On Syria, we have allowed Labour policy to be dictated by the government
; . Britain is already feeling the impact of last Thursday's .
For Labour too, what happened requires urgent and deep reflection. Let's be clear what most Labour MPs were and were not voting for last week. We were not voting to support Britain taking part in immediate military action, but nor were we voting to rule it out completely. Neither were most Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. But because of Cameron's grotesque mishandling of the parliamentary recall and his "rush to decision", that's where we are. All three main parties and their leaders whatever further war crimes Bashar al-Assad commits, however much worse the humanitarian crisis becomes and whatever the UN or the US and others decide to do.
A considerable number of Labour MPs (many more than have so said so publicly) feel deeply uneasy about this. Where do we stand if Democrat America, Socialist France, Turkey and the Arab League go ahead with strikes? What is our view of how Britain should vote in the UN security council? How should we respond in the unlikely event that Putin was speaking the truth ? Does being nice to Iran and talking about Britain's now diminished diplomatic and humanitarian role constitute a foreign policy? Labour needs to have clear and unambiguous answers to these questions. They will dominate politics through the party conference season.
Labour's amendment on Syria was clear and sound. It was supported by all but a handful of our MPs. It didn't rule out supporting military action but laid down five conditions that would have to be met before a decision: 1) confirmation by the UN weapons inspectors that chemical weapons were used; 2) compelling evidence that the Assad regime was responsible; 3) a vote in the UN security council; 4) a legal basis; 5) time-limited action with precise achievable objectives to deter the future use of chemical weapons. What if these conditions are met? Instead of sticking to this sensible and measured approach, we seem to have abandoned it because of the incompetence of a Tory prime minister. We have allowed foreign policy to be dictated by the government.
was absolutely right to put a brake on Cameron's "rush to war", and was as taken aback as we all were when the prime minister, at his petulant worst, took the military option off the table following his defeat. Miliband now needs to use the extra time offered by the UN process, the G20 and the US congressional debate to reflect on Labour's position and discuss it with colleagues.
The Labour party is internationalist or we are nothing. We have a strong and proud tradition of supporting humanitarian intervention and being prepared to do difficult things with other liberal democracies to uphold global norms and stand up to dictators. I came back to being an active Labour party member and then an MP because of my disgust at the Tory government's inaction in the Balkans in the 1990s. It was thanks to the 1997 Labour government working with President Clinton that was stopped. The countries of former the Yugoslavia are now at peace and either EU members or queuing up to join. .
The "prism of Iraq" was used to explain last Thursday's votes, not least by senior Conservatives reaching for an excuse for their failure. The problem with prisms is they distort. Leadership is about learning the right not the wrong lessons from the past, judging each case on its merits and deciding accordingly.
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