The Tory rebellion leaves Cameron as the new John Major

The PM looks like a weak and defeated leader after last night's vote.

Labour’s plan to embarrass Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems over Lords reform has backfired spectacularly. "Why would we want to hand the Lib Dems a victory?" went the logic of Labour’s decision to two-facedly vote for the Bill but against the programme motion that gave it any chance of seeing the light of day. But what chumps they look now. Nick is left looking like the Miss Haversham of British politics, deserted at the altar of constitutional reform while the groom has a fistfight with his family in the car park. And trust me, everyone always ends up feeling sorry for the jilted bride.

But fear not, Labour MPs. Your war gaming may not have played out just as you expected. But there is a small consolation. You have probably just finished the career of David Cameron, ended any hope of this government doing much else of any worth in the foreseeable, and probably won the next general election to boot.

Cameron looks now like a weak and defeated leader – as the always excellent Jonathan Calder puts it, the new John Major of Conservative politics. Unable to control his backbenchers, he must be gloomily contemplating the hand that fate has dealt him. All over Westminster, Conservative rebels have been drinking the bars dry and celebrating showing the "leadership" – if we can still call it that – who’s boss. "Rebellion is the new cool", I saw tweeted tonight, quoting one Tory backbencher. I’m guessing it wasn’t Peter Bone. But they’ve got a taste for it now, and they know that with enough numbers, they can get the PM to back off. How Cameron must already be regretting his decision not to whip this one properly.

And having got a taste for rebellion, the Tory right will want more, more, more. The snooping bill, EU referendum, a British Bill of Rights. They’ll be clamouring for the lot. But they won’t get it. I doubt there’ll be many Lib Dem MPs willing to hold their noses for Tory policy going forward.

So the rebels won’t get anything they want. And they’ll blame Cameron for that. Ostensibly for not putting us in our place – but really because they’re still furious with him for not winning a majority at the last General Election. And so the rancour and the poison will continue.

And where will it end? Well, we have a Prime Minister, unable to deliver on his coalition promises, under the thumb of rebellious backbenchers, but incapable of satisfying their demands, behind in the polls and all the while becalmed in an austerity driven economy.

Major can probably tell Cameron how this ends ...

David Cameron with John Major in December 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear