UK politicians prepare for showdown on Syria strikes

TODAY’S House of Commons vote on Syria was expected to be a test of David Cameron’s leadership but the last minute decision to allow a second vote before committing Britain to military intervention has delayed the final decision.
All sides are still expected to enforce the party whip for today’s vote, meaning parliamentarians who wish to retain positions within the government or on the opposition front bench will either have to follow the direction of their party leadership or resign.
Until yesterday it had been thought Labour leader Ed Miliband would reluctantly support a coalition motion authorising attacks. But Labour’s decision to come out against this plan – even before the exact text was published – forced a last-minute change.
Concerns over the case for intervention cross the party divide, with key issues including the quality of evidence that Assad was behind the chemical attacks and recent polls suggesting two thirds of the British public oppose intervention.
But while Cameron does not have to follow the will of parliament – and could still launch attacks – he is now almost certain to wait until a second vote before authorising tactical strikes.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg came out in favour of limited strikes against the Syrian regime on Tuesday. In co-ordinated statements released on Monday the two men argued that it is not acceptable to allow the use of chemical weapons and that intervention would be possible without dragging the UK into the bloody civil war. But the US could now leave them behind.
Tory opposition to intervention began to build yesterday, with regular backbench rebels such as David Davis coming out against air strikes. Tory concerns focus mainly on the quality of intelligence behind claims that the Assad government deliberately released chemical weapons. Wavering Lib Dem backbenchers will be crucial in the final vote.
Labour is still dealing with the legacy of the controversial Iraq war vote and Ed Miliband is keen to ensure strikes on Syria clear legal hurdles. Labour has forced Cameron to return to the Commons once UN inspectors have visited the site of the chemical weapons attack. This has delayed the final decision on British intervention until after the weekend.

Labour backbenchers – especially those who served during the 2001-2005 parliament – still remember the damage caused to their party by the controversial votes on Iraq. Prominent anti-war Labour MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn were out in force yesterday but they could still be joined more moderate colleagues who saw how the Lib Dems benefitted from opposing the Iraq War.