UK Chancellor (Finance Minister) George Osborne, seeking to cement his position as UK prime-minister-in-waiting, has suggested that the UK should bomb both sides (insofar as there are only two) in the Syrian conflict. Perhaps he feels that a bit more bombing will help reduce the flow of refugees running away from all the bombing that’s going on in Syria, I don’t know. What’s especially interesting about his words, though, is that – like the present prime minister – he makes it clear who’s really going to make the Go/No Go decision on bombing Syria. And that’s Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon.
It’s amazing, really. But recent UK prime ministers and governments have largely given away the single most important power a prime minister holds – the power to use armed force. They see what’s happened to Blair and are determined they won’t be tarnished by the messy business that is war. So, given that parliament can be (and is) recalled in a trice these days, big decisions on armed force are contracted to parliament. In practice, though, it isn’t really parliament as a whole; it’s the opposition. With Labour and the SNP commanding easily enough votes to take advantage of the certainty of a modest rebellion in the Tory ranks, the two respective opposition leaders are truly in charge of by far the most profound aspect of foreign policy.
By looking keen to act but claiming Corbyn and Sturgeon might hold them back, Cameron and Osborne are asking those who condemn inaction to blame the lefties. The far more significant message conveyed by their weasel words, however, is that prime minister, Chancellor and government are paralysed by fear.
For people wondering whether or not to believe that under Corbyn and Sturgeon the UK’s security would go to the dogs, it might be worth reflecting upon the job our present leaders are doing.