26 Nov 2015

Syria: is ‘70,000 troops’ the new ’45 minutes’?

70,000 is the number of potential troops on the ground David Cameron claimed are ready and willing to do the occupying and retaining work after allies have bombed so-called Islamic State strongholds from the air.

The Prime Minister said this was the number of Syrian opposition fighters – mainly made up of the Syrian Free Army. He said this was a number signed off by the Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Britain November 26, 2015 REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett - RTX1VXDY

He had to repeat the number, and this assertion, a few times because quite a few MPs, most of them on his own side, lined up to challenge or query it.

45 minutes is, of course, the timing that appeared in the Iraq Dossier and purported to be how long it would take Saddam Hussein to fire a long range missile with a chemical warhead. That too, of course, signed off by the intelligence elite.

David Cameron banished all trace of his Flashman side for the extended statement to the Commons.

There was a polite word for everyone, an acknowledgement of deeply held positions that conflicted with his own, a ready acceptance that judgement calls were needed.

It worked for quite a few Labour MPs.

The Shadow Cabinet met straight after the Statement finished.

Jeremy Corbyn was late in and said the meeting would have to last no more than 45 minutes. Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell said that it should be as long as it needed to be.

Amongst those who spoke in favour of military action were Vernon Coaker, Tom Watson (who emphasised his vote against Libyan military action), Hilary Benn, Michael Dugher, Angela Eagle and Lucy Powell.

Lucy Powell was also briefly involved in a rebuke to Diane Abbott who she told off for being offensive.

Diane Abbott was one of the small number of Shadow ministers who spoke in agreement with Jeremy Corbyn (the others were Jon Trickett and the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party John Cryer). John McDonnell didn’t speak.

Diane Abbott’s phone went off during her address, and she told MPs that she hadn’t listened to David Cameron’s statement to the Commons. When she suggested some points she was told (by Hilary Benn at one point) that those had been addressed in the House.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke from typed notes and then let everyone else have their say. He sat, one source said, impassively through the rest of the meeting and after listening to the voices out-numbering him simply thanked everyone for expressing their views and said the Shadow Cabinet would meet again on Monday.

One at the table said they were staggered at the leader’s inability to try to shape the discussion.

Britain's opposition Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, listens at the close of the Labour Party conference at Brighton, Britain, in this September 30, 2015 file photograph. Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain said in an article published on October 26, 2015 there was a lack of respect towards the kingdom in British public discourse that could have "potentially serious repercussions" on bilateral relations. He singled out comments by Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party and an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia's human rights record, as an example of "mutual respect being breached". REUTERS/Toby Melville/files - RTX1TA1M

They agreed to fire off some questions to No.10, including one about that “70,000” number.

They meet again on Monday but it looks like there is only one possible outcome.

There had been talk of pro-military action Shadow Cabinet members trying to get a three-line whip position backing Cameron and truly humiliating their leader, forcing him to vote against his own whip.

Nobody actually spoke for that in the Shadow Cabinet though, so it looks like a free vote allowing everyone to go their own way will be what the party will do on Wednesday when the vote is expected to happen in the Commons.

How many MPs would follow, say, two thirds of the Shadow Cabinet? “Maybe half the PLP,” one MP said. That could be an extraordinary moment in the brief and eventful history of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

“A nail in his coffin,” one MP suggested.

But the truth is, there is no fixed plan for a political assassination, just mounting discontent and anger that has, for now, focused round the issues thrown up after the Paris shootings.

There is no agreed candidate of the Centre/Right, no agreed mission, no agreed strategy.

At one point in my conversations with Labour frontbenchers today one of them started talking about “transitional arrangements.” I thought we were talking about Syria and the government that could replace Assad’s but it turned out his mind had returned to the leadership.

The leader’s office is hoping that it can head off some of the mounting insurrection over the weekend with grassroots members lobbying MPs to oppose the Cameron motion in the Commons.

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11 reader comments

  1. oliver s says:

    Keep focusing and giving prominence to Dr Julian Lewis – as you did recently. He is the TORY Chairman of Defence Select Committee and was once a vehement opponent of CND ( and perhaps still is) . He is the clear sense to opine that bombing without a strategic goal is completely wrong. Justifying action, as Cameron appears to advocate, “because all our mates are doing it” , is crass. Corbyn does not deserve the vicious media response to his statements on this subject. He is right to quote Obama- much more appropriate than his shadow Chancellor quoting Mao at Osborne.
    Troops are needed, together with ME allied troops wherever they come from.
    It has never been explained by Ch4 or anyone I have seen, why the Paris attacks dod not invoke the NATO treaty that the US invoked after 9/11.

  2. alan says:

    It seems the general media are in lock step to undermine Mr Corbyn, such ‘journalism’ must have a source. Given the common agreement to pursue such an undertaking, how does that reflect upon the impartiality of reporting concerning Mr Camerons desire to bomb Syria? One can only assume if war is the agenda then the media will do as it is told.

  3. Tom says:

    The figure includes a significant amount of Kurds, who will not fight on Arab Territory i.e. where Isil are, not forgetting Turkey who have been attacking the Kurds. So this is where Cameron’s lie starts. The MPs that believe or support this 70,000 figure are either ignorant or deceitful. It will just be another Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya mess, all thanks to mainly the USA and Britain fighting their proxy wars, along with the Gulf States, plus their supporters in the West.

  4. Dave says:

    the MP’s who don’t know the one’s who perhaps against any action,
    what would they think if it had been London and not Paris?

    1. Philip says:

      Because those against this bombing are using their brains rather than their emotions (or just posturing), they would, I believe, behave pretty well the same. Please explain how the proposed bombing will actually defeat ISIS, rather than giving them propaganda material when we bomb innocent Muslim civilians? In what way will it make us more secure? Do we seriously think that after the Paris atrocities, ISIS didn’t expect this and ensured they are concealed among the civilian population of large cities like Raqqa? Will we ensure we only drop bombs on ISIS fighters? How will we know they are ISIS fighters? Or are we prepared to kill innocent civilians? In which case, does our disregard for innocent human life make us any different from ISIS? In these situations we have to stop reacting to atrocities like this emotionally, adopting a puerile addition to violence. When ISIS plans attacks like this, this is what it wants (along with the sort of anti-Muslim stuff the Sun & other papers spew out). That’s how they recruit the next generation of fighters. They may be psychopathic & deluded, but they aren’t stupid. Their plan for the forthcoming world wide struggle between Muslims & “crusaders”, which they wish to foment, depends on us behaving just as Cameron wants us to behave

  5. Bill says:

    A fat lot of good it did Michael Foot.

  6. P.Dewhurst says:

    How does one bomb an ideology?

    1. Charlotte Cornwell says:

      You can’t, and that’s why this tub-thumping call to war is just plain wrong. Even if every ISIS fighter currently on the ground in the Middle East was wiped out, the ideology would still be alive and well in numerous countries across the world. And since suicide bombers are now operating on the European mainland out of small embedded cells, shouldn’t the focus be on increasing the anti-terrorist organisations resources here in the UK, where we know there are a tiny minority of home-grown individuals who wish us harm? The inevitable death of innocent civilians will be the best recruiting tool for ISIS around the world. Like all good terrorists they imbed themselves within the civilian population. That our politicians have learned nothing from the Iraq catastrophe is not surprising – we’re being governed by some of the most inept and over privileged men ever to invade the political arena. Expensive private schools and Oxbridge are not indicative of either intelligence or humility.

  7. Dick Gregory says:

    No it’s not the new 45 minutes. That would be the claim in 2013 that if there was any action against Assad over his chemical weapons use it would mean a new Iraq war.
    [http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/yes-there-are-70000-moderate-opposition-fighters-in-syria-heres-what-we-know-about-them/]

  8. Dr David Lowry says:

    But how do you sort self-serving negative spin from the shadow cabinet participants who oppose Corbyn, from objective truth?

  9. Jamie says:

    In that part of the world it is easy to get more troops. All you need is to sow a bunch of dragon’s teeth and hey presto, up they come. Now remind me how that went in the original story.

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