A sombre George Osborne has just popped up on the Today programme saying that parliament last night triggered ‘soul searching’ in the country.
‘I think there will be a national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that big open and trading nation that I’d like us to be or whether we turn our back on that.’
This rather tendentious logic is partly why Cameron lost the vote last night: MPs were debating whether to fire missiles into Damascus, not end free trade. Attempts to spin the vote into something it wasn’t is what rubbed so many MPs up the wrong way, reminded people of Iraq and inspired them to rebel.
‘I hope that doesn’t become the moment when we turn our back on the world’s problems,’ said the Chancellor. Me too. But if you were to trace the decline of our belief in our ability (rather than our willingness) to solve the world’s military problems then you would have to feature the Spending Review in which Osborne decided to cut the military budget by the same amount that he wanted to increase the international aid budget. That was the one where we decided to go without aircraft carrier capability for a decade or more, because money was too tight. Especially if you wanted to up the aid budget by a third. You may think that Osborne had the right priorities, but such decisions speak as loudly as parliamentary votes about Britain and its appetite for a role in world affairs.