly in mind.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Only a game? Far from it

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking at the Grand Mosque in Mosul  

The al-Baghdadi doctrine: leading British Muslims offer their response

Independent Voices
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil