Last night one of the most astonishing things I’ve ever seen happened, an incumbent Prime Minister was defeated on an issue that looked almost certain to get through, if only by the skin of it’s teeth, and despite public opinion being against the idea. What makes it extraordinary is that it wasn’t the opposition who helped defeat him it was his own party. The last time something like this happened was probably Robert Peel, who was defeated by a very minor issue owing to party resentment over the successful repeal of the corn laws. I’m trying to think of a Prime Minister who has been defeated in such a devastating way since but the only one who comes close is Margaret Thatcher, that wasn’t a parliamentary defeat however, only a party revolt (Some say she was stabbed in the back more times than Caesar.). I think Cameron is now in a position very similar to both Peel and Thatcher however. Not only has he suffered a major parliamentary defeat but he has also lost control of his own party and I think, come the party conference season we’ll start to see him being challenged for the party. I can’t see any way how he could survive this in the long term.
But David Cameron’s possible downfall isn’t the main thing here, much as I’d like to discuss that. No… The main thing is what happens now to Britain’s place on the international stage? If you aren’t aware, the whole debate last night was over whether Britain should intervene militarily in Syria and the answer came back as a resounding ‘NO.’ That ‘No’ has quite a consequence as it means that whatever happens, whether the UN finds evidence of chemical weapons or if Obama decides he’s going to take America in there, Britain will not be involved. We have been ruled out of the equation, at least from a military stand point. And this has meant that some politicians (Michael Howard, Paddy Ashdown etc.) have been bewailing that Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world is finished and we’re all doomed and by not going to war we’re appeasing Assad. But they’re very wrong for a number of substantial reasons:
First of all on the ‘appeasing Assad’ claim… No. We’re not appeasing him. We’re just not blundering into yet another war that will cost millions in both pounds and lives and only cause more problems than it solves. We aren’t supporting Assad or making treaties with him. We’re actually learning from the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and taking the sensible option for once. And also, nobody has said that we can’t do anything else to help sort Syria out. We’ve only ruled ourselves out militarily, not diplomatically. We can still help find some way for Syria to come to some peaceful solution… Perhaps we could help lobby for Assad to be extracted and put in front of a war crimes tribunal. We can still send humanitarian aid and people who can give medical assistance and things such as that. We can act as mediators and peace brokers. There are plenty of ways we can be involved in Syria without sending in a load of troops and causing more damage. Rather than being a force of war we can be a force for good. Yet, for some reason the politicians are bemoaning that this is the end and we’re spent and there is nothing we can do. Once again they are wrong, there is plenty we could do to help resolve the issue without resorting to violence. There is a lot we could do.
Secondly some people are saying that this will potentially ‘end the special relationship’ with the US, especially if they decide to go ahead with military intervention. All i can say to that is ‘really?’ If for all this time our whole alliance has been built upon the agreement that we blindly follow each other into every single war we get into then surely we’ve been very foolish. But to tell you the truth the special relationship isn’t built on such an agreement to go to war whenever one of us demands it. It’s only the past twenty years or so that we’ve been doing such a thing. Yes ok, there were wars before that where we did work together (Japan in World War II and Korea, for instance) but most of the time who we went to war with was our own affair… We hardly ever did it together. Whenever we did was a rarity. Look at Vietnam… Britain wasn’t involved in Vietnam in any way (Thanks, largely in part, to Harold Wilson), just like the US wasn’t involved during Suez or the Falklands. And you could argue that, although we were on the side of the US, Britain never really got involved with the Cold War at all. And you could probably guarantee that, if Spain ever decided to take Gibraltar by force and we went to get it back, we wouldn’t a single drop of help from the US. Would that strain our relationship? Probably no more than not helping with Suez or the Falklands or Vietnam did. The special relationship isn’t entirely built on war, though a little bit certainly is. It’s built on diplomacy and friendship and culture, technology, language and trade. We’re the world’s best buds and just like best friends we don’t always agree with each other, but we stick it through and always come through alright in the end. And I get the impression this is going to be one of those times. There’ll be some low grumbling but nothing extreme will happen because of it. It isn’t like the US will be childish and cut all ties just because we aren’t blindly following anymore. We’ll be fine and there’s no need to panic.
And maybe this decision will garner us more respect in some corners of the world, places like Russia and Iran where we don’t always agree with each other. Who knows, maybe because of this decision they’ll be more inclined to listen to us whenever we have a problem with what they are doing. It means they might see us as less of a warmongering nation and more like a reasonable country whom they can talk with and come to some agreement. Don’t forget that when we went to war in Iraq we lost an awful lot of respect on the international front and it’s only now, ten years later, that we’re starting to get it back.
And as with the special relationship not all of our International dealings are to do with war. In fact, only the smallest minority of them are to do with war. Again, a lot of it is to do with trade and economics and many, many other reasons. Look at the olympics last year, widely regarded as one of the most acclaimed in all of history. Those games are now looked on with a little bit of envy by the rest of the world and for the last twelve months I’m certain that Rio have been sweating over how to do it better. Over the years Britain has given a lot to the world… An awful lot of well known international sports had their origin in Britain, the likes of Football, Rugby, Cricket, the modern version of Tennis, Table Tennis, Darts, Netball, Golf, Squash… It’s even rumoured that BASEBALL was invented in Britain. Then there is science, for years our scientists have led the way, making discoveries of global significance (Gravity, Evolution, etc…) and today we are still one of the worlds leading scientific thinkers. And finally we have culture… We’ve given the world Shakespeare, Dickens, Agatha Christie, Me, Jane Austen, Tolkien, Daphne Du Maurier… We even the gave the world that well known Twilight-Porn Fanfic, Fifty Shades of Grey. Harry Potter, James Bond and The Lord of The Rings are three of the world’s most bankable franchises and they’re all seen across the globe as shining examples of British culture. We gave the world the architecture of Pugin and Wren (Still admired across the globe) and we’re still building some of the best structures the world has ever seen. Look at the Shard or the Gherkin… They may not be the tallest buildings ever but my god they are sexy. Then you have music… Elvis may have kicked Rock and Roll into really starting but it was the Beatles and The Stones who sent it stratospheric. British Musicians still garner an awful lot of respect and admiration across the world, look at all the hype over One Direction… They may not be respected musicians but they sure do get a lot of admiration. Finally you have language. English is perhaps one of the hardest languages to learn (Seriously ) yet it is the language of international politics, of science, of communications, of computing… Books and Journals around the world are published in English and heck, even though one of the biggest hits of the summer was by a French band it was still sung in English. Tells you something.
And yet some politicians are claiming that by not intervening militarily in Syria we are somehow damaging our international reputation. No… We may be sneered at in the short term by some but nobody is going to go so far as reduce us to the status of an insignificant player on the global stage. We are, much as we might laugh at it, still an economic and global powerhouse. Britain is a member of the G8 and G20 and is a major international player in a lot of areas. Just because we aren’t getting involved in Syria doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be able to be seriously involved elsewhere when the call comes. No one is going to treat us as anything less just because we decide we don’t want to commit troops to a situation. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, they may give us more respect for not getting involved.
So where do we go from here? Simple answer… We carry on. We’ve still got a good standing in the world and we’ve still got a lot of influence and most of the world will still listen to what we have to say, even because of this issue. People around the world will still use the English language and they’ll still love Dickens and Shakespeare and all those other writers. They’ll still listen to the Beatles and The Stones and One Direction… Yes a few politicians in a few places may be a bit miffed for a while but they won’t condemn us in the long term. And even if this sets a precedent for future military intervention we can still be a global leader in other areas. Let’s build on what we’re already successful at… Our culture, our music, and our arts. Let’s invest in those things and, as we were once the workshop of the world, let’s become the art house of the world. Let’s become a flourishing nation of invention and creativity and arts and sciences and technology. Let’s lead the way in exploring the universe and finding a way to stop global warming… Let’s take on the declining dominance of Hollywood and craft our film industry to be a major rival and successor. Look at the films and actors we already make and have, major global successes… We can build on their legacy. Let’s show the world what we can do. Let’s be a shining example of a peaceful, prosperous civilization, a bench mark for the rest of the world to aspire to.
We may not be sending the military to Syria but that isn’t the end of the road. We can still work towards a peaceful solution and we can still find a way to help in a peaceful way. And just because we don’t send our troops into a costly war doesn’t mean our influence has been downgraded. It may even be enhanced. Nobody is going to think any less of us for it, not even the US. And even if we never go to war with anybody again there are a hundred ways we could stay at the top of the world stage. We already have a good global standing in many areas and if we build on that, become the shining example I mentioned, we’ll be ok.