Last night, for the first time since 1782, the Prime Minister lost a vote on taking military action. Much of the press and Twittersphere are presenting this as a Labour victory, but in fact the Labour leader’s amendment motion also fell. In other words, the leaders of the largest parliamentary parties lost control of their parliamentary members last night. This is no Labour victory – it is a victory for democracy.
The defeat of the motions has taken the leaders by surprise. British ships were already manoeuvring into position in the Mediterranean, alongside those of the US and Russia. The Parliamentary vote was to have been the equivalent of box ticking before military action commenced.
Yet only 25% of the British people are in favour of British military action in Syria. 50% are against. To those who believe in representative democracy, loss of the vote should have been no surprise at all. If our democracy was truly representative, the margin of defeat should have been much greater than the 13 votes it turned out to be.
It was a surprise because our democracy hasn’t been particularly representative as of late. Polls show that our leaders are on the wrong side of public opinion on a whole range of issues – immigration, climate change spending, Europe to name just three. This military action was to have been yet another issue to add to that list. So what has changed?
Simply, it’s the UKIP effect. MPs up and down the country are starting to realise that unless they represent the opinions of the people who put them in Westminster, those same people have the ability to remove them from that place in 2015. When there was just Lib, Lab and Con to choose from – a conglomeration of intermingled opinions – the public were relatively hamstrung. Many of course simply failed to vote at all. But now there is a credible alternative (and a string of very close defeats in by-elections, as well as wins at local level, have made us credible).
Thanks to UKIP, our Parliamentarians are starting to wake up to the fact that they need to listen to the people once again.