The debate last night was disappointing. I agree that Hilary Benn was, by some measure, the most passionate, the most eloquent. I agree absolutely with him that Daesh is a group of fascists, murderers and rapists which represents a serious threat to the security of Britain and, indeed, the world. I agree with him that it must be confronted. I do not agree with the means by which he urges us to do so.
Which, according to our prime minister, makes me part of the “bunch of terrorist sympathisers”. I am not.
Yesterday, I listened to an interview with a Syrian Anglican priest, Father Nadim Nassar. He is the only contributor to the debate I have heard who lives in Syria, who knows Raqqah, who understands the situation. “It is the wrong thing to do” he said. “IS lives among the people” he said, “there is no front line”. For every Daesh terrorist killed, hundreds of innocents will die. Hundreds more will be radicalized.
And yet, within an hour of Benn’s speech, the bombing had commenced, validated by an overwhelming majority in the Commons.
I suspect that the House of Commons is the only place in the country where such a large majority for bombing exists: when the Mirror and the Mail are at one, one can sense a national consensus emerging. A significant proportion of the majority was made up of Labour MPs and we heard some of them this morning, distressed at what they regard as bullying but sounds more like petty name-calling to me. No-one who has spent any time in the Labour party or in politics of any kind can lose much sleep over being termed a ‘red Tory’ or even a ‘warmonger’, although plenty will be losing sleep over the fact that we are once again engaged in a war which, like Iraq and Libya, will probably make things worse.
But apparently many Labour MPs are tossing and turning and, for huge swathes of the Today programme this morning, the main thrust of Robinson’s questioning of Labour politicians concerned this frankly ridiculous side-show. “It’s all about me” seemed to be their mantra.
Listening, I was prompted to search out my old copy of Edmund Burke’ speeches, and in particular his address to the slave-trading electors of Bristol in 1774.(OK, I Googled it - it was quicker.)
Burke argues against the view that an MP is a representative whose “will ought to be subservient to” that of his electors. He argues against “authoritative instructions” and “mandates issued” (Burke’s italics).
In a much-quoted sentence, he stated: "Your representative owes, not his industry only, but his judgment”(my italics).
Putting aside the parliamentary practice of whipping (“authoritative instructions”) and claims of legality and validity for welfare cuts claimed as a result of a paltry electoral majority (“mandates issued”), this remains true today. Or should.
Our MPs have exercised their 'judgement'. And it is their ‘judgement’ which will be called into question and, legitimately and logically, called to account.
No, Alan Johnson, that is not a threat. It is the democratic process. As Burke pointed out, an MP's "unbiassed opinion, mature judgement, enlightened conscience" are a trust ...
"for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable".
Today from the everysmith vaults: Muddy Waters: “there’s no escape from the blues”.