Often derided as indecisive, the Labour leader has sprung a pre-emptive strike in insisting that Labour is to table its own amendment to the debate. On Twitter he announced that parliament must “not write a blank cheque” and that prime minister, David Cameron, must report back to MPs after the UN weapons inspectors have reported back from Syria. “Parliament must tomorrow [sic] agree criteria for action, not write a blank cheque,” Miliband tweeted.
During his conversation with the Prime Minister on Tuesday night he made it clear that Britain should take the Syrian crisis to the UN security council. This reflects the significance of the call from the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, for inspectors in Damascus to be given more time. Consequently, the recall of parliament will now extend to a second vote on whether to take military action against the Assad regime despite Cameron’s promise to deal with the issue in one sitting.
Incredibly, it seems that the Labour leader has finally outmanoeuvred David Cameron. In what will be seen as an infamous telephone call, Mr Miliband told the Prime Minister that Labour could not support British involvement in international missile strikes without more compelling evidence and a clear legal basis upon which to act. The Opposition leader emphasised that he could not allow Labour MPs to support a government motion which would have given approval for a planned two-day bombardment – almost certainly with British Tomahawk cruise missiles -as early as this weekend.
It had taken just 90 minutes. As a Labour source told the Daily Telegraph: ”at 5:15pm David Cameron totally ruled out a second vote, an hour and a half later he changed his mind,” and added “Ed was determined to do the right thing. It has taken Labour forcing a vote to force the Government to do the right thing.” The Labour leader has made a strategic decision, and quickly – something for which he is not well-known.
With key figures inside the party waving the sepulchral grave-clothes of the Iraq war of a decade ago and urging caution against joining in a new conflict in the already volatile Middle East on the one hand, and a gaggle of the usual suspects from Blair’s government at the time urging Miliband to back Cameron’s call to arms on the other, one wonders how on Earth Mr Miliband came to his forthright decision.
Surely it can’t have been Labour’s motor-mouth of choice, Diane Abbot’s threat to resign from the Opposition front bench, can it? “On the basis of what I know now, I’m not even sure that intervention would be legal,” she told the Today programme and repeated throughout the day. “It runs a big risk of making matters worse and of dragging us into a civil war in Syria with no endgame. There’s no such thing as a short sharp intervention in a Middle East situation. Iraq was meant to be short and sharp.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander told her to pipe down: “Diane is not the arbiter of the Labour Party. She has expressed her view. She is entitled to her own counsel,” he said. So there!
Had Cameron not conceded to the second vote when MPs officially return from recess then the Coalition government would have faced almost certain defeat today. The watered-down motion for today now stands as: “Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place.”
Actually, history will tell that it was Twitter ‘wot won it!’ Amidst muffled Downing Street fury, Labour pointed out that the Prime Minister had been resisting a second vote until Miliband tweeted his plan to table his own amendment. Presumably, the Labour leader has realised the only place to make a powerful point these days is on social media. He’s standing by his plan. We know because the tweets haven’t been deleted, unlike David Cameron’s credibility with his backbenchers.
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