When Ed Miliband dropped his support for the government’s motion on military intervention in Syria, it was seen as a convenient way of the Labour leader avoiding the thorny question of what his party really thinks about the principle of intervention. He and his team were astonished when David Cameron said ‘I get that’ and took the option off the table entirely, but privately they admitted that it wasn’t the most inconvenient thing that could happen.
But today, Miliband’s Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy delivered another one of his measured, impressive speeches on the party’s defence policy in which he reminded party activists that in spite of the ghosts of Iraq, Labour does still support intervention. Murphy said:
‘But to remain a party prepared to intervene we must learn lessons and do so in new ways, with prevention before intervention. Large scale long-term interventions like Afghanistan should be seen as a sign of international failure, because we should have greater focus on turning weak states in to secure nations before they fail.
‘Increasingly our strength will be determined by the power of our partnerships and so Labour’s security policy will be based on a renewed multilateralism, with regional coalitions and underpinned by stability in defence financing. Defence, diplomacy and development will be mutually reinforcing, each strengthened by a total rejection of isolationism and embrace of internationalism.
‘But military intervention is always the final option for our Party. That’s why on Syria we rightly required stringent tests over evidence, regional impact and a UN process before voting on military action.’
This was a useful primer of what Labour’s thinking is on Britain’s place in the world. But what will be interesting is whether Miliband decides to refer to it in his speech: he could use his act preventing the ‘rush to war’ as a sign of his boldness, or he could just hope that everyone has forgotten about that Syria vote and talk about something else entirely.Tags: Defence, Jim Murphy, Labour, Labour conference 2013, UK politics