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Monday, November 30, 2015 

Let them have their war. This time they must answer for it.

If you thought Labour's machinations over Syria couldn't get any more absurd, then spare a thought for Syria Solidarity UK.  Despite the name, the group seems to exist solely for the purposes of trolling the Stop the War coalition.  In response to Saturday's various marches and actions by the StWC, SSUK put out a statement making clear its opposition both to their protests and the proposed government action, as the only legitimate option in their eyes and also by extension the ordinary Syrians they clearly represent would be "limited military action" to create no bombing zones.  They say the only way to oppose imperialism in Syria would be to protest outside the Russian embassy, and emphasise how Assad's forces are responsible for the majority of civilian deaths.

As with all the dullards on Saturday who tweeted pictures of the Russian embassy demanding to know why there weren't any protesters outside, the obvious response is if you're so pissed off about it, why don't all you pro-war anti-Assad anti-IS people band together, get organised and rally there yourselves?  Indeed, one would think the point of a group like SSUK would be to do just that, only they seem more concerned with pointing out just how wrong the StWC is than taking action.  Then again, when you look at the full drill down of which groups are meant to have killed civilians in Syria and see that according to the SSUK source the Kurds have killed more civilians overall than the al-Nusra Front has, a claim so bonkers that you can but marvel at the chutzpah of those pushing such nonsense, taking anything they say seriously would be a mistake.

Sadly, we must return to Labour and the still divided shadow cabinet.  Supposedly over the weekend calm minds and rational thinking were meant to prevail, and a common policy would be duly thrashed out.  And it's true, a shared approach has been decided upon: the party has agreed to disagree.

So much in the way of bullshit has been spouted over the last week and continues to be now that trying to separate the reality from the bluster is all but impossible.  Either way, it seems the decision to ask the membership what they thought in a mass email on Friday night was not discussed at the shadow cabinet meeting, and if there's one thing that's completely unacceptable in this day and age, it's asking a party's membership what it thinks about anything other than the leadership.  We all know why: members of political parties are complete weirdos, in that they probably watch the news and have an interest in politics, whereas the vast majority of the public do not.  Members of political parties tend to get hung up on things like gay marriage, Europe or wars, topics that could not be more alien to Mr and Mrs Average, who are completely average in every way.  Mr and Mrs Average are aspirational, dislike hateful people unless they hate the people they hate, and usually can be relied upon to support war, as long as it's over by Christmas.  If anyone should be asked what they think, it should be them, not the people who pay their monthly dues and help to keep parties afloat.

This went down badly with some of those shadow cabinet ministers who we're told believe David Cameron's case for war to be compelling.  With the exception of John Woodcock, whose justification pretty much runs to the French president has asked us to join in with the bombing and so we must despite all of these reasons for caution, few Labour MPs who are minded to vote with Cameron have explained just what it is they've found so compelling.  Far more have spoken of how they aren't convinced, including opponents of Corbyn.  Chris Bryant, who trained to be a vicar and decided to join the only other organisation more split than the CoE went through all manner of moral contortions on the Daily Politics, asking himself if he would have failed in his duty if there were an ISIS attack that killed one of his constituents at home or abroad and he had voted against Cameron's plan.  Surely such considerations also have to be turned on their head: what if he voted for the plan and there was an attack regardless?  Would it be any more or less of a comfort then?  Would he consider if his vote had made that constituent less safe, or would that be as some Labour MPs have argued to take away responsibility from those wholly responsible?

Corbyn we're equally told was determined not to allow a free vote, a position ascribed as much to Seumas Milne as Jez, the former Graun comment editor fast becoming as much of a bogeyman figure to the right of the party as Alastair Campbell did to the right-wing press and Peter Mandelson was to the left.  That the end result then was not merely a decision to grant a free vote, but also the party failed to agree on a position other than the one decided upon at conference, which was pretty much designed to make it impossible for the party to support military action only for Paris to happen does then strike as strange.  Does this show Corbyn is far weaker than he seems, that he doesn't after all say one thing in public and do another in private?  Could he not chance the possibility that if multiple shadow ministers resigned the much rumoured and talked about coup would be set in motion?  Did him simply, gasp, compromise despite everything, and let it lie on the likes of Hilary Benn that the party doesn't have any sort of policy at all?  Is this merely Corbyn deciding to let this one go, knowing that the hordes of Momentum will set off after those who vote with Cameron?

Rafael Behr, another of those journalists who post-Miliband seems to have gone off the deep end, reckons the party will despite everything carry on muddling through.  To him the "cold war" will go on rather than become open battle.  This ignores that by any yardstick, the number of Labour MPs who stood up during Cameron's statement on the Paris attacks two weeks ago and essentially agreed with the prime minister that their leader is a terrorist loving coward was about as open a declaration of war as it gets.  No leader can stay in place long when there is such a breakdown of discipline, when mutiny is in effect only a heartbeat away.  Corbyn can perhaps spin his failure to impose his will on the shadow cabinet as being part of his "new politics", but we all know full well that he instinctively wanted the party to oppose the widening of our role against Islamic State.  It's all the more galling that his instincts are the right ones, and that none of those opposing his stand have come near to explaining which part of his letter to MPs outlining his reasoning is incorrect.  The 5 tests of Dan Jarvis have been forgotten about exceedingly quickly.

Nevertheless, in the end Corbyn's decision to back down was the right one.  It is and does look awful that Labour doesn't have a policy, that it seems as though Corbyn and his shadow foreign secretary will stand at the dispatch box and disagree with each other, but it wasn't worth risking the alternatives, whether it was widespread resignations or worse.  The proposed action is so weak, so minor, that if they're this set on getting their war on, then let them.

If this latest war goes wrong though, as it's almost guaranteed to as there are no ground forces to take Raqqa other than the ones opposed by its very people, then this time those responsible have to be held accountable.  Yes, the principal blame should be put on a government that has a majority, a fact that the media seems to want to forget in its rush to, amazingly, pin responsibility on a hopeless opposition, but those who do vote with Cameron should have to justify themselves also.  When the action and case are so weak, when the facts are once again being fixed around the policy, when the recent past points towards the potential for making things worse, not better, if we don't at this point demand that those who so willingly vote for involvement in foreign conflicts answer for themselves, in the words of Cameron back in 2013 and again last week, then when?

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