James Forsyth James Forsyth

Ed Miliband’s problem is he’s trying to keep his options open on Syria

Ed Miliband’s scepticism about striking Syria puts him more in line with public opinion than David Cameron. On top of this, he’s had the better of the political manoeuvrings these past few days — forcing the Prime Minister to pull back from a straight parliamentary vote on military action. So, why then did his speech today fall so flat?

Part of the problem is the nature of the Commons chamber. Tory MPs heckled and intervened on him effectively, rather throwing him off his stride. But the more fundamental problem is that Miliband is trying to keep his options open.

Miliband’s opening was a strong argument against any British intervention in Syria. But then Miliband went on to say that he might back intervention at a future date. This drained his speech of its intellectual clarity and moral force. By the end of it, the Tory benches — which are not enthusiastic about their leader’s position — looked far less glum. The Liberal Democrats, many of whom had been wearing pained expressions, had cheered up.

Now, all this could change come the second vote, if there is one. If Miliband is opposing then, he’ll have a far clearer argument to make and Cameron will be asking his side to vote for war rather than just a condemnation of Assad. But today Miliband didn’t win over the House.

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