Cameron’s weakness – and it won’t end tomorrow

David Cameron poppies

The reasons why Cameron is still on shaky ground and we can win are

1) The movement against the Iraq War. It is the legacy of that war which means that is it now politically impossible for a government to exercise its power to go to war without a vote in parliament as was the norm for 250 years. (The British ruling class have their own reasons for not looking on Tony Blair fondly.) Cameron and the British military establishment would like to overturn that. They are a long way from doing so.

2) Because Cameron lost the last vote to bomb Syria – at that time we were to bomb singularly to get rid of the Assad regime, nothing to do with ISIS, remember? – he has had to say that he wants to proceed with “consensus” in the parliament and, by extension, the country. There will be an argument about what “consensus” means. We should be clear that he does not have it.

3) The Labour Party policy is opposed, as are the members and four out of five Labour MPs (at least, according to reports this morning). The SNP is opposed. Of course, a whipped vote would suppress more the number of Labour rebels. But, in any case, it is already half the number trailed yesterday in the psychological warfare conducted in and by the media.

4) There’s every reason to believe that pressure over the next 36 hours can whittle away the Labour pro-war rabb-ellion. They need to feel all manner of pressure – including of the kind which party whips would be using if there were a whipped vote.

3) There will be a Tory rebellion on largely military-realist grounds. And the Lib Dems are seeing which way the wind is blowing.

4) There is great public opposition and even more skepticism.

5) Precisely because the bombing won’t work (and he knows it – in terms of its *purported* aim) Cameron will need absolutely every vote to be able credibly to claim any kind of broad support even if he does get a majority.

6) The crisis in and over Syria is escalating. Barely noticed, because it does not involve planes being shot down, the breakdown of relations between Turkey and Russia is deepening acutely. So is the authoritarianism and conflict within Turkey.

7) There will be more civilians killed and most likely all sorts of unexpected clashes and events in the short term. The refugee question in the Eastern Aegean is already becoming a policing and security question in Turkey.

8) There is not a public consensus. Very importantly, unlike two years ago, all the major Muslim organisations in Britain have refused to entertain the idea that Cameron’s bombing is anything to do with assisting progressive Muslim forces in Syria. There is no “Muslim” of “left” lobby for bombing.

9) The Oldham West by-election on Thursday will tell us more about the capacity of the Labour right to damage the party led by Jeremy Corbyn than it will about the level of political support for either UKIP or the Tories, who have, in effect, folded their campaign in order to boost Kippers chances.

10) The government’s retreat in the face of the junior doctors’ action tells us more about the balance of forces when there is a struggle. It’s likely true that the BMA called off the action when it could have got more at that point (that’s not new). What is even more true is that government’s plan suffered a public and big defeat.

It is still possible to exert the kind of pressure, both from the grassroots of the labour movement on Labour MPs and their precious careers, and from a mass, militant movement generally that can reduce the numbers voting for war tomorrow to a critical level for Cameron.

And whatever the vote tomorrow, the crisis over this will not go away. Of course, the media will immediately deflate the atmosphere of crisis. But we should not.

That’s because we are right about military intervention and we should expect dramatic turning points sooner rather than later (they will happen no matter how few planes Cameron commits as a kind of buy-in stake to the discussions over Syria in Vienna).

One bad habit that we can all slip into is to move from one issue or campaign to another. Of course, different issues are more central at different times.

But one key lesson, it seems to me, of the last two weeks is that we will need to maintain and develop at a higher level the anti-war movement and associated with that the campaigns against Islamophobia and for the refugees (who are mainly Muslim).

A part of that is for all of us to make great efforts a) to sustain and strengthen the unity of purpose and spirit of cooperation on the serious left which will be in evidence at tonight’s protests and b) deepen the fraternal debates about the strategy and politics that the radical left needs in order to be more effective.

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