2 Dec 2015

Syria debate: Johnson attacks ‘self-righteous certitude’

Alan Johnson’s intervention in the Syria debate was a well constructed argument built round the need to answer the call from the UN. But what really struck you was the sting in the tail.


It was a rebuke to the Corbyn team: “I wish I had frankly the self-righteous certitude of the finger-wagging representatives of our new and kinder type of politics who will no doubt soon be contacting those of us who support this motion tonight.”

Hilary Benn gave that a loud “hear, hear” as Alan Johnson sat down.

My tally of shadow cabinet MPs’ balance of support is now 15 for the Corbyn line and eight for the government motion – with two undeclared or undecided.

At one point earlier in the week when a walk-out by several shadow cabinet members looked possible, one aide to Jeremy Corbyn sounded like his team had discussed the possibility of moving to a slimmed-down, war cabinet-style top table.

The debate so far has not had the energy of past debates or a particularly high calibre of speeches.

It could be that this is about a relatively small deployment, albeit one of great significance and into a field of battle where great forces are already unleashed and seem hard to shift.

But it is worth remembering the size of additional deployment that would be triggered by the expected vote backing the government tonight.

Compared with 1991, when more than 30,000 troops were being deployed at the time of the decision to liberate Kuwait, compared with 2003 when nearly 40,000 troops stood ready to go to take part in the invasion of Iraq, on this occasion there will be eight extra manned aircraft net sent to the region and no extra drones.

One veteran military observer said: “Churchill wouldn’t have got out of bed for this.”

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