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Wednesday, December 02, 2015 

"I don't even know your name." "Oh, it's evil death cult, but you can call me Daesh."

Call me old-fashioned, but just like it's not the best idea in the world to sleep with someone when you don't so much as know their name, I would advise that at the very least we ought to decide on what to call an "evil death cult" before we start bombing its capital.  For in one of the most inane and specious decisions in politics of recent times, David Cameron and the government have decided to start calling Islamic State Daesh.

Except no one knows exactly how you pronounce Daesh.  In the Commons today various people have gone for Die Ash, or Die Esh, while for others it's Dash.  US secretary of state John Kerry prefers Dayshh, all one syllable.  When MPs that can barely speak English start trying to get their tongues round Arabic, it ought to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we might be in over our heads.  That it's phenomenally stupid to use Daesh at all, with those arguing for its use claiming it has fewer negative connotations than Islamic State, despite how, err, Daesh is merely the Arabic acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa’al Sham, which translated means the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, doesn't seem to matter.  Whatever you call them other than an evil death cult adds up to the same thing, regardless of whether Islamic State likes Daesh or not.  Once again I extend my offer to Cameron, or anyone else for that matter, to go and meet al-Baghdadi and tell him to his face that his organisation is neither Islamic or a state.  His response would be interesting.

Perhaps this ridiculous overprotection of someone somewhere offended by how their faith is being impugned by a terrorist group, the sort most Tories would ordinarily denounce, has a link with the similarly fragile disposition of some Labour MPs.  Precious flowers that they are, they've been complaining of bullying and threats by anonymous people should they vote with the government.  Threats it nonetheless ought to be obvious are unacceptable, and utterly counter-productive.  So too are suggestions that the way MPs vote on Syria will lead to the deselection process being activated.  If there is any truth whatsoever to Stella Creasy for instance being targeted in such a way, it only proves how brain dead and foolish a few within Labour are.  The party desperately needs such dedicated campaigners, whether members agree entirely with their politics or not.

Some of the supposed "bullying" though is little more than robust debate and lobbying, of a kind that MPs are not used to and which social media has enabled.  Many MPs today have stated how this is the most serious decision they will be asked to make.  Such serious decisions lead understandably to passionate, angry and unfiltered discourse, especially when the medium being used is not moderated.  It's also in part down to the weariness, the feeling of having been here before.  Add how it's being pushed by a Conservative government whose leader last night all but called anyone who disagrees with him a "terrorist sympathiser", as he must have known his words would be interpreted, and it's not surprising feelings have been running high.

Similarly, until the intervention tonight of Ed Miliband and then Corbyn himself, unequivocally condemning for a second time any bullying there has been, most of those at the forefront of complaining have been those opposed to Corbyn from the get go.  For John Mann of all people to decry bullying is of itself a laugh, when he's had no problem making claims about child abuse at Westminster without providing the slightest of evidence.  It's difficult also to feel much in the way of sympathy for MPs who might now be getting dogs' abuse when the disloyalty has been so total in recent weeks, from the constant briefing of the media to the outright siding with Cameron of a couple of weeks ago.  Pat McFadden even had the chutzpah to once again bring up the making excuses for terrorists nonsense, while John Woodcock whined of how he would do everything to prevent Labour from becoming "the vanguard of an angry, intolerant pacifism", the party needing to do better to "be a credible official opposition".  If being a "credible official opposition" translates to agreeing with military action despite the very basics of a viable plan not being on offer, then angry, intolerant pacifism is most certainly preferable.

The Commons has never wanted for exceptionally gifted speakers who can convince with the sheer power of their rhetoric.  Hilary Benn a matter of minutes ago made a speech to rival that of Robin Cook's back in 2003, such was its eloquence, only his was for British involvement in a Middle Eastern country rather than against it.  If the decision was simply about providing air cover for the Kurds, whether in Iraq or Syria, and other countries were not already doing so or drawing back from it, then I too would be convinced of the need to act.  It will not do to pretend that air power has not "worked" in so far as it has helped the Kurds to defend themselves and then fight back against Islamic State.  At the same time we must look at what that means once the dust has cleared: Sinjar was taken back by all but destroying it.  The same will almost certainly happen in time to Raqqa.  Similarly, before Islamic State is "degraded" the threat will increase.  It will increase whether we involve ourselves directly in Syria or not, but doing so will specifically make us even more of a target than we are currently.  One of the slim consolations about the debate today has been the awareness of how our action will alter that threat, something previously not acknowledged anywhere near enough.

What I find sad is that with the exception of Benn and a few others on both sides of the argument who made their case with clarity and without giving into clichés, those few Tory rebels against their leader spoke more for me than many of the representatives of a party I am now a member of, albeit of the registered supporter variety.  John Baron, Julian Lewis and Andrew Tyrie all set out how internationalism and solidarity, as important as they are, are not enough of a justification when a broad strategy and plan is sorely lacking.  As Tyrie said, "Once we have deployed military forces in Syria, we will be militarily, politically and morally deeply engaged in that country, and probably for many years to come".  It is not about doing nothing, as some have claimed, as we have long been doing something in Syria.

Now that the government has won with a large majority, with some Labour MPs clearly influenced by Benn's oratory, I genuinely hope those MPs do not come to regret their decision. Nor that in 15 years' time we will be awaiting the results of a further war inquiry.

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I pronounce it 'Dah-Esh' myself ;-)

Benn's speech was good (though not free of cliche - 'our enemies are fascists' is one of the most overused rhetorical maneuvers), but it did rather illustrate the problem of the pro-war group; bigging up airstrikes to be something much more devastating and decisive than they can be; full of powerful rhetoric about moral duties, but worrying unspecific about how we're actually going to carry out said moral duty.

I also find it odd that our moral duty extends to 'dropping bombs' but not to 'hang around and help guide the resolution', which should surely be an important part of any intervention.

I hardly agreed with a word Benn said, but what made his speech stand out from the rest was how it was free from the hand-wringing, self-pitying tone of so much of the other speeches, with MPs doing their best as per to make it all about them. Oh, it's so hard to take the decision to bomb - well yes, but it's immensely worse for those about to be in the crossfire. You're right on how it wasn't free from cliche, as whatever IS are they are not fascists, totalitarians or not.

The other thing that annoys is that it takes a debate like yesterday's to see the sort of passion and purpose that Labour so desperately needs, and it's directed towards something that if anything will lose the party votes. If there had been so much as an ounce of similar fervour during the leadership campaign from any of the other three, the party wouldn't be so bitterly divided now. Talk about not knowing which battles to choose.

Yes that's true, he was at least making a clear case with conviction and without trying to weasel out of the responsibility for it. I expect that, when Benn is leader and Syria blows up in our faces, this speech will be endlessly replayed with the finger of blame pointing at him though ('the speech that took us to war' etc.)...

I have often said that if Cooper, at least, had started the contest the way she finished she would have won. But this does rather expose Labour's problem, at least with the actual moderates in the party. They're capable of making a passionate speech here because it reflects the 'national mood' and makes them look 'credible'; but they can't do it in defence of benefits (at least until the middle classes start weeping on Question Time) because it wouldn't be in the 'national mood' and it would make them look 'uncredible'. They're followers, not leaders. So it goes.

Case in point - Andy Burnham towards the end came to the conclusion that if he'd resigned from the shadow cabinet over the welfare vote as he considered doing he would have won. I think he might have too, but of course he didn't as that would have been the "easy" option.

On Cooper - thank goodness she didn't, considering her unbelievably wet speech yesterday which some hilariously had in their list of the best.

That was just it; everyone was telling Harman that this would hand Corbyn the victory, and yet none of them then did the obvious thing and resigned and vote against. And these were the people with the supposed strategic nous to lead Labour to victory!

(To which could also be added: 'can better read the national mood, despite not being able to read the mood of their own party members).

On Cooper: yes her speech was dreadful. 'Here are sll the reasons why this is a bad idea, but I will vote in support anyway'. *facepalm*

Beckett's was another that was touted as one of the best and I could not for the life of me understand why.

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