There are currently two debates raging in Parliament at the moment. One is a reasonably measured (and lengthy) exchange in the House of Commons chamber about the merits of intervening in Syria, and the merits of today’s government motion and Labour amendment on Syria. The other is in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, around the coffee tables of Portcullis House and on MPs’ smartphones as Labour rages about the suggestion from a Number 10 source this afternoon that Ed Miliband had his colleagues are giving succour to the Assad regime. After the leaders had spoken in the Commons, a Downing Street source was asked by journalists whether Miliband was giving succour to the Assad regime. The source replied:
‘Yes. The fact is that a lot of the arguments over this could give succour to the regime.’
Labour is furious about these comments, and has complained to Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood about the ‘infantile and irresponsible’ comments.
While David Cameron only referred to Blair’s ghost in his statement, Number 10 is clearly furious with the way Miliband has performed and is keen to use the most dramatic language it possibly can at every stage. The anger is understandable, even if you think a delay in the deciding vote is no bad thing. But there is something slightly unprepossessing about walking into a question like that with any other answer than ‘that’s not how we’d phrase it’. It distracts from the considered arguments being made in the Chamber.
That debate in the Chamber has been respectful and thoughtful. But it hasn’t felt like a going-to-war debate, mainly because it isn’t one. There have been jokes and MPs have laughed at them – not many jokes, granted, but any banter is more than you’d expect in a real war debate. This is now just the dress rehearsal before the big vote.
Listen to the highlights of the Syria debate so far on our rolling audio blog.
Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.