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It’s much better, actually, not to have done something you later regret. Or is it?

Should I go to the party? Should I?

Something strange and unwelcome is happening to me: I am turning into a non-party person. Whereas once I would turn up, as the saying goes, to the opening of an envelope, last week I stayed home first, on Friday, for the launch of an Extremely Famous Author’s book (name removed in order to protect your ears from the harsh clang of a name being dropped) and then, the next day, for the annual party of an old colleague and friend, which I haven’t been able to go to for the past umpteen years, simply due to diary clashes and/or childcare duties.

This was different to a big literary party. This was going to be a shindig attended by many people I love and have known for years and years (and yet still love them).

Spruce almighty

There were two snags, though: (1) it was being held south of the river, in Lewisham, and (2) I was feeling lousy. That kind of non-specific exhaustion lousy, where the eyes feel weighted in their sockets, like those of a creepy doll in a horror film, and there is a marked disinclination to travel to parts of London if either a train journey or a ruinously expensive minicab journey is involved. (You know civilisation has
taken some kind of wrong turn somewhere when you discover that you can now fly to an airport roughly near Venice for less than the cost of a taxi ride within London.)

So I get out my large-scale map of the city and, with the Hovel as the centre, draw a circle indicating the furthest border at which this party, which I really have been looking forward to going to, would have to be for me to haul my carcass out there. The circle’s boundaries are around Swiss Cottage to the north and Soho to the south.

Still, I reckon that maybe a spruce-up will help and I am disgusted with myself for such feebleness, so shower and shave and dress reasonably smartly . . . but no. I find that it is not enough to wash the tiredness from my bones. I try that old wheeze where you say to yourself something like: “It is much better to have done something and regretted it than not done something and then wondered for the rest of your life, blah, blah, blah.” You know what? That saying is a crock and anyone who believes it or, worse, lives their life by it, is operating under profound self-delusion.

I can think of any number of things I should not have done but have and very few things I have not done that I should have. Even the unambiguous pass made at me decades ago by a multimillionaire’s daughter – on whom, moreover, I had the most enormous crush – I was right to turn down. Even more relevantly, I can think of many parties I have gone to that I have deeply wished I hadn’t.

So, the clock ticks, the half-hourly trains to Ladywell trundle away from Charing Cross and the window of opportunity slowly closes – and besides, Doctor Who is on and I am alone in the Hovel . . .

It is that last that is the clincher and, I suddenly suspect, the real underlying reason why I am so reluctant to leave. For it is all very well living in fun Bohemia in central London but the downside of that is that I have to share accommodation. Yet, this evening, I have the run of the place to myself.

You know what? When you’re going to be 50 next year, living in shared accommodation, even with the most delightful companions, isn’t fun or something to be particularly proud of. There are only four people on earth I would really like to live with and three of them are my children. One of the basic definitions of acceptable shared living arrangements is this: that you live with people who could, without their asking, use your toothpaste and you wouldn’t mind in the slightest.

Decline and fall

I have been trying to pretend that this place is more my own these days: buying things to hang on the wall, tidying up, and so on. It is a mockery, a simulacrum of domesticity. As the autumn approaches, not only of the year but of my life, I start worrying about where I can really cosy up in without fear. (It’s the prospect of new life that brings out the nesting instinct in women; it’s the prospect of death that brings it out in men. Discuss.)

So, what with one thing and another, I decide to stay at home, if an expression of humiliating inertia can be dignified with the word “decide”, and spend an evening in, enjoying that exquisitely bitter cocktail of emotions – remorse, regret and self-pity – and by the time I realise I really ought to have gone to the party, it is too late.

Still, Doctor Who was good, wasn’t it?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Lib Dem special

The Prime Minister still has questions to answer about his plans for Syria

Cameron needs a better plan for Syria than mere party-politicking, says Ian Lucas.

I was unfortunate enough to hear our Prime Minister discussing the vexed issue of military action in Syria on the Today programme yesterday. It was a shocking experience - David Cameron simply cannot resist trying to take party political advantage of an extremely serious crisis. It is quite clear that there are massive humanitarian, military and political issues at stake in Syria. A number of international and national powers including the United States and Russia are taking military action within Syria and David Cameron said in the broadest terms that he thought that the UK should do so too.

The questions then arise - what should we do, and why should we do it?

Let me make it clear that I do believe there are circumstances in which we should take military action - to assist in issues which either affect this country's national interest and defence, or which are so serious as to justify immediate action on humanitarian grounds. It is for the Prime Minister, if he believes that such circumstances are in place, to make the case.

The Prime Minister was severely shaken by the vote of the House of Commons to reject military action against President Assad in 2013. This was a military course which was decided upon in a very short time scale, in discussion with allies including France and the United States.

As we all know, Parliament, led by Ed Miliband’s Labour Opposition and supported by a significant number of Conservative MPs, voted against the Government’s proposals. David Cameron's reaction to that vote was one of immediate petulance. He ruled out military action, actually going beyond the position of most of his opponents. The proposed action against Assad action was stressed at the time by President Obama to be very limited in scope and directed specifically against the use of chemical weapons. It was not intended to lead to the political end of President Assad and no argument was made by the governments either in the United States or in the UK that this was an aim. What was proposed was short, sharp military action to deal specifically with the threat of chemical weapons. Following the vote in the House of Commons, there was an immediate reaction from both United States and France. I was an Opposition spokesman at the time, and at the beginning of the week, when the vote was taken, France was very strident in its support for military action. The House of Commons vote changed the position immediately and the language that was used by President Obama, by John Kerry and others .

The chemical weapons threat was the focus of negotiation and agreement, involving Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and his connections with Syria.  The result was that Assad agreed to dispense with chemical weapons on a consensual basis and no military action took place.

David Cameron felt humiliated by this outcome and loses no opportunity to suggest that the decision was wrong.  He is determined that he should revisit the issue of bombing in Syria, though now action there has elided to action against Islamic State. He has delegated Michael Fallon to prepare the ground for a vote on military action in Parliament. Fallon is the most political of Defence Secretaries - before he became a minister he was regularly presented by the Conservative party as its attack dog against Labour. He gives me the impression of putting the Conservative Party’s interest, at all times, above the national interest. Nothing in his tenure at Defence has changed my view of him.

I was therefore very sceptical what when, in September, Fallon suggested that there should be briefings of members of Parliament to inform us of the latest position on Syria. It turns out that I was right - at the Conservative party conference, Mr Fallon has been referring to these briefings as part of the process that is changing minds in the House of Commons towards taking military action in Syria. He is doubtless taking his orders from the Prime Minister, who is determined to have a vote on taking part in military action in Syria, this time against Islamic State.  

If the Prime Minister wishes to have the support of the House of Commons for military action he needs to answer the following questions: 

What is the nature of the action that he proposes?

What additional impact would action by the UK have, above and beyond that undertaken by the United States and France?

What is the difference in principle between military action in Syria by the UK and military action in Syria by Russia?

What would be the humanitarian impact of such action?

What political steps would follow action and what political strategy does the government have to resolve the Syrian crisis?

The reality is that the United States, UK, France and other western powers have been hamstrung on Syria by their insistence Assad should go. This situation has continued for four years now and there is no end in sight.

The Prime Minister and his Defence Secretary have yet to convince me that additional military action in Syria, this time by the United Kingdom, would help to end Syria's agony and stem the human tragedy that is the refugee crisis engulfing the region and beyond. If the Prime Minister wishes to have support from across the House of Commons, he should start behaving like the Prime Minister of a nation with responsibilities on the United Nations Security Council and stop behaving like a party politician who seeks to extract political advantage from the most serious of international situations.

Ian Lucas is the Labour MP for Wrexham.