Despite George Osborne yesterday explicitly ruling out the possibility of British participation in military action against Syria, the idea that parliament should vote a second time on Syria continues to gain ground. Boris Johnson, Malcolm Rifkind, Paddy Ashdown and Michael Howard are among the big beasts urging David Cameron to put intervention back on the table.
The view is that the decision of Barack Obama to seek Congressional authorisation for action after 9 September means that parliament now has time to reconsider its stance, potentially after the UN weapons inspectors have reported and the Security Council has voted. In addition, all rightly note that there remains a hypothetical majority for intervention based on the conditions outlined in Labour's amendment.
In his Telegraph column, Boris Johnson suggests that Cameron should call Ed Miliband's bluff by staging a second vote:
I see no reason why the Government should not lay a new motion before Parliament, inviting British participation – and then it is Ed Miliband, not David Cameron, who will face embarrassment. The Labour leader has been capering around pretending to have stopped an attack on Syria – when his real position has been more weaselly.
If you add the Tories and Blairites together, there is a natural majority for a calibrated and limited response to a grotesque war crime.
Elsewhere, Rifkind and Ashdown suggest that Miliband, who was careful to avoid ruling out military action during last week's debate, should take the initiative. Ashdown says: "Of course the Government cannot ask Parliament (for which, read, in effect Mr Miliband) to think again. There’s nothing to stop Parliament deciding to do so in light of new developments."
In the Times, Rifkind writes: "I assume that Mr Miliband meant what he said to Parliament last week. If he did he should acknowledge that his concerns about premature military action are now being met, albeit in an unexpected way...He and the Prime Minister should meet privately and discuss whether there is now sufficient common ground that would allow them to agree a common British policy together with our international allies."
On the Labour side, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy has distanced himself from Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander by refusing to dismiss the possibility of a second vote. He said yesterday: "if there were to be really significant developments in Syria and the conditions that we set in our motion on Thursday about it being legal, about the evidence being available, compelling evidence, about a UN process, then of course the prime minister has the right to bring that back to Parliament". The four backbenchers who abstained from voting against the government motion, Ben Bradshaw, Ann Clwyd, Meg Munn and John Woodcock, are also making the case for another vote.
But while a second vote might be right in principle, the political reality that is that Cameron and Miliband have a shared political interest in avoiding one.
Cameron is understandably reluctant to avoid appearing indecisive by putting military action back on the table and, in view of Labour's unpredictable stance, is not confident of winning a second vote. A significant number of Tory MPs made it clear that while they voted with the government last week, they would not have done so had the vote been directly on military action. For Cameron, a second defeat would be immensely damaging and could even prove terminal. He is also under pressure from senior Tories to refocus on the domestic issues, principally the economy, that will determine the outcome of the election.
For Miliband, the political incentives to avoid another vote are equally strong. Were parliament to reconsider military action, the Labour leader would risk suffering the major party split he has narrowly avoided. Shadow transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick resigned before last week's vote over Miliband's refusal to rule out intervention and I'm told by a party source that at least six other frontbenchers, including one shadow cabinet minister, were prepared to do so. After a woeful summer, Miliband has regained some authority as the man who prevented a precipitous rush to war even if, as Boris writes, "his real position has been more weaselly". He understandably now considers the question of military action closed.
As dismaying as it may be to principled Labour and Tory interventionists, it suits both Cameron and Miliband to move on.