War Cry

It sounds like a Frankie Boyle line: The citizens of Raqqa are rejoicing at a distraction from beheadings and crucifixions – yet another country is sending jets to bomb us.

And as British tornadoes at last hit the correct type of military targets – oil facilities from which the medieval terrorists get their income – how many Syrian families are grieving the loss of operators and service engineers at those plants? Because they aren’t run by men in black body suits and Kalashnikovs but rather by the same innocent workers we’re supposed to be protecting.

The dilemmas, eh? Moral dubiety abounded in the Commons as MPs wrestled with conscience and loyalty, although, to be fair, it’s in the job description. And there was scant introspection from Hilary Benn, new hero of the British Right, whose moral certainty put a cap on the Westminster talk-a-thon. It surprised me because he has always come over as a mild man, a bit diffident, and not really the alpha male Big Beast. I once shared a joke with him where his willingness to laugh with a journalist was unstuffy and refreshing. Maybe he was still in those days in the shadow of dad, hardly a surprise. And the same father, studiously polite, nevertheless exuded an air of hauteur with a reporter. He expected your attention and respect as he took out his own teabag to put in the cup of boiling water provided and ostentatiously laid his own tape recorder beside yours. He recorded every interview he ever did for the memoirs. Somewhere in that massive archive is my voice, probably sounding reverential.

In this Commons theatre Tony’s son finally came into his own, claiming his place in the pantheon of Historic Speeches, whatever one’s view of its meaning. That his position on this issue is almost certainly diametrically opposite to this father’s theoretical view is an academic point. But it must surely have crossed the mind of many when they recalled not just Tony’s natural leanings but his epic anti-war speech in the Commons before the Iraq debacle. I was puzzled by the virulence of attacks on George Kerevan who was tweeting about this along the lines of Tony spinning in his grave. Disgusting, said Jackson Carlaw. Shameful, said Blair McDougall. Tony’s granddaughter (Labour politician) Emma was cross too. But surely comparing  in this way is a natural process that all such families go through and it doesn’t stop at death. John Maxton was unfavourably compared to Jimmy. Tory Adrian Shinwell had to laugh off jibes about his Red Clydside uncle Manny. If, heaven forfend, Fergus Ewing ever defected to Labour, would not journalists write about Winnie’s despair?

I admit as a journalist that, were it possible, I would slyly put to a (resurrected) Tony that he must be secretly proud of his son whatever his policy misgivings and I have no doubt the truth would appear in his face, if not his words. But all this faux indignation, please…If you want tasteless, look no further than the bullish, infantile cheering and clapping that greeted Benn. It was a scene from Oh! What a Lovely War 2015.

It may be of course that Labour are desperately trying to cover tracks here in defending Benn. His peroration was the apotheosis but the whole 10-hour debate was a symphony of despair for Labour. Memories of Iraq which still haunt them hung over the chamber, a sizeable rebellion that represented so much more than a vote on this one issue was a cartoon for Corbyn’s leadership and the inability of Labour to redefine itself post GE2015 was grotesquely exposed. The 66 will be remembered. You know they will. They weren’t enough to swing the vote, nothing like it, but the internal invective will ensure they become the anti-Corbynistas whose every move – and reselection – will be targeted.

Labour sources began the week by implying there was nothing wrong with disagreement and that it symbolised the actuality out in the country. There is something in this but I suggest Neil Findlay, Simon Pia and others were as interested in preparing the ground for party division on Syria as they were in democratic discourse. Nevertheless, I’ve never been comfortable with a party whip system operating on matters of conscience. If an MP can’t exercise a conscience, what is the point of electing him? I appreciate the SNP members met and all agreed, rather than were obliged, to vote one way but what did they agree to? In effect they understood the political importance of a collective No vote. And they offered a sensible amendment. But, if it were agreed all could decide individually without prejudice, would not one of the 54 have been tempted to support Yes on the basis it is a relatively simple extension of an existing war; that a Scot was beheaded by the enemy and the public mood will change further if, as is expected, there is an attack on UK soil? The trouble here is that they were commanded before entering the Commons to obey the whip at any cost because loyalty was all. As a result a universal position looks pre-arranged rather than honestly made. Having said that, I can’t think of an individual who was likely to demur from voting against. And, it has to be said, with the SNP, you get what you see.

And there’s now a clear divide between Scotland’s MPs and the rest of the country which creates another break with the Union feeding into people’s sense of political estrangement. (We could see something similar in the Euro referendum, or at least the Celtic nations voting differently from England, as the National Centre for Social Research says today). I liked the way some voices on Twitter took offence at the idea that Nationalists were exploiting the bombing issue to the benefit of independence. Eh…two points. Not being part of the UK means not being part of the UK’s wars – unless we choose to. If a majority of Scots – seven out of 10 – and ninety per cent of our MPs are against something but we get it anyway, that’s the case for independence in a nutshell. Secondly, the Prime Minister couldn’t be playing politics with this issue, could he? We’re not just joining the big boys club with the bombs, are we? And we’re really going to destroy ISIS with just an aerial campaign. Is that right? He wasn’t pursuing it part to wreck Labour, I’m sure. No naked politics here. Not even Margaret Beckett saying we couldn’t let down our French allies in their hour of need – the same allies who said No to joining the coalition of the willing after 9/11. Politics, eh.

As Frankie Boyle might say: You can’t clap a point of order in the Commons but you can give a standing ovation to a war cry.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

21 thoughts on “War Cry

  1. The nuclear option would be for the SNP to field candidates as far south as Manchester-Leeds, or the Severn-Wash line, in 2020. It’d only need a Westminster majority once.

    War war? Plus ca change, eh?

  2. Yeah, we have it on good authority that clapping is frowned upon in those hallowed chambers.

    Who knew?

    Anyroads, here we go again into a hopelessly convoluted and protracted military action which will have no winners, but a great many casualties. Worse, our referendum result last year underwrote this action. We are part of this tragedy. It doesn’t matter that with two exceptions Scotland’s representation voted against bombing Syria, we’re in it up to our necks thanks to Westminster’s inbuilt democratic deficit.

    The cost of that vote gets heavier by the day.

  3. The clapping and cheering for a speech designed to send our armed forces to war on foreign soil was simply appalling.

    It simply showed a complete lack of respect for humanity.

  4. Excellent article, as usual.

    I did not hear Hillary Benns bid for the leadership of the red tories, but, from all accounts, that is what it was. Your fellow blogger Wings over Scotland implies, I think rightly, that Hillary Benn is a duplicitous person.


    Frankly, that looks to me like a party political move, not the act of a statesman. Loud applause, notwithstanding.

    I do wonder if the SNP were whipped, a fairly disgusting bit of Parliamentary language. And, even if they were, whether it would have made the slightest difference. I cannot see any of the ones I know about voting with the Tories on this.

    Alex Salmond was very impressive in his speech, at least I thought so. Without attempting, at the very least, to outfox IS via financial and arms embargos we have not explored all the avenues short of war.

  5. Alasdair Macdonald

    I think it is right and frank to state that the actions of the 66 Labour MPs who voted in favour of the motion for bombing will be remembered. This is being reported on the BBC and in other media as ‘victimisation’, and illustrated by the most nasty of examples.

    Mr Cameron set the tone, with his comments to Conservative MPs about ‘terrorist sympathisers’. This was in keeping with the kind of ‘white feather rhetoric’ which has been the lingua franca of the proponents of war against the opponents. Mr John McDonnell reported receiving a death threat, and, while it was reported, it was not the main point of the article about him. This was his remarks comparing Mr Benn’s speech with the speech of Mr Tony Blair. The comparison was made in unaggressive language, but the headlines were intended to imply aggression to Mr Benn and likely vengeance. Of course we saw this during the referendum, when comments against JK Rowling received wall-to-wall coverage, but an actual attempt to drive Mr Salmond’s car off the road received scant attention. Calling Mhairi Black a ‘slut’ is somehow unworthy of widespread condemnation, because its progenitor was an emeritus professor; the right sort of person and wasn’t she was only saying what we all know?

    In a representative democracy, party members, surely have the right to select as candidates individuals who best represent their views. And, because party members have a range of views, candidates rarely meet the demands of all members. in addition, elected MPs also claim, with some justification, to have to represent the views of ALL constituents. Nevertheless, it is still right that people within a constituency branch have the right to deselect. This was seen as wholly desirable by the media when attempts were made against the late Mr Tony Benn and members of the so-called Militant Tendency.

    So, such protestations by Mr Simon Danczuk or Ms Stella Creasy about possibly being deselected have to be seen for the hypocrisy they are, particularly since the former has been actively boasting that he would do everything possible to have Mr Jeremy Corbyn ousted from the leadership of the Labour Party.

    Of course nasty threats such as those about Ms Creasy being childless are to be condemned (as were similar ‘smears’ against Ms Sturgeon, Ms Davidson and Ms Dugdale.) Most of us do not engage in such bile. However, in such a major decision such as this was, very strong emotions are roused. And, in such circumstances some people make rash statements. I imagine none of us are immune.

    If the constituency parties of the seven Conservative MPs who opposed the motion take steps to deselect them, will we have such faut outrage in the BBC and msm?

    • Alasdair Macdonald

      Following on: I have just watched Channel 4 News, which was in propaganda mode. It seems that the Labour MPs, particularly women, have been receiving abusive texts and emails. Now, I do not doubt that this will have happened and some of those read out were nasty. No one should receive such abuse.
      However, a number of thoughts
      1. How many people actually sent such things?
      2. Has any check been made to identify these trolls?
      3. Have any MPs who voted against the motion received unpleasant communications? We know Mr John McDonnell received at least one.
      4. Is it feasible that in politics, which is why notorious for practitioners of the ‘black arts’, some of these communications could have originated by people on the same side of the argument as a way of blunting the moral authority of the “against” case?
      5. Did something similar happen during the Scottish Referendum?
      6. Why was a tweet by Alex Salmond to Hilary Benn highlighted?
      7. Is Channel 4 News, like the Guardian, Observer and New Staesman, part of the establishment left/dissenters and is guaranteed to come to the aid of the establishment at times of crisis?

      • Steve Asaneilean

        So sending our planes to cause carnage in another country is grounds for cheering and clapping.

        But using an age-old expression to suggest that a deceased father might disapprove of his son’s political actions is abhorrent.

        Who says the World isn’t totally messed up?

      • Re No7 Alasdair, they, the whole media machine is a vast propaganda empire designed to spread disinformation, and to try to fool the masses into believing their lies. But, it’s gradually unravelling, thanks to websites such as this. Sure they are still powerful, but we are gradually eroding their influence.

  6. The vote that should have been proposed is the withdrawal from the Bomb Iraq campaign (as Canada I believe has done) since it has proved completely useless in neutering Daesh.
    Also,in a time of great austerity,can we afford to waste money in this way?
    In a normal democratic country,these issues would have been explored openly before deciding to resort to violent repression as a first option.
    A fantastic propaganda coup for Daesh and will act as a great recruiting sergeant among European muslims against perceived imperial aggression.
    Cameron is urging patience in his Bomb Syria campaign and we will have to be very patient because he has no exit strategy and this will drag on for years at great expense unless there is an incident involving Russian forces.
    A very high price to be paid for his desire to be seen as one of the world’s hard men.

  7. What else do the Westminster elite have to do before we in Scotland finally decide enough is enough?

    The shame of being associated with such warmongers and sharp-suited jingoistic predators is bad enough. Having to fund their illegal activities is worse. Being responsible for the death of innocents is beyond the pale.

  8. Stan Collymore. ex-footballer, and former English captain, has apparently torn up his Labour membership card and joined the SNP.

    Maybe we should field candidates in England? For a Northern Powerhouse and Scottish independence?

    • Naw, stick to Scotland. And as for Collymore, maybe he’s a reformed character, but I’d be careful who we associate with as the media will have field day digging up his troubled past.

      • And if they can’t dig it up, they’ll invent it and not apologise when found out. See Wings today.

      • We had quite the passionate discussion about “the next Indyref” this week. The referendum in 2014 did the cause a power of good. Why, though, assume that a re-run of the referendum is the only way?

        Going for more Westminster power is an option. (I’d have to say a Westminster majority’d be another stretch, but think of the pressure it’d put on all-UK Labour).

        A Holyrood manifesto commitment to negotiate an independence settlement (referendum to follow) with Westminster, the EU and the wider world is another.

        The unionist media in Scotland is forever banging on these days about “the SNP referendum threat”. We’ll get nowhere by following their agenda.

  9. I venture to suggest that Cameron had to win the vote and show how “important ” the Tories are in world affairs, since they are about to approve soon the renewal of Trident. The two events are linked, with money no object.
    Makes me sick.

  10. “And as British tornadoes at last hit the correct type of military targets – oil facilities from which the medieval terrorists get their income”

    Are they actually hitting anything? The oil facilities being ‘attacked’ were “obliterated” on 23 October according to the MSM see: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bombing+oil+fields+in+syria+in+october+2015&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=5LBhVpP2EYSkUf-RhaAB#q=oil+fields+obliterated+in+syria+in+october+2015

    So who is/was telling the porkies?

  11. Charles Kearney

    Seems to be a glaring contradiction here:

    ‘I appreciate the SNP members met and all agreed, rather than were obliged, to vote one way but what did they agree to?’
    ‘The trouble here is that they were commanded before entering the Commons to obey the whip at any cost because loyalty was all.’

    This direct contradiction is typical of the Message being put out by the BBC North and South and wilfully ignores the ‘Fact’ that that the SNP has always studiously refused to back the Military Adventurism of BOTH of the Unionist Parties in Westminster! SNP Members have no interest in maintaining the Canard of ‘Britain’ Punching above its Weight,’ when what is really meant is ‘England’ Punching above its Weight, and trying to maintain the Illusion of still being a World Power! You cannot have it both ways, ‘Bigging-Up’ the splits in both Labour and Tories and condemning Unanimity within the SNP!

    As is, we have now had Politicians in the US of A, laughing up their sleeves at ‘Britain’s’ contribution of Seven Fighter Bombers and Vladimir Putin pointedly referring to his Six HUNDRED and some Aircraft on the Scene in relation to the UK contribution! In fact, the entire exercise and the exposure of the practicable non existence of his 70,000 ‘Moderate’ Ground Troops, looks more pathetic than ever!

  12. Speaking in the house of commons the other day, Cameron claimed that “in a year and three months of British air strikes in Iraq there have been no reports of civilian casualties”.

    Try removing “reports of” from that last line. Not quite the same, is it?

    On the first day of the bombing in Syria, Captain Richard Davies of the RAF said: “In over 400 air strikes that the RAF has carried out in Iraq, we have had absolutely no civilian casualties reported.”

    Try removing the word “reported” from that last line. Not quite the same, is it?

    Note to Self: switch propaganda radar to “PERMANENTLY ON.”

  13. For anyone who thinks of the UK as a just and fair democracy, for anyone who believes red-tory or blue-tory propaganda about “no civilian casualties,” take some time out of your comfortable and cosy getting-ready-for-christmas routine and watch this; and as you watch it, think of people like Hilary Benn, David Cameron, Boris Johnson et al.


  14. Just one point Derek. You talk of British jets hitting the right targets, but Al Arabya has reported that the oil fields bombed by the RAF had been bombed by America several months earlier and we’re not in use. Which would sum up Britain”s role in Syria pretty well.

  15. Has anyone else seen some comments from Scottish labour figures claiming that the abuse & threats directed at Labour MP’s who voted in favour of military action in Syria have come from….You guessed it..the SNP

Leave a Reply