Speculating in the late afternoon on the possibility of the government being defeated in last night’s Commons vote, which was designed to establish ‘the principle’ of using military action against Syria, John Pienaar argued such a defeat would represent a terminal loss of authority for David Cameron.
Well, it happened. Cameron’s motion to prepare the way for military action was defeated 285 votes to 272. As the Daily Mail excitedly points out, the last time a Prime Minister was defeated over an issue of war and peace was in 1782 and the vote plunges him into a ‘deep political crisis’. The Telegraph tries to play down the gravity of what the events in the Commons mean for Cameron’s authority, while saying the vote was unprecedented they only went so far as to say the Parliamentary vote ‘may also undermine Mr Cameron’s international reputation’.
What is disturbing is that the Government benches managed to secure as many as 272 votes for the principle of military intervention at all, particularly when all that was presented in evidence was an emotion-fuelled ‘judgement call’ based on a flakey summary from the Joint Intelligence Committee, which lacked any hard proof and relied as much on a lack of evidence that the rebels were to blame as it did on evidence that the regime was responsible. It was in no way a sound basis for launching military action. The dearth of hard information from the intelligence community and lack of certainty about who was culpable and what the consequences would be of intervention meant it was utter folly to bring the matter before the Commons and press for an agreement in principle to loose off a variety of missiles.
What would be unprecendented would be Cameron being able to rebuild his authority. It, along with his credibility, has been shattered in stunning fashion. The floodgates are now open, and for all his bluster this vote has solidified internal Conservative Party opposition ranged against him on a variety of issues.
Cameron, who achieved his sole aim of becoming Prime Minister, despite failing to navigate his party to an election win against one of the most unpopular and disliked governments of the modern era, has also now failed to navigate his own little military adventure for his vain legacy. He has shown he cannot seal the deal. He is now just a figurehead that has detached from the ship, to bob around on the political ocean, swept along by various tides and swamped by the big waves of the day, not in control of events and not at the front of anything.
This really marks the start of the end for his political career. The Conservatives may defy the odds to bounce back, but Cameron is now too damaged and the ruthless power brokers in the background will now be looking at who could succeed him. The Tory party dynamics have just changed dramatically.