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A Parliament of warmongers

Just in case you think the overwhelming Parliamentary majority of 544 for military action against Libya – only 13 MPs voted no – reflects popular opinion, think again. Seldom has the view of the House of Commons been so diametrically at odds with that of the electorate.

Of course, misgivings about military action can take many forms. Some people hate violence of any kind, while others think foreigners should be left to get on with killing themselves. Nevertheless, the ComRes/ ITV News poll that came just after MPs voted to back the Coalition’s warmongering is significant.

Only 35% agree it is right for the UK to take military action against Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in Libya, while two thirds either disagree (43%) or don’t know (22%). The poll shows that 53% of people think British forces shouldn’t risk death to protect Libyan opposition forces against Gaddafi’s regime.

Nearly half (49%) agree that military action in Libya is an unnecessary risk for Britain to take, although 31% disagree. Although a YouGov poll makes better reading for the government, it still shows 55% do not support military action over Libya.

But the Commons was swept up in the usual chauvinist sentiment that overwhelms the place at a time when a country with an imperial past (but reduced to a faded state with an aircraft carrier but no planes for it) bangs the military drum. This time the Lib Dems, who stood out against the invasion of Iraq, to an MP walked through the yes lobby to back prime minister Cameron.

And, inevitably, the Labour leadership joined in, with Ed Miliband wrapping himself in the flag. There are echoes of 1982 here, when the deeply unpopular Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher depended on the then Labour leader Michael Foot for support in the Commons for the war with Argentina over the miserable Falkland islands, some 8,000 miles away. She ordered the sinking of the Belgrano battleship as it sailed out of the exclusion zone and the rest is history. Her party recovered to win election after election. No doubt Cameron will be hoping for a similar change in his party’s fortunes.

It was left to John McDonnell and eight other Labour MPs to vote against the government, with two more acting as tellers, out of a total of 258. How shocking is that figure? McDonnell told the debate:

I oppose Britain's involvement in the middle east because we have a century and a half of involvement-in pursuit of the region's mineral wealth-that is steeped in blood, murder and maiming. We do not have the credibility to intervene constructively.

For the record, Green MP Caroline Lucas also voted against, along with two SDLP MPs from Northern Ireland and a lone Tory, John Baron. He told the BBC: "Once again, we could be seen to be meddling in a Muslim country. We're told the Arab League and our Arab allies want to put in a no-fly zone – why not let them get on and do it.”

Meanwhile, if you drive a car you'll know that it’s costing a small fortune to fill up these days as the oil corporations cash in. That’s nothing compared to the cost of a 3,000-mile round trip the Tornado jets are making to bomb Libya. Running costs alone are about £45,000 an hour while each missile costs around £1 million. They are flying at night to avoid being shot down, presumably, because it would cost £50 mllion to replace one.

So when your library puts up the closed notice, or the local park looks more shabby each day as spending cuts bite, don’t moan and groan. Do your patriotic duty and cheer. Each bomb dropped, each missile fired is, in the words of the government, “in our national interest”. Believe that and you’ll believe anything!

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
22 March 2011

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Your Say

Tim says:

I agree with this representation of the chauvinistic behaviour of parliament. I missed the 'debate'. A great quote from John McDonnell and courageous in making a stand against the majority of the lemmings. The behaviour of MPs in parliament reminds me of the school playground when at the first sign of a squirmish eveyone gathers round chanting: FIGHT! FIGHT! and all rationality and morality goes out the window.

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