Friday, August 30, 2013
After the Syrian vote
It is a good thing for the government of a democracy to be able to put foreign policy to a vote of the elected parliament, particularly if we are talking about a possible military intervention.
However, there is a huge contradiction in attitudes to this, especially on the part of the press and whoever is currently in opposition.
* We want parliament to have a role in ensuring Britain does not get dragged into foreign wars for which there is not public support.
* We want a proper and open public debate including a debate in the House of Commons before we get involved in a war, and we complain bitterly if the government of the day appears to be trying to act without one.
* But if a government does consult the House of Commons, and doesn't entirely get it's own way, and listens to the result, lots of people are instantly ready to accuse the government of being weak, suggest their position has been undermined, etc etc. As is now happening after the Syria vote.
But these two positions are incompatible.
If you want parliament to act as a check on the Executive, and you expect the government to co-operate with this, then you cannot use the fact that the government allowed a vote and respected the result as a stick to beat the government with or you will be sending an open signal to any future government that allowing proper democratic oversight to work is likely to weaken their position.
The House of Commons has made it's position on Syria clear. This will be respected.
That is a sign of the strength of our democracy, not of weakness.
And anyone who uses the fact that the goverment held this vote and have accepted the result as a stick with which to beat them does not have the health of British democracy at heart.