Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition get in a tangle over military affairs….

In a week when the skies above Britain crackle with colourful ordnance, a young prime minister’s fancy turns to thoughts of bombing Syria. Mr Cameron has been here before. In 2013 he was keen to let the British military loose against the government in Damascus only to have his explosive urges curbed by Parliament. Now he would quite like to rain fire down on the government’s enemies – the government in Damascus that is – and is looking hopefully in Westminster’s direction for it to say oh go on then.  It is not entirely clear whether it is the idea of actual military action that attracts the Prime Minister, or the buzz that would come from his being able to persuade Parliament to agree to it. Two years ago, Mr Cameron’s ambitions were thwarted by Ed Miliband, which is rather like the political equivalent of being knocked out of the FA Cup by Macclesfield Town. At the time he accused the then Labour leader of “buggering about”. The PM is thus engaged in an anti-buggering about strategy.

Sadly for him, there seems to be little sign of Parliament being any more amenable than it was two years ago – such that rumours started to come out of Downing Street earlier in the week that Mr Cameron may have been turning cool on combat. Then the Foreign Affairs Committee, a dangerously pacifist organisation led by the Conservative MP for Reigate, a notorious centre of appeasement, joined the buggering about tendency. Having noticed the Prime Minister’s promiscuity towards the choice of which side in Syria’s civil war to support, the Committee advised that it might be better to work out what you were trying to do before sending the RAF off to do it. To that it might be answered that what the Prime Minister is trying to do is to stop so many refugees from the conflict trying to come to Britain. Bombimg their country may be an odd way to achieve this aim,  but then again not everyone has had the benefit of an education in PPE from Oxford University. In any event, the PM seems to have retreated for the moment, confining his military strategy to the creation of no-fly zones. This was achieved by insisting that no one fly to or from the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh. This may well have been justified given the apparent bombing of a Russian airliner and the appalling loss of life that resulted, though for the PM it had the added advantage of being something he could do without asking Parliament’s permission first.

Sending in the military is not, in any case, such a great card to play these days, now that the British army can be moved about in the same minibus used to transport the Liberal Democrats to the House of Commons and without asking the MPs to get out first. At least, however, Mr Cameron has a clear view that the army should be used to take sides, even if the side itself is less than clear. This is in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn who holds that Britain’s military should be a strictly neutral force. He is particularly anxious that it remain neutral towards the Labour Party – issuing a warning to that effect after the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Nicholas Houghton attacked the Labour leader’s position on nuclear weapons.

Right-minded (or rather left-minded) liberal types were outraged that a public servant should appear to take political sides, in a way that they are never say when someone from the NHS or the BBC accuses the Tories of wanting to grind either or both of those institutions into the dust. Hypocrisy remains the left’s strongest and most enduring value. Liberals reply that the army should be especially careful to butt out of domestic politics because they have guns. True, but in all honesty, following the defence cuts the average district general hospital probably now has more killing potential.

In Mr Corbyn’s world, the only war worth fighting is the class war. This would be a difficult one for the privately-educated, Oxford man Nicholas Houghton to join in, though maybe he could be parachuted behind enemy lines as a spy. The Labour leader has an adviser, Andrew Fisher, who supports not only class war but Class War, an organisation that fielded candidates at the last election. He sent a tweet during the recent campaign urging people in South Croydon to support the Class War candidate down there. However, not only did the Labour Party have its own candidate in South Croydon, she was a descendent of Anthony Wedgwood Benn and therefore had inherited experience of lining up in the class war on all it sides. Mr Fisher argued ingeniously that urging people to vote for the Class War candidate  did not constitute support for that candidate,  but nevertheless the Labour Party took a dim view and suspended him.

One would suspect that being banned from the Labour Party might disqualify Mr Fisher from advising the Party’s leader, but apparently this is not so. Mr Corbyn has a flamboyant taste for advisers: his policy man supports another political party while his media adviser works for another equally subversive organisation, that is the Guardian. By this token, there is no reason whatsoever why Mr Corbyn should not appoint Sir Nicholas Houghton to be his military aide de camp. He already has a shadow defence spokeswoman who disagrees him on defence policy so another adviser opposed to his own position would hardly notice. It would be another example of how Mr Corbyn bows to convention much as he bows towards veterans near the Cenotaph – that is in a somewhat perfunctory but equally rather endearing fashion.

 

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