Magazine article The American Conservative

War Tories

Magazine article The American Conservative

War Tories

Article excerpt


If antiwar conservatism is a neglected tradition in America, in Britain it is all but forgotten. Take the latest intervention in Libya. It was a Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, who, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, led the charge to war. He received overwhelming support from the political class in London. In a House of Commons vote on supporting the UN-approved commitment to Libya, only 13 of the 570 members of Parliament present rejected the motion. And of 280 Tories, only one dared say no. This from the party of Lord Salisbury and "splendid isolation."

The solitary Tory dissident was John Baron, MP for Basildon and Billericay. While the Cameroons parroted Hillary Clinton's lines about not "standing idly by" as a dictator slaughtered his people, Baron expressed his concerns in blogs and radio interviews. "Here we are yet again intervening in another commodity rich Muslim country," he wrote on the Conservative Home website last month. "This time the fig leaf is humanitarian aid--and this may well have been a consideration. But comments by Cabinet Ministers over the last week have made it clear that our targeting of military assets on the ground in Libya will only end with Gaddafi's departure, despite UN Resolution 1973 only talking of a ceasefire and an end to attacks on civilians."

Baron, 52, is a former captain in the Royal Regiment of the Fusiliers who served in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. Since his entry into Parliament in 2001, he has consistently opposed foreign entanglements. He has criticized the West's ongoing operations in Afghanistan, and in 2003 he resigned from his position as shadow health secretary to vote against the Iraq War.

That year there were plenty of other Iraq War critics within the Westminster establishment, even among Tories. In 2011, by contrast, the interventionist chorus drowned out dissenting voices. Baron's stand went largely unnoticed. (I asked several experienced political journalists what they made of Baron's opposition to the bombing. "John who?" was the typical response.)

The cross-party consensus on Libya was easily reached. The British left seemed satisfied that the war was a worthy enterprise since it had been sanctioned by the United Nations. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, solemnly endorsed the bombing campaign. The Liberal Democrats, who had for the last decade distinguished themselves by their hostility to the Iraq imbroglio, suddenly became the most bellicose party in Westminster. Not one Lib Dem MP opposed the motion supporting UN resolution 1973. …

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