Barely a week ago the universal revulsion at the Isil terrorist atrocities in Paris seemed to unite political opinion in Britain in favour of air attacks against Isil strongholds in Syria. A Commons vote has been imminently expected. But the Government has said it will not call a vote unless it was confident of securing a victory.
And it is by no means certain that the Government has enough votes from MPs to back such military action.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon admitted yesterday that the Government does “not yet” have a Commons majority to endorse bombing. The SNP, with its massively-increased presence at Westminster, has strong reservations and has yet to hear a clincher argument for bombing. The Liberal Democrats also have reservations. Other minority parties are opposed.
But the main cause of uncertainty is the shambolic state of the official Labour opposition. Will it support the Government motion? Will it oppose? Or will its MPs be allowed a ‘free vote’? Jeremy Corbyn is insisting that he alone has the final decision on whether the party opposes military action. Much now hangs on the outcome of today’s shadow cabinet meeting.
Mr Corbyn, who is against air strikes, has refused to commit to offering a free vote to his MPs. But the party’s deputy leader Tom Watson, who supports bombing, has joined calls for a free vote – and suggested he could force a show of hands in the shadow cabinet on the issue.
As if this meeting will not be disputatious enough, it will be followed by a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party in the evening. Mr Corbyn is likely to make the most of a survey of Labour supporters on Friday which has resulted in 70,000 responses.
It is hard to see at this point whether Labour will be able to reach any decision that would not further inflame its internal divisions. In these circumstances a free vote is the most likely outcome.
But on one conclusion many are agreed: the leadership’s handling of the issue has been lamentable and Mr Corbyn’s authority has been seriously weakened.
There are few, in any part of the House, who would not wish to see swift and effective military action that would degrade and severely weaken Isil strongholds in Syria. But there is widespread concern on two fronts.
The first is the danger of civilian casualties which may inflame anti-Western feeling across the Middle East. Military action, unless targeted with great care, risks making the region even more of a cauldron.
The second concern centres on the overall strategic aim of such action – how much bombing will be enough – and the Government’s position over the longer-term outcome in Syria. A post-bombing plan needs to be in place.
By general consensus, air bombing is unlikely to succeed on its own without ground support. But which of Syria’s anti-government factions does the Government support, if any? These are the issues on which Prime Minister David Cameron will need to win round waverers and to be assured of broad support.
Marvellous Murray lifts the nation
As if there was any doubt, Andy Murray has now secured his position as one of the most outstanding sportsmen of his generation with a truly virtuoso display in the Davis Cup yesterday.
The performance of Scotland’s tennis superstar secured Great Britain’s first Davis Cup victory since 1936 – when Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister and before today’s political leaders were even born.
The superb achievement is all the more to be celebrated given the grim news that has dominated the headlines in recent weeks. What a national morale-booster this is, and one that everyone can cheer.
This was not just about a one-match victory. Throughout the competition, the world No 2 insisted that this is not a one-man team, and that James Ward and Jamie Murray contributed vital points during the winning campaign.
But for Andy it is a momentous achievement – yet another one – in one of the world’s most competitive sports. He now adds the Davis Cup to his other major titles at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Olympic Games.
In the wake of this phenomenal achievement it is natural to wonder what will we have left to show apart from the wonderful memories. Are we investing enough in coaching and indoor sports facilities? The importance of team contribution to this victory further underlines the need to sustain support and investment in school sports, training and equipment.
Of one legacy there can be no doubt. Brilliant though many of his service returns and rallies were yesterday, it is Murray’s long-haul commitment, his determination, grit and will to win that should be specially noted. For he has demonstrated, in the most vivid manner imaginable, how such attributes can inspire all to prevail and raise sporting talent to the pinnacle of international success.