The punditry and social media industry has been in over-drive in the last few days about the significance of the surprise defeat for the government’s Syria motion this week in Parliament. One conclusion I think can be made confidently – the pattern of requiring Parliamentary votes before major military action is becoming established in a way that will make it very difficult for a future Prime Minister to ignore.
Some conclusions I think with similar confidence can be dismissed as being wrong. The idea that it’s a death knell for the special relationship between America and the UK sounds plausible… as long as you don’t consider what in the past has not killed it. Harold Wilson refusing to back the US in Vietnam. The US’s less than full support for the UK over the Falklands. The US’s invasion of Grenada without telling the British. Perhaps there’s a case to be made that this week was somehow in a completely different league from all those but all those I have seen claiming that conclusion have conspicuously failed to even try to make that case.
As for all the rest, there are high odds that the conclusions drawn will end up being discarded on the huge scrapheap of failed punditry prognostications, for there are high odds that public opinion will move swiftly and massively, making judgements on who was right and who was wrong look very different.
What happens if UN inspectors conclude that there were chemical weapons used, and the UN decides that the Assad regime was responsible? That’s certainly a possibility, and as the Survation poll out tomorrow shows, in such a case public opinion would switch from being 65% – 19% against military intervention to being 44% – 36% in favour. Of course if such military strikes took place and killed civilians, then those figures may well swing again.
The point however is the same – people will end up judging last week’s votes by how events pan out, and those judgements will alter the political implications. People’s views are, understandably and sensibly, far from set in stone because the evidence, the options and the decisions of the UN are all not set in stone yet.