In the current debate about whether or not to bomb Syria, beyond the substantive issue, much has been made about the issue of leadership and particularly the way the Leader of the Opposition tried and failed to whip his party on the vote. His actions have been contrasted with the decisive leadership shown by the Prime Minister.
However on the issue of Syria I am not sure the Prime Minister has exercised the leadership one might want on an issue of this magnitude and urgency.
Everyone seems to agree that the first duty of government is to provide an effective defence of the country. The Prime Minister has made it clear that his top priority in government is the protection of UK citizens. Their physical safety trumps even the obsessive objective of dealing with the deficit.
When considering ways in which to maintain the security of the nation recourse to military action has to be a final resort. Putting our armed forces in harms way is something no Prime Minister should undertake lightly. Indeed Mr Cameron has made this point many times over the past few weeks. The Prime Minister must be convinced that there is a clear and substantial threat to the country that must be dealt with. What is more a threat which cannot be dealt with in any other way than by taking military action.
Given all this you might have thought the Prime Minister would want to act with all urgency to protect the citizens of the UK. Take the issue to Parliament as soon as possible. But no, he did not want to take the matter to Parliament until he was absolutely certain of a majority. But that begs the question what would he have done if no majority looked likely or indeed if he had lost the vote.
No one seems to have questioned why, once he was convinced of the threat, he did not go immediately to the House of Commons to press for the to extension of the war into Syria. Further, if he lost the vote why would he not go to the country. If the threat is grave enough to put soldiers in harms way then should it not be the first first duty of the Prime Minister to secure action as soon as possible.
It could well be said by supporters of the war “Well he got there in the end”. His delay was a carefully devised strategy to get the support he needed and now we have commenced the bombing he wanted. It feels however a bit like an exercise of leading from behind. Wait until the case is won and then go and make it.
I can’t help thinking the Prime Ministers’ very commendable commitment not to put troops in harms way is underpinned by an equally strong commitment not to put his job in harms way either. Even if he believes the country faces a clear and present danger.