Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Cameron’s retreat on Syria vote: why it happened and what it means

To be fair to David Cameron, he’s not the only leader who’s performed a volte-face in the past 24 hours. If you’d listened to Ed Miliband yesterday afternoon, you might have been forgiven for thinking that he was quite likely to support the government’s motion on Syria, so long as it was and ‘legal’ and had specific and limited aims.

But he didn't even bother waiting for the government to publish its motion before he announced his party would amend it, demanding that Parliament only vote on military intervention once the UN weapons inspectors had reported.

This wouldn't have mattered so much had the Coalition been able to rely on rock-solid support from its own MPs. But that low-key whipping operation I reported on earlier managed to find enough discontent and fear about the consequences of military intervention among MPs that the Prime Minister was advised that between 50 and 60 MPs might rebel. Given the government's working majority is 77, and given the difficulty of twisting the arms of MPs who are firstly not yet in Parliament and secondly more likely to want to vote with their consciences - even under a three line whip - it was clear that this could have led to a defeat. And that would have been unbearable for the Prime Minister. So he had to retreat.

Perhaps a delay in agreeing the UK's involvement in the western response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack will prove a good thing: the Spectator's leading article this week argues that this rush for war is one without a purpose. Here is an extract:

'Normally, a recalled parliament is just an expensive therapy session for politicians who feel the world needs to know what they have to say.

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