Everyone agrees the debate on whether to bomb showed our democracy at its finest. To start with, David Cameron called on all his command of history, Etonian diplomacy and wit to call his opponents “terrorist sympathisers”. Then, if anyone objected, he replied: “Look, we must move on.” This is debating at the highest level, and it would be marvellous to see Cameron try this method in pubs on the council estates of Peckham.
Opinion polls suggest that half of the population opposes the bombing, so the situation is worse than we thought, with around 30 million terrorist sympathisers – which is quite a worry as it means that Isis could win a general election, as long as its leader didn’t spoil his chances by saying something daft in the TV debates.
Then there were the Labour MPs supporting the bombing, who all assured us: “I have given this matter a great deal of thought and not taken this decision lightly.” This was highly considerate of them. Not one of them said: “I’ve given this no thought as I couldn’t give a monkey’s wank. So I made my decision by putting two slugs on a beermat and the one on the left reached the end first, so I’m with Corbyn.”
Then came the speech by Hilary Benn, which was so powerful that it persuaded MPs such as Stella Creasy to vote with Cameron. She said afterwards: “Benn persuaded me fascism should be defeated.”
Presumably then, until his speech, she thought fascism was worth a try. When she makes a full statement, it will say: “I always thought I might try fascism as a hobby when I retire, but Hilary explained the negative aspects very well so, on balance, I decided it’s best to defeat it.”
Benn has been praised for being “impassioned”. That was certainly true of the longest part of his speech, which went something like: “These people hate us. They hate our values, they hate our democracy, they hate our way of life. They hate our food, they hate our pets, they hate our weather, they have utter contempt for our garden centres, they despise Adele’s new album, they hate Cornwall, they hate Football Focus – and hated it even when it was presented by Des Lynam – and they can’t stand our flora and fauna, including our bluebells.”
Dozens of MPs were keen to remind us how much Isis hates us, which would be a reasonable point, if people opposed to bombing were saying: “Oh, I don’t think they mind us all that much. We’ve just got off on the wrong foot. Maybe if we invite them to a barbecue we’ll find out we’ve got more in common that we realise.”
It’s a shame that Benn didn’t have longer to speak, as he could have been impassioned about one more aspect of the rise of Isis, which is that most people agree this was caused – at least in part – by the disastrous invasion of Iraq, which Hilary Benn also voted for. You would think that might crop up, but instead we should just accept that the obvious solution to any disaster is to get the people who caused it to put it right by doing exactly what caused it in the first place. That’s why, if an electrician sets your house on fire, you insist on getting the same one to repair it, and on no account take any notice of the idiot who kept shouting: “Don’t do that, you’ll set the house on fire.”
Some Labour MPs have assured us that the debate was different from the one before the invasion of Iraq because this time Cameron’s assessment and intelligence was “convincing”. But at the time Tony Blair was trying to convince people, and he sounded convincing as well. He didn’t turn up to the Iraq debate wearing a chicken costume, then swallow a balloon full of helium before screaming “Saddam can attack us in 45 minutes” in a squeaky voice and blowing bubbles at John Prescott.
Blair told us, with a solemn gaze, that to take no action in Iraq would be lethal, that we couldn’t stand aside, that there was a plan for what to do after the invasion, and he knew for a fact there were weapons of mass destruction. Now we are told that to take no action in Syria would be lethal, there is a plan for what to do after air strikes, we can’t stand aside and Cameron knows for a fact there are 70,000 moderates waiting for us to help out.
Few military experts believe this; Max Hastings says it is “bonkers”. But most MPs would believe Cameron if he said: “I have also been informed that there is a moderate, giant, two-headed bulldog, allied neither to Daesh nor to Assad, who will chew Isis to death once our brave pilots have bombed the region.”
Similarly, they believe the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond’s claim that there is a plan to introduce “free and fair elections” in Syria within 18 months, and this plan is “backed by Saudi Arabia”. That makes sense: if Saudi Arabia is known for one thing, it’s putting on elections. It’s just elections, elections, elections in Saudi. It’s a wonder they get anything else done.
We will all get excited over the next few days, when we see blurred film of something going up in smoke in a desert, and we are told this is a precision bomb blowing up an Isis factory where they manufacture evil.
The only other development we can so easily predict is that, in 10 years’ time, lots of politicians will say: “Of course, in retrospect, it’s easy to see that the bombing of Syria was a catastrophe. But this is different, so it’s essential we bomb Finland. They hate us.”
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