Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Guardian's Seumas Milne warns that the Tories will win a landslide victory unless Labour transforms the argument over public debt into one over market failure:

Cheered on by the bulk of the media, Cameron and Osborne have executed a startling sleight of hand, persuading a large section of the public that the real crisis facing the country isn't the havoc wreaked on jobs and living standards by the breakdown of the free-market model -- but the increase in government debt incurred to pay for it.

In the Independent, Adrian Hamilton argues that the Lisbon Treaty will entrench the worst features of the European Union:

[I]f it is a concerted drive towards the future that you want in Europe, then it would be best if the Irish did reject the treaty a second time. That, at least, would force the heads of Europe to get their act together in response. Without it, we're back to the bad old ways of doing things -- the backroom deals over appointments, the watered-down policies and the aimless bureaucracy. After Barrosa we'll get the manoeuvring over the European presidency and the new foreign minister and we'll end up in just the same way, with the lowest common denominator candidate.

Over at Salon, Andy Kroll says that the lobbying industry has continued to flourish under Obama:

If the president's sprawling agenda has revealed anything, it's the extent to which private industries and their foot soldiers on K Street and Capitol Hill influence -- and in some cases dictate -- American policymaking. Right now, about 12,500 federally registered lobbyists make their trade in Washington, but believe it or not, they're only a small slice of the pie.

In the Times, Nick Clegg argues that just as Labour superseded the Liberal Party, so the Liberal Democrats will replace Labour as the dominant progressive party:

Labour deserved to win against the Liberals then. I believe Liberals deserve to win against Labour now. Because Labour's basic reflexes -- central state activism, hoarding power at the centre, top-down government -- are the wrong tools to meet the challenges of the modern world. We live in a society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place, no longer trapped by a culture of hierarchy.

In the Daily Telegraph, Jon Kay says that separating commercial banking from investment banking is a more urgent priority than greater regulation:

The better solution is structural -- to split the utility banking, the boring bit of the system that meets our daily needs in terms of paying bills and receiving salaries, from the casino. After all, when you think it through, utility banking is not boring at all. Technology is creating a revolution in financial services: it is easy to envisage a world in which all payments can be made with the wave of a card or the click of a mouse, and cash is only used for illegal transactions.



George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.