Part of yesterday’s motion on Syria proposed that the House of Commons:

Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on savings lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;

The house did not agree. The French have a good word for what happened to the Prime Minister – un camouflet. Originally it meant ‘a mine so charged and placed that its detonation will destroy enemy mining tunnels’ – and now figuratively, an unsuspected explosion destroying someone’s plans. What a perfect picture of that surprising vote.

But better an explosion under the government’s plans than yet another attempt to bring peace by violence. The contradiction is in the section of the motion I quoted. To define death as destruction as any sort of humanitarian response is to push language beyond its limit. It could be argued as just (if you believe in just wars), or politically expedient – but to suggest that there are humanitarian missile attacks is a perversion of the word.

The Syrian tragedy is an appalling on-going disaster, but the natural desire to ‘do something about it’ should be channelled into more genuinely humanitarian responses – like, dare I say it, a more generous response to those who come to us as refugees.

I’ve been trying to work out exactly what it was that made the Prime Minister decide this was the time to make such a crucial move on Europe. So far, he’s been cheered to the rafters by those who hate the EU anyway – and equally denounced by those (few) who think Britain’s future is fully within it. But what exactly was it that he was protecting? What interests me most about all this is that no-one much seems to care. The best reporting, maybe not surprisingly, was in the Financial Times … (sorry, you’ll have to register with them to follow the links)

And even then it appeared that the confusion was shared, even by the parties to the negotiation. The Financial Times‘ reporters put it like this:

“Nobody understood what Cameron wanted – nobody,” said one diplomat from a central European country that might be considered a natural ally of the UK. “We were talking about big things, saving the euro, and he was asking for peanuts. It was not the time or place.”

Eventually I did find a list of the issues at the bottom of this article (the BBC’s summary is here). They might be things that bother those working in the City, but I’m not all clear why the whole politics of the UK is centred around the levels of capital that banks are forced to hold, or why we are quite so upset about the structure of the European financial regulators that we helped to create. Since no-one who has the power seems interested enough to ask the Prime Minister, we may never find out.
So the debate continues at the level of general appeals to that anti-EU mood which is pretty widespread. Even then, it depends how you put it: if a pollster rang you up tomorrow and said ‘Should the UK jettison influence in Europe in order to help the bankers?’ – what would you say? Maybe a different answer than if the question was ‘Should the Prime Minister defend essential UK interests against interference from Brussels?’ And which would be the more accurate question to ask? That’s what I’d really like to know.