Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Parliament Rebukes Cameron on Syria. What Damage Did It Do?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Parliament Rebukes Cameron on Syria. What Damage Did It Do?

Article excerpt

The most immediate impact of last night's shock parliamentary vote against British military action in Syria may be felt in the United States and France, as leaders of those two countries debate punitive strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al- Assad.

But the more lasting effect, experts say, may be the damage done to the reputation of Prime Minister David Cameron and Britain's standing in the world.

The late-night debate in London saw 30 of Mr. Cameron's own Conservative backbenchers join opposition members of Parliament in voting against an already watered-down motion calling for intervention if a gas attack was proved to have been carried out by Syrian forces. UN weapon inspectors are still investigating the attack on Aug. 21, which killed more than 350 in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

Cameron said he would abide by the vote, for which he had recalled Parliament, forcing some MPs to return from their holidays. After losing it by 272 votes to 285, the prime minister said: "It is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly."

A defeat for CameronBut Wyn Grant, professor of politics at Warwick University, says the vote dealt a blow - if a recoverable one - to Cameron's reputation in Britain.

"There's no question his authority has been damaged, but he is capable of bouncing back. Foreign policy is important, but not crucial to domestic politics. It was a high risk policy for Cameron to embark on, and it is a setback for him, but I don't see anyone in the Tory party strong enough to oppose him. I think he will be the Tory leader at the next election."

But Patrick Dunleavy, professor of political science and public policy at the London School of Economics, says the political damage to Cameron could see an early end to the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition government. "[Labour leader] Ed Miliband played his hand well, reflecting public opinion which did not want military intervention, and I think he'll get a bounce in the polls."

"For David Cameron, he'll now be seen as weak and unable to control his own MPs, as will Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem MPs. There's now a determined group of Tory right-wing MPs who've tasted power from this and will want more. With the economy looking like it's improving, they will be thinking, why do they need to continue with the coalition, and instead go for an early election in June 2014."

Antiwar groups, elated by the vote's outcome, were also critical of the prime minister. "This has left Cameron in a very, very weak position, especially since he couldn't even get support from his own back benchers," says Ian Chamberlain, a spokesman for the Stop the War coalition. Mr. Chamberlain says his organization was "delighted" by the vote, calling it a victory for parliamentary democracy. …

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