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Botched operation began when Cameron quit Cornwall early

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 31, 2013

David Cameron yesterday

David Cameron yesterday

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Two Westcountry MPs were unable to make the crucial Commons vote on Syria as they were marooned overseas.

Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for West Devon and Torridge, and one of the country's leading legal minds, was stranded in the Middle East with his family.

Likewise Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon and former Armed Forces Minister. He was in Greece, unable to return to Westminster in time when Parliament was abruptly recalled during recess.

That MPs – many of them – were unable to participate in a debate that could have led to lives being lost is testament to the botched operation that began life when the Prime Minister curtailed his own summer break in Cornwall.

What was David Cameron thinking when he left the craggy coast on the north of the Duchy to prepare the ground to back a US-led bombing of Syria? That backbench MPs would be equally revulsed by pictures and footage of civilians being gassed, it is alleged, at the hands of the Assad regime? They were. That they were as anxious as him to make good on the "special relationship" and make it clear to a bloody dictator that this will not be tolerated? They weren't. But hang on. While there was reticence, deep scepticism and downright opposition among MPs, the leaders of all three major parties either supported or would not rule out military action. Broadly speaking it was just the time-frames that were different.

So what went wrong?

It was very fashionable yesterday to drop "Tony Blair" and "Iraq" in conversation by way of explanation. And while no-one would dismiss out-of-hand the influence of the events of 2003 on the thinking of MPs and the public at large – the "dodgy dossier" and 45-minute claim notably – the ghosts of interventions past do not tell the full story.

That MPs were failing to book last-minute flights home is instructive too.

So too is the extraordinary fact that two Government ministers – International Development Secretary Justine Greening and Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds – failed to vote because they did not hear the bell that alerts MPs. Downing Street were furious that Labour, having won concessions over UN support and a second vote, decided to oppose the Government motion and put forward a very similar alternative amendment. It smacked of opportunism, coming after a poll indicating deep public unease, that Ed Miliband could yet regret. But it is a symptom of the same illness. David Cameron's operation was rushed, badly-managed and ill-judged. A little more patience – a vote on Monday when the House rises, say – may have got MPs back on British soil, ministers out of sound-proof rooms and Labour on side.

Cock-up has precipitated David Cameron's biggest crisis. It is one he might not recover from.

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