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Daily catch-up: Cameron won't ask the Commons to vote to bomb Isis in Syria

Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, elaborated a new constitutional principle yesterday

John Rentoul
Monday 09 November 2015 09:11 GMT

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, said on the Andrew Marr show yesterday that the Government still intended to put the question of bombing in Syria to a vote in the House of Commons. What he meant was that the Government had no intention of doing so, and that he didn't think the Isis bombing of the Russian plane from Sharm el-Sheikh would make enough difference to change MPs' minds to make it possible.

When we’re confident that there’s a consensus in the House of Commons, we will go to the House of Commons and hold a debate and vote ... There’s a sort of exploration process here of understanding whether a majority of Labour MPs would in fact back this action.

A majority of Labour MPs is a high bar. It was cleared when the House of Commons voted to approve the bombing of Isis in Iraq, at the request of the Iraqi government, on 26 September 2014. The vote was 524 for and 43 against. Ed Miliband supported it, but 25 Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, and six Conservatives opposed the decision. And David Cameron didn't even try to get approval for bombing Isis in Syria, because, although the question was different, the same combination of Conservative rebels and Labour MPs would have defeated him as in the vote in August 2013 on strikes against Assad to punish him for using chemical weapons.

Simply to secure a majority, all David Cameron needs is enough Labour MPs to offset Conservative rebels. In 2013, 30 Conservatives voted against the Government. Most of them are still in the Commons after the election, and they are unlikely to support military action in Syria, even if it is targeting Isis rather than Assad.

That would wipe out Cameron’s working majority of 17, unless 22 Labour MPs voted with the Government. But no Labour MPs voted with the Government in 2013 (Jim Murphy, who lost his seat at the election, has since said that he regrets his failure to do so). Paradoxically, under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour MPs who take an interventionist line on foreign affairs might feel freer to vote against their leader and with the Government, but there are unlikely to be as many as 22 of them.

Nor can Cameron rely on the Northern Irish Unionist MPs to win the vote. Five of the DUP’s eight MPs voted against the Government in 2013; the other three didn’t vote; nor did the two UUP MPs. The Lib Dems, having split in the 2013 vote are now led by Tim Farron, who is strongly opposed to bombing in Syria, although it would be interesting to see how Nick Clegg votes if there is a next time (see Paddy Ashdown’s interview in yesterday's Independent on Sunday). The other parties – SNP, Plaid Cymru and SDLP – are also opposed to military action in Syria.

Legally, Cameron could give the order without a vote in Parliament. Decisions on military action are taken under the royal prerogative, the Queen acting on the advice of her Prime Minister. But since a vote on the principle of bombing Iraq to force Saddam Hussein’s compliance with UN resolutions in 1998 a new convention has been accepted, that the House of Commons must approve military action.

Hammond yesterday added to that convention: that a majority of both main parties must do so.

My column for The Independent on Sunday was a Namierite analysis of the Conservative leadership election. I'm not saying that MPs are driven purely by self-interest, but sometimes it is interesting to look at what would happen if they were. In this case, Theresa May would lead the "Leave" campaign in the EU referendum.

The Top 10 in The New Review, the Independent on Sunday magazine, is Old Names of Countries. Several I like, such as Siam, didn't make the final selection. Mark Gettleson said: "‏I rather like Upper Volta, Kaiser-Wilhelmsland, Malagasy Republic and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies." Kaiser-Wilhelmsland didn't make it because it was never an independent nation: it was part of German New Guinea. If I had known the Two Sicilies issued postage stamps, I might have considered it. Or them. Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso, was also nominated by Richard Moodey and Pete C, but I had enough African countries by then. There was also Bechuanaland, now Botswana, nominated by Moodey and Paul Bexon.

One of the best things in The Independent on Remembrance Sunday was Keith Howitt's account of his journey to discover more about his father's part in the Great War.

And finally, thanks to Moose Allain for this:

"Just about to make my debut as the eponymous hero in the play Ganglion. I’m a bundle of nerves."

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