Syria: Ed Miliband can halt Cameron's attack 'stampede'
Tentative Labour leader wants a 'UN moment' before any military move but is highly unlikely to get it
DAVID CAMERON'S hopes of securing unanimous cross-party support for military action against Syria could be unravelling after Labour leader Ed Miliband warned the Prime Minister there would have to be a "UN moment" prior to an attack.
The warning suggests Miliband is shifting his position. At first he seemed to support a military response to the chemical attack after meeting Cameron for a private briefing on the intelligence evidence against the Syrian regime.
But late last night Miliband phoned Cameron to say that Britain, US and France should go to the UN before launching a unilateral strike. He wants the UN's assurance that the assault is legal before backing the action.
The Labour leader is unlikely to get it. Russia and China are unlikely to approve military action at the UN, and President Obama has made it clear to Cameron he intends to carry out the strikes in days. That is why Parliament has been recalled to sanction the attacks. It was due to return on Monday, but that might be too late.
Miliband is undoubtedly reacting to pressure on his own side. Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott told the BBC's Today programme she was considering resigning from the shadow team over the issue.
Everything will turn on the wording of the government motion to be published this afternoon. It will closely follow the line adopted by Cameron in a TV broadcast from Number Ten last night in which he said that any attack would have to be "proportionate" and designed to "deter" the Assad regime from using chemical weapons again.
Jack Straw, a key member of the Blair Cabinet during the Iraq war, said international law had been widened since the Iraq conflict to allow action for humanitarian reasons. It may now be legal to attack Syria on "humanitarian" grounds to stop further suffering of its people, but it is a point of international law which is less than clear.
Tomorrow's debate in the recalled Parliament is therefore shaping up to be the most important for a decade. There is a strong feeling at Westminster today that "here we go again". The parallels with Iraq are not perfect but pretty close: there is doubt about the legality of unilateral action without UN sanction, there are still doubts about weapons of mass destruction (this time, we know they were used, but we are still not sure who used them), and most importantly, public opinion is dead against it. One poll showed 50 per cent of the public are opposed.
Admiral Lord West, a former defence adviser to Gordon Brown, said on the Today programme that Britain risked a "catastrophe" by intervening in Syria's civil war. The big difference between Iraq and Syria is that Ed Miliband can still say no, thereby breaking the consensus and halting the stampede to action. But by asking for assurances that it would be legal, he gives the appearance of dithering yet again.
Miliband is haunted by Labour's past, when it could not get elected because it appeared weak. Blair set out to correct that image, but over-corrected by supporting Bush to the hilt over Iraq. There is no stomach for war in the bulk of the Labour Party after Iraq, and if Miliband whips his party to support the government he knows he could face a major rebellion.
It's also a testing time for Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who appears to have lost the support for action of Sir Menzies Campbell, a defence expert and one of the wisest heads in the party. Campbell is not afraid of being hawkish, but he is urging caution, sage advice that will sway many Lib Dems. Cameron too has his rebels who are not prepared to vote for a military strike.
The Mole would bet that Cameron gets his majority -- but it will be at a substantial cost to all three party leaders. ·