For a government to lose a vote on a matter of war and peace is almost unprecedented in British parliamentary history. The British press has gone to town over Prime Minister David Cameron’s failure to secure parliament’s support for strikes on Syria.
The British parliament’s rejection Thursday of Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion to support military action against Syria, in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, has been seen across the political spectrum as a disaster for the country’s leader.
The government was defeated by just 13 votes in the House of Commons in its bid for a "strong humanitarian response" to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime.
The British press was united in their agreement that the defeat was a severe blow for Cameron’s leadership at home and also for his international standing.
A scathing right-wing press
“British prime ministers are just not supposed to lose votes on issues as fundamental as war and peace,” wrote Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator magazine, in an opinion piece for the right-wing Daily Telegraph. “This represents not just an extraordinary defeat, but a catastrophic political misjudgement.”
“He put his credibility on the line, and lost,” Nelson concluded. “It is a defeat from which he will take some time to recover.”
The Daily Mail, usually a staunch supporter of Cameron’s Conservative Party, headlined: “The humbling of David Cameron: On a momentous night, Tory rebellion forces Prime Minister to rule out military strike against Syria... and plunges him into a deep political crisis.”
In its editorial, the newspaper praised the rebellion against the motion which was led by the opposition Labour Party: “Mr Cameron staked his personal credibility on committing the British military to join America in missile strikes on Syria.
“After his humbling in the Commons that credibility is in tatters. It was an undoubted triumph of Parliament over the executive – a day in which MPs voted with their consciences and represented the wishes of a deeply sceptical public.”
The Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling tabloid and supporter of Cameron’s Conservatives, is famous for its imaginative headlines. "Cam Down: PM humiliated as MPs say NO to military strikes," the paper blared.
Its political editor Tom Newton Dunn commented: "Prime ministers simply don't lose votes on war, leaving us in truly uncharted territory. Mr Cameron can survive this, but his authority will never be the same again."
The left’s victory for parliament
While praising Cameron’s eloquence in putting his argument to the House of Commons, an editorial in left-leaning daily The Guardian called the result a “humiliation”: “For a prime minister to lose control of a key issue of foreign policy of this kind is an almost unprecedented failure.”
And if Cameron was the loser, parliament was the clear winner: “The government was prevented from mounting a premature and foolish attack on Syria. Parliament, so often sneered at, did its job when it mattered.”
Even on the more neutral turf of the BBC, the public broadcaster’s political correspondent Ross Hawkins questioned how Cameron could maintain his international credibility.
“Parliament expressed its will and the PM listened,” he wrote. “However you think it through, it will take some explaining, not least to the Americans. People at home and abroad will ask: who is in charge?
“Many at Westminster will, of course, be obsessed by what this means [for Cameron] in a place where weakness is a sin.
“Others will wonder about the consequences for the people of Syria and the Middle East.
“And Britain - a country that has agonised about its role in the world since the Suez crisis - will ask whether it might no longer be a nation that intervenes.”
Date created : 2013-08-30