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Ed Miliband and Syria: Postscripts

John Rentoul

dean Ed Miliband and Syria: PostscriptsThree more points about David Aaronovitch’s brilliant article in The Times today (pay wall), about which I commented this morning.

Aaronovitch says:

Labour supported Mr Kerry for president in 2004 (maybe Ed, in the US and silent during the Iraq war, even campaigned for him), they backed Mr Obama in 2008 and 2012, and celebrated when Mr Hollande won the French presidency.

His parenthetical comment is not quite right. In the primaries at least, Ed Miliband was an admirer of Howard Dean (pictured), the insurgent anti-Iraq-war candidate for the Democratic nomination. He wrote an article for the New Statesman* about how Dean could secure the Democratic nomination and defeat George W Bush for the presidency.

The second point is to respond to my friend and comrade in the war against the Blair haters, John Justice, who thinks that Ed Miliband’s reservations about military action in Syria were perfectly reasonable, and who takes Aaronovitch and me to task for being prejudiced against Miliband.

Syria seems to be one of those questions on which Blairites divide, between those who are more Labour-minded and those who are more liberal-intervention-minded.

I responded in the comments to JJ, but reproduce it here for those who sensibly never go below the line:

I agree with you that EdM’s conditions for Labour support were reasonable enough, and I don’t even hold it against him that he changed his position between Tuesday and Wednesday last week, first appearing to support military action in principle and then to oppose. The case for and against air strikes against Assad is finely balanced. I wavered myself, initially unpersuaded of the case for action but then accepting the possibility that deterrence might work.

Where I disagree with EdM is in his failure to decide by the time of the debate what he wanted. It wasn’t up to him to predict the success or failure of the coalition whips, of course, but the Labour position had to be one in which he could defend the outcome he sought.

As it was, he refuses to take responsibility for what happened, which is that it became clear that the House of Commons would not support military action unless he asked his MPs to vote for it. He still claims that Labour could support it if conditions were met, and professes to be surprised that the Prime Minister has ruled it out.

The PM is right and he is wrong. If Labour supported the principle of military action under certain conditions, he should have voted for the Government motion, which would have allowed the Commons to vote again.

As it is, the PM saw that EdM would not support military action – not unless the situation changed greatly – and said so. If EdM wants to support it, he can say so when all those artificial conditions are magically met, and the PM can ponder whether he means it. But I don’t think EdM will support it by the time the US and France are ready to go ahead.

Finally, if you still want to read more about the events of the last week, the latest despatch from David Hayes for Inside Story is of the usual high quality, and comes to roughly the same conclusions about Ed Miliband as David Aaronovitch from a less interventionist standpoint.

*Thanks to Thomas Byrne for tracking this down.

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  • mightymark

    So just to be clear, you can afford to reply with this sort tit fot tat name calling stuff – but not to answer my question?

  • porkfright

    Presumably he has no idea at all what the right way might have been-nor do his moribund supporters. Or perhaps they are all supporting “Another go” in the hope of getting it right a second time.


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