Loss of vote on Syria brings an end to the phoney animosity
You could argue that the animosity between David Cameron and Ed Miliband was phoney. You could, at least, until last week's vote on Syria.
There was a subtle yet noticeable difference in the manner to which the Prime Minister and the leader of Opposition addressed each other yesterday. At Prime Minister Questions, the attacks and counter-blasts over A&E waiting times, the "bedroom tax" and spending cuts can border on the pantomime. Playing to the gallery. But yesterday they really meant it.
You knew they really meant it because their exchanges were in a different register. Braying and outrage gave way to low-level resentment. If they were a feuding couple it would be cupboard doors slammed and muttering darkly, rather than smashing plates and shrieking.
I say they dislike each other. What I really mean is the enmity is chiefly David Cameron's towards his Labour foe. You wouldn't say they would enjoy a pint together at the best of times. But the Tory leader can now barely bring himself to look his counterpart in the eye.
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The Government's shock defeat in the Commons last week was not just a surprise to the coalition. Mr Miliband, too, appeared troubled by it. Not least when, just as the misguided whooping of some backbenchers faded, the Prime Minister ruled out any prospect of a second vote on military action.
Many MPs harboured doubts over the bombing. Doubts underpinned by the speed at which the Prime Minister had gone from relaxing on a beach in Cornwall to recalling Parliament, the catalyst being Barack Obama urging Britain to get four-square behind the US. However, Labour didn't rule out intervention entirely.
Yet that's what happened last week. Even many of Mr Miliband's MPs have said the country cannot standby and watch after the deadly chemical attack on a Damascus suburb blamed on the Assad regime, and which the US says killed at least 1,400 people.
Tories say the Opposition leader needlessly blocked even the principle of an armed response after it failed to accept Mr Cameron's offer of a second vote to approve direct action. For his part, Mr Miliband says the Prime Minister was too hasty to rule out another crack at parliamentary consent. Amid innocent people being killed, it is an unedifying spectacle all round.
That tableau of shock in the Commons last week appeared to have been frozen, and appeared again six days later – the first time the pair had met since over the Dispatch Box. Both men picked up where they were, just Mr Cameron's fury was now bubbling towards the surface and Mr Miliband was exhibiting signs of embarrassment.
The Labour leader was keen to make a number of points. Well, one point. A number of times. That last week's vote on backing military strikes on Syria was not about "Britain shirking its global responsibility, it was about preventing a rush to war." Just in case that message was not clear enough he took to social media, Twitter, to make the point afterwards.
Mr Miliband said the "revulsion at the chemical weapons attacks is shared in all parts of this House." That "there is no difference across this House on the need to stand up for the innocent people of Syria." And that "nobody disagrees about our revulsion at the use of chemical weapons." It was almost a repeated plea for clemency. Was he ashamed of last week's outcome? Some observers came to that conclusion.
Backbenchers had heard enough. Most Tory and Liberal Democrats regarded this as re-writing history. That Mr Miliband's intransigence was born of nothing more noble than political expediency. Even the Labour benches were muted.
One Cabinet minister gave voice to the frustration. "You're a disgrace," is what Education Secretary Michael Gove reportedly told Tory and Lib Dem rebels following the vote. He later admitted losing his temper after the Syria vote because Labour MPs were "cheering as though it were a football match they'd just won". The Prime Minister shunned his Education Secretary's colour. But many of the sentiments could be read between the lines.
Mr Cameron insisted that he "won't be bringing back plans for British participation in military action." In truth, it sounds like a flounce. He only turned acrimonious when declaring: "My only regret of last week is that I don't think it was necessary to divide the House on a vote that would have led to a vote but he took the decision that it was."
The most bitter PMQs in months.