Hilary Benn Hilary Benn

The Tories need Labour’s war faction to deliver a serious looking majority on bombing Syria writes Brian Heron

George Osborne’s little game, his charter for a balanced budget, attracted the abstention of 21 Labour MPs. This was despite the party leadership’s decision to vote against the charter. The vote followed a ridiculously short 4 hour debate in the House of Commons on October 14.

The Tory leadership had some fun with Labour Chancellor’ John McDonnel’s volte-face. (He had previously announced Labour’s intention to vote for Osborne’s charter.) But the main issue for the Tory leadership (and the quivering Generals running the armed forces) was how the figure of 21 Labour rebels would translate in the infinitely more crucial vote coming soon, for one sided war in Syria.

What goes for military thought in Britain is moving rapidly towards the view that the Russian intervention marks at least the start of the end game in Syria. Certainly their 32 planes based in the new Latakia ‘Russian Zone’ have made more ‘sorties’ in weeks than the US did over Syria last year. On Monday 12 October alone, the Russians flew 55 missions. And it seems that Assad’s soldiers have now pushed ISIL and others out of the suburbs of Damascus. (It was the potential collapse of Damascus that provoked the Russian action.)

Nobody believes, which certainly includes the Russians, that ISIL can be destroyed in the short term. But everybody knows, including the Tory high command, that the new ‘Great Powers’ will need to agree a ‘solution’ soon in Syria. This is simply the growing acceptance on all sides that none of them can win their preferred outcome. Certainly Russia is acting militarily like the US in Vietnam, not to mention Western Bomber Command in WW2, which used its bombing offensive as a counterweight to Russian land advances in Eastern Europe, designed to create the maximum leverage at the victory talks. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, when you have a people and leadership like the Vietnamese had, it doesn’t.

In any case, Britain’s military marker is absent in the Syrian skies. That has to be remedied. Because the Tories have a slim majority (and some wobblers in the camp over Britain’s past role in Middle Eastern wars) they need Labour’s war faction to deliver a serious looking majority – so Britain can join the big boys club. The SNP MPs and the Green MP will, as with Osborne’s charter, vote no to Britain adding their absolutely crucial bomb or two to the rain of death currently exploding its way across the Syrian landscape.

When these Labour warriors get to do their deranged and filthy business, they should be expelled from the Party.