So the air strikes have begun. What happens next for MPs?
I sat through watching the debate on telly from mid afternoon through to the vote itself and beyond. Click here to Parliament.tv and scroll downwards to pick out the MPs of your choice to hear what they said.
Details of who voted which way are here on Public Whip. Outside the Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament were anti-war protesters. Whatever you think of their case, taking to the streets on a cold December evening in central London is not something most people take lightly.
“So, was it a case of blood-thirsty MPs going all gung-ho?!”
Not from where I was watching. Nor was the consent given by many MPs that spoke in favour of the air strikes unconditional. A blank cheque this was not – going by their speeches. To show this was not a blank cheque by their actions MPs will need to haul ministers before the Commons and cross-examine them on all of the weaknesses & shortcomings that MPs raised in the Syria debate. Indeed – as Pete Wishart MP of the SNP said, ministers should have given much more time for an extended debate.
“So…we’re now at war then?”
As Fleet Street Fox (Susie Boniface) said in her column, we’re already at war. Note the monthly list published by the Government on air strikes in Iraq. The motion tabled by the Government covered expanding those strikes to the same network but in Syria. Note the final bullet point here.
“How did Cambridgeshire MPs vote?”
“And your take?”
For me, the most compelling speech that stood out for me (of those I heard) was from former Mayor of Cambridge, Brent MP Barry Gardiner.
(If the above-embedding doesn’t work, have a watch of Mr Gardiner’s speech here).
Similar points were made by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas
(Click on the link in Ms Lucas’s tweet)
“What about Hilary Benn’s barnstorming speech that got applauded by the Tories?”
Mr Benn gave what many commentators said was the speech of his life. Watch it in full here. As a parliamentary speech, it was excellent. As the choice framed by the Government was concerned – i.e. ‘Do something vs do nothing’, it hit home and convinced a number of wavering MPs to follow ministers through the Yes/Ayes lobby.
Note too that Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats also gave a similar speech – one that didn’t get nearly as much coverage as it would have done had he delivered it 9 months ago. Just as with Mr Benn, Mr Farron – perhaps to the surprise of many Liberal Democrats, spoke in favour of air strikes. Interestingly, two of the eight Liberal Democrat MPs voted against air strikes – including Mr Farron’s leadership opponent Norman Lamb MP.
Note that Mr Farron made clear that his support was highly conditional – stating that this vote was the toughest call he has had to make, and that there were huge unanswered questions on choking off funding of terror networks, safe havens for refugees and issues over regional powers.
“So why didn’t Mr Benn or Mr Farron persuade you?”
Because as Mr Gardiner said, the Government had presented Parliament with a false choice. The Prime Minister needed to come up with something far more comprehensive than he has done. Note the issues that the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee raised in the summary here.
“But even as you acknowledge, you’ve not explored the details. So how can you make an informed call?”
This is where I sort of fall back on my civil service training: As I tweeted to a few MPs: ‘Select your criteria wisely & examine the evidence diligently. For now you owe your constituents your careful judgement’.
My point being that it’s possible with the same set of criteria and the same evidence bases to come to different conclusions – as MPs did. These were ones who had access to national security briefings that the rest of us did not. Hence the point about examining the evidence carefully and cross-examining officials effectively in those private briefings.
“What about the sending of abuse to Labour MPs?”
Anecdotally they seem to be taking more heat than the Government ministers whose policy this is. What’s even more surprising is that even if the entire Parliamentary Labour Party had voted with Mr Corbyn, the Conservatives had enough support from its own benches and the Ulster Unionists (that traditionally support the Conservatives) to have won the Syria Vote.
“Hang on – the media was all about Corbyn in the run up to the vote!”
Labour MP and digital policy lead Louise Haigh MP made this very point. As the Chief Executive of Ipsos Mori, Ben Page tweeted to Puffles & others, the Labour splits made for a ‘better’ media story than scrutinising the details of Government policy.
This was something that I tweeted to a number of journalists, such as Laura Kuennsberg of the BBC
There was minimal mainstream media focus on the concerns Conservative MPs had – as it turned out seven of them voted against the Government and a further seven abstained. This matters because the Government only has a working majority of 17.
In practice, Ulster & Democratic Unionists tend to side with the Conservatives (or the governing party of the day) on big international issues that commit military intervention like this, raising that total to 27. But on paper, those rebelling MPs plus all of the opposition MPs voting together against the Government could have defeated the Government. You’ve also got to note the MPs that could not make it to the Commons to vote – on the opposition side, at least one is on maternity leave and another is in hospital. Hence the totals not adding up to the total number of MPs in the Commons.
“What about the abuse though?”
Long overdue, but it looks like Labour will finally be taking action.
The problem Labour face is that a lot of the abuse is coming from those outside of the party. What can the party do with, for example far left organisations outside of the party that call for specific MPs to be deselected? (This is separate to calls from people inside a political party calling for MPs to be deselected. Essentially if you are a party member, you get a say on who gets to stand as candidates for your local party).
There’s only so much social media guidelines and policies on bullying can do. The problem is cultural and social – it goes far beyond Labour and far beyond party politics. That said, the labour movement is big enough and influential enough to lead on addressing the problems.
I’ve stuck by Puffles’ house rules in various forms for the best part of five years. These work for me and also ‘set the tone’ of how I communicate & who I choose to engage with.
“Going back to the Syria vote, what do MPs need to do now?”
It’s as Mr Farron said. Basically MPs need to be relentless in continual scrutiny of ministers, hauling them up in front of the Commons through urgent questions if necessary. There are so many policy gaps that MPs raised in the debate that need focussing on. Select committees too need to consider what issues they can hold hearings on – because those hearings alone could force the Government’s hand and lead to much more improved policies on ‘non-military actions’.