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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game