A very small constitutional earthquake

By now, there can be nobody in the United States who is even remotely interested in foreign affairs who does not know that on Thursday the government in Britain suffered a defeat in the House of Commons with a clearly hostile debate in the House of Lords over the question of whether to intervene militarily in Syria.

Much has been made that this is the first defeat for a government over matters of war since some imbroglio in the eighteenth century when the Prime Minister was Lord North. The reason is actually simple: the government does not have to go to Parliament over either declaration of war and actual acts of war. These come under the Royal Prerogative, which is now vested in the government of the day and all attempts to change that through legislation have failed. However, Tony Blair found it necessary to ask Parliament (several times) about the war in Iraq and got his authorization. It would have been impossible for David Cameron to do otherwise but his case was quite genuinely not good enough to pass muster.

I wrote a blog a few days ago, in which I put together some of the questions that, in my opinion, those clamouring for intervention needed to answer. This has not happened to any acceptable degree and even after the vote, those who are hysterically lambasting the MPs refuse to do so, constantly shifting the ground as to why we should intervene.

Since the vote, which was immediately accepted by the Prime Minister, possibly with secret relief, I became involved in ferocious disputations on the subject. In the end I decided to sum up the situation as I saw it in another, rather long, blog. It is largely about the situation as far as Britain is concerned so it may be of interest to readers of this blog.

For the record, I do not think this is the end of the Special Relationship, which exists on many more levels than political posturing. As I say in the blog, if it survived Harold Wilson’s premiership, it will survive the Obama presidency. Some things are more important than immediate and confused politicking.

16 thoughts on “A very small constitutional earthquake”

  1. Can’t say anyone here felt that strongly about that bust. I also don’t think it has any relevance to this debate. After all, it is clear that much of the running was done by Cameron.

  2. That wasn’t my point. Obama has given many indications of his beliefs about allies. He prefers Muslim Brotherhood. I think Kenya ranks higher than Britain, myself, in his estimation.

  3. Helen – Could you explain something that puzzled me? Why did Cameron and company schedule a vote that they should have known they would lose?

    In the US House, the leadership will usually know, within two or three votes, what the outcome will be on any important vote. And if they don’t have a majority, and really want to win, they will usually postpone a vote until they do.

    I assume that the whips in the House of Commons are at least as good at counting votes as the whips in the House of Representatives.

    So I was surprised, as I said yesterday, when Cameron lost by 13 votes.

    Was Cameron so sure he would win that he didn’t even bother to ask for a preliminary vote count? Did the votes shift drastically in the last few hours? Or, and this is the strangest of all, did he want to lose?

  4. Jim, a good question but I am not sure Cameron knew he would lose. He thought until the last day that Labour would either support or abstain but was told suddenly by Ed Miliband that they would vote against. Also, the Whips do not seem to have been particularly effective and a purge is being planned in that office, by all accounts. Probably, it did not occur to him that the Commons will show their teeth as they have not done so for a very long time.

    Lastly, I don’t think he had much choice in the matter. Though constitutionally he could go ahead without Parliament, politically it would have been most unwise.

  5. Speaking as a non-Brit, and therefore subject to being very, very wrong on the subject; but obviously this was not a confidence vote. So Cameron lives to …. do whatever … as Prime Minister. If he had not allowed a vote, and joined in “Operation Drive-by Missiling”; would he not have been likely to face an immediate confidence vote? And given what I have seen in the Brit papers about all parties there, would not the resulting general election been somewhat of a craps shoot?

    Subotai Bahadur

  6. I think I understand the expression crap shoot and yes an election this year would be that. And no, UKIP would not benefit for all sorts of reasons that I have written about at length before. If Cameron had gone into this adventure without Parliamentary agreement there might well have been a confidence vote but it would have been later on, when the House of Commons reassembles briefly in September. The Opposition could not have recalled Parliament early. My guess is that under threat the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems would have rallied round the government and the motion would have been won but he would have had to give something in return.

  7. “he would have had to give something in return.”

    It is my firm belief that GHW Bush gave the Democrats the 1991 tax increase in return for their support for Gulf War I. It’s been denied ad nauseum but I think few are convinced who remember the time. That did not work out well for him.

    Obama is still doing domestic politics with this but that is all he knows how to do.

  8. And now Obama does the same maneuver, with probably the same expected result.

    The President deserves credit for this deft move this morning. If I were any more anti-Obama I’d be writing from detention.

    I doubt Cameron wanted Operation Drive By, and I don’t think Obama does either. This is actually quite astute.

    As to the Gas: What does it matter now?

  9. Obama wants to do something to punish Bashar al-Assad for using sarin gas. He does not wantt to invade Syria using troops or bomb syria because this will upset Putin and many, many more. Besides bombing Syria or invading Syria will kill a lot of Syrians (as if…). Obama can’t use a drone of Assad because Assad will shoot it down. So Obama wants a way to punish Assad so that Assad will say “I’m sorry and I promise never to do that again, O Great Leader Obama”.

    The best way to punish Assad without making Russia & China angry is to send Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice over to Syria tomorrow on Air Force One (and just them, no one else except MSM news crews) to personally see Bashar al-Assad and then slap his face. And then arrest him as a war criminal to be tried by the UN war crimes trbunal and then all four will board Air Force One and fly to the UN court. Ambassador Rice will provide the hand cuffs.

  10. Excellent suggestion. Even if Assad shots Air Force One down, Obama will have made his point. And incidentally raised the IQ in Washington significantly.

  11. There is no side in Syria worth supporting. The only sensible thing to do is to let them fight it out till there’s a clear winner – then kill them. At least we’d accomplish something useful.

  12. 0 needs to shoot, oh, I don’t know, say a deserted drive-in-movie site in the desert somewhere and move on to the next thing.

  13. “I doubt Cameron wanted Operation Drive By, and I don’t think Obama does either. This is actually quite astute.”

    Hopefully that’s the situation. These leaders can spin any future outcome in their favour, so they’re not pressing the point.

    Think about Cameron writing his memoirs. If an attack on Syria goes ahead and fails -as it likely would- then he can point out how he listened to the British people and doing that avoided a great catastrophe. On the other hand if intervention succeeds (or never occurs) he can talk about how parliaments was short-sighted and stood in his way.

  14. Bombing the Syrians in order to save them is a bad idea. Didn’t work in My Lai. Ask Kerry about the My Lai Massacre.

    What we need is a secret mission to steal all Assad’s poison gas and replace it with Laughing Gas. Don’t send Seals or CIA types. Send Bradd Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They have a better track record. Or send Tom Cruise.

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