Friday, August 30, 2013

The legacy of Tony Blair

Well, that was a surprise: the UK Parliament has voted against military action in Syria. Its good news for Syrians (in that without their favourite vassal to provide diplomatic cover and an impression that they're not acting alone, the US might think again about bombing) - and good news for the world (in that it makes such action, and its inevitable fallout, marginally less likely). And we should all be thanking Tony Blair for it.

Why? Firstly, because he set the precedent that the UK Parliament votes before that country can go to war. Sure, he lied and cheated and whipped to get that vote to pass, leading to a disastrous campaign whose consequences we'll be living with for some time - but it established the principle. Secondly, because Blair's lying and cheating and the subsequent disaster has made UK politicians (well, some of them) rightly suspicious of campaigns for bombing. This vote was lost because the UK opposition wanted to see the full legal advice - not the sanitised version the government had made available. And that's a direct consequence of Blair's shameful behaviour over Iraq (where he wouldn't even show Cabinet the legal advice, let alone the MPs who were whipped into voting on the basis of his weasel-faced assurances)

David Cameron has said he will respect the vote. He doesn't have a choice, in that going against it would almost certainly result in an immediate confidence motion. Democracy stops isolated elites from waging wars. Who'd have thunk it?

Meanwhile, in NZ, war is still waged by Royal Prerogative. That has to change. At one stage Labour had a bill in the ballot which would have required a vote before any foreign combat deployment of military forces. It would be nice to see that become party policy.

Update: Andrew Geddis points out that we have Robin Cook to thank for the Parliamentary vote.