In theory, this week has seen a victory for the Government, with a fairly comfortable win on the vote for military intervention in Syria and the Labour Party in greater disarray – and more bitterly divided – than ever. Despite this, David Cameron doesn’t feel like a winner at the end of this tumultuous week. His ill–advised, emotive comments at a meeting of his backbenchers at which he urged wavering Members not to vote alongside “terrorist sympathisers” undid in an instant his previously calm and conciliatory efforts to reach consensus on intervention.
The PM was of course referring specifically to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, but it was a clumsy and deeply offensive comment that flared the tempers of MPs of all colours. But Cameron’s real mistake was not to apologise and retract the comment – preferably before entering the House to make one of the most important speeches of his career. By failing to do so, his speech was ruined by constant demands for apology and his moment stolen by Hilary Benn MP. All in all, not his finest hour.
This week is also David Cameron’s tenth anniversary as leader of the Conservative Party – a milestone not reached by many leaders of this trigger-happy party. Central to his success has been a calculated inoffensiveness. He’s kept outbursts like the one we saw this week to a minimum, and has worked hard to be all things to all people (within the party). There are plenty of challenges still to overcome before he can bow out – the EU referendum and now British military activity in Syria – but if the last ten years are anything to go by, he will make it out the other side in one piece.