Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons vote – the text

Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons - The motion

Syria and the Use of Chemical Weapons – The motion

We’ve all heard today that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, lost a vote in the House of Commons and the UK will not now be involved in any attack on Syria in response  to the Syrian government’s assumed use of chemical weapons. I thought the whole thing a little odd and odder still that, though the conventional media covered this story at length, none of them explained what the motion was that was defeated in the House of Commons. I thought it would be worth looking up exactly what the motion was.

Below I’ve listed the government motion as appears on along with an amendment put forward by Ed Miliband which was voted down.

To my mind, the interesting part of the government motion is paragraph 7 which states that “a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible” leaving it open to sideline the UN. Also paragraph 9 which states that “before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place”.

So, though it gave room to bypass the UN, it also prevented Cameron from acting until another vote had taken place meaning that even if the House voted for the motion it would have a further opportunity to prevent British involvement if the UN weapons inspectors reports were not sufficient to justify the attack.

The amendment put forward by Ed Miliband seems to replace the text with a similar version which builds in stronger caveats that the UN must first be allowed to determine if the Assad regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons.

The full text of the debate is available on the They Work For You along with a record of how MPs voted. The result of the divisions seems to have caused quite a commotion as the Speaker is reported to have said “Mr MacNeil, you are like an erupting volcano. Calm yourself, man!”. In division 69 the amendment was rejected and in division 70 the government’s motion was rejected. It might seem that the Tories did not want to be constrained by the UN and so rejected the amendment and Labour did not want action without a UN mandate and so rejected the government motion but both the motion and the amendment built in a requirement for a second vote prior to any British involvement.

All a bit rum if you ask me and it is the rejection of the amendment which has probably caused all the furor in the press because it meant that the House not only rejected British involvement in an attack, it rejected British involvement even if the UN should decide that military action is necessary. I guess this is what has all the pundits raving about a cock-up and I wonder what would have happened if the House had voted on the government motion first and then, when this was rejected, voted on the amendment?

I’d like to drag Blair back into this. As if his legacy were not bad enough, I wonder if the British people and parliament are now so cynical about foreign interventions that, now that there may be a legitimate case for intervention to stop outrageous atrocities, we shy away from it.

Here’s the text of the government motion:

That this House:

Deplores the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August 2013 by the Assad regime, which caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries of Syrian civilians;

Recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons under international law;

Agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria’s chemical weapons;

Notes the failure of the United Nations Security Council over the last two years to take united action in response to the Syrian crisis;

Notes that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime under customary law and a crime against humanity, and that the principle of humanitarian intervention provides a sound legal basis for taking action;

Notes the wide international support for such a response, including the statement from the Arab League on 27 August which calls on the international community, represented in the United Nations Security Council, to “overcome internal disagreements and take action against those who committed this crime, for which the Syrian regime is responsible”;

Believes, in spite of the difficulties at the United Nations, that a United Nations process must be followed as far as possible to ensure the maximum legitimacy for any such action;

Therefore welcomes the work of the United Nations investigating team currently in Damascus, and, whilst noting that the team’s mandate is to confirm whether chemical weapons were used and not to apportion blame, agrees that the United Nations Secretary General should ensure a briefing to the United Nations Security Council immediately upon the completion of the team’s initial mission;

Believes that the United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken, and notes that before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place; and

Notes that this Resolution relates solely to efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering by deterring use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any action in Syria with wider objectives.

Here’ is the text of Ed Miliband’s amendment:

Line 1, leave out from ‘House’ to end and add

‘expresses its revulsion at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Ghutah, Syria on 21 August 2013; believes that this was a moral outrage; recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons; makes clear that the use of chemical weapons is a grave breach of international law; agrees with the UN Secretary General that the UN weapons inspectors must be able to report to the UN Security Council and that the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians; supports steps to provide humanitarian protection to the people of Syria but will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met that:

(a) the UN weapons inspectors, upon the conclusion of their mission in the Eastern Ghutah, are given the necessary opportunity to make a report to the Security Council on the evidence and their findings, and confirmation by them that chemical weapons have been used in Syria;

(b) compelling evidence is produced that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons;

(c) the UN Security Council has considered and voted on this matter in the light of the reports of the weapons inspectors and the evidence submitted;

(d) there is a clear legal basis in international law for taking collective military action to protect the Syrian people on humanitarian grounds;

(e) such action must have regard to the potential consequences in the region, and must therefore be legal, proportionate, time-limited and have precise and achievable objectives designed to deter the future use of prohibited chemical weapons in Syria; and

(f) the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action, and that any such vote should relate solely to efforts to deter the use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any wider action in Syria.’

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Dine in the Sky

British Airways Dine in the Sky

British Airways Dine in the Sky

Saturday lunch time I intended to take the open top bus up to Devils Dyke with some friends. Walking along Hove prom toward the bus stop we were stopped by a British Airways employee giving away sticks of rock containing raffle tickets. The winner to receive something or other…….the guy gave his pitch and we yawned expecting a catch, or at least,  a request for our personal information.

We were too cynical. The guy wanted nothing. It seemed that all the sticks of rock were winners and we had “won” lunch at a table dangling from a crane overlooking Hove sea front. British Airways Dine in the Sky experience. He escorted us to a pavilion on the prom where we could get refreshments while we waited for the “flight”. After 5 or 10 minutes we received a safety briefing and were strapped into airline style seats surrounding a bar serving food and drinks.

It was a little frightening and I was not the only one to find myself gripping the bar with one hand. However, after a glass of plonk and some excellent tapas we got used to it. Though the sky was overcast and there were a few drops of rain the table revolved a couple of times and we got a great view down the coast. Bloody excellent! A publicity stunt to promote British Airways new flights to places such as Lanzarote but also an interesting example of how companies are using new media to get their message across.  I guess I am now part of British Airways marketing activity.

After “landing” we continued up to Devils Dyke where it poured with rain and and we repaired to the pub.

Dine in the Sky

Dine in the Sky

people sky grass rose

people sky grass rose

NB4L – The Boris Bus


Another Jumper?

Was up London last week. Victoria Station busy as usual. Outside, I looked to jump on a bus and identified a 38 at the stop. The 38 used to be an old RouteMaster but these were phased out a while back. However, young Boris had the splendid idea of creating a bus inspired by the Routemaster with a similar open back and the 38 is now a New Bus for London or “Borisbus” as the popular media has it. I climbed aboard.

The look of the front of the bus echoes the stairs with a black diagonal line and the headlights are modern LEDs. I admit to being impressed. No, more than that. I admit to loving it.
The upstairs has a wonderful feel about it. Perhaps it is the very wide windows or the two sets of stairs. The line of lights, faintly reminiscent of portals which run along the side and then diagonally down the stairs. The very square layout of the seats in a traditional patterned fabric. The slightly domed ceiling. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think the word is Design. The New Bus for London was designed by Thomas Alexander Heatherwick, the same guy who designed the Olympic Cauldron.

Yes, yes, I know I have railed against this ephemeral quality ridiculing those who practice it as pony tailed prats but the ambiance (yes, I used the word) of the upper deck is created by an overarching design which is both modern and very London. It seemed to me slightly art deco. One could easily imagine a scene from the latest TV series of Sherlock based on the upper deck (and you read it here first, I’m sure it will be).





As a whole the new bus is very good but the original point of the Borisbus was the open back. Sadly, in this respect, the Borisbus is no match for the old Routemaster. No doubt due to safety concerns, the back door does not extend around the back and opens and closes with the other doors unless a conductor is present. On the 38 there was no conductor. The 24 has a conductor and the back door remains open while the machine is in motion but the conductor hogs the favorite position hanging on to the pole and thereby blocks the entrance. There is no chance to jump off the bus on that tight curve as one approaches one’s destination and nobody will rush to their stop as the bus pulls away and with briefcase in one hand, in one final heroic leap grab the pole and haul themselves aboard. The romance of the open back has been banished to the past for fear of broken bones and scarred faces.

In these days of cycle helmets and Teflon saucepans the rough edges of reality are smoothed away in the name of health and safety but, if we accept this, and consign the hop on / hop off bus to history along with the Black Death and asbestos then the new Borisbus is a splendid 21st century symbol of a dynamic London with a clear nod to tradition.



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Star Chasers & Doggers – The Perseids 2013

Devils Dyke

Devils Dyke

Sunset last night found me rummaging through cupboards retrieving sleeping bags and heavy jackets. An old wool hat, some gloves. It might be cold up at Devils Dyke and I wanted to be prepared. The Perseid Meteor Shower had come around again.
The forecast was clear skies and, as I watched the sun set, the clouds scarpered and the stars came out. I stuffed my jacket into a bag and a toy noise machine fell to the ground. A joke Christmas present. Press a button to get special effects noises. A thunderstorm, a crow. Absent mindedly I put it in my pocket and picked up the camp bed.
A final glance out the window revealed the moon just setting. Excellent! The seeing would be good. Hot chocolate into a thermos and camera packed I staggered downstairs overloaded with gear while a grating witches cackle emerged  from my pocket. Outside there was a bit of wind, good thing I’d prepared. Car loaded, I set off.

This year Talking Bollocks had correspondence at both major seeing points in Brighton; Devils Dyke and Ditchling Beacon. Our Ditchling correspondent texted to say he was making tea and would soon set off. Around 11pm, up at the Dyke, cars were still arriving and I parked up. A party atmosphere. Laughing and drinking. Standing and staring. As I walked I almost stumbled over prone figures lying on the ground. Camp beds, sleeping bags. People were making a night of it. A cool wind was blowing from the south west but the sky was clear and it wasn’t long before I saw a shooting star streak across the sky accompanied by whoops and cheers from the darkness.

Devils Dyke

Devils Dyke

The real trick is to know which part of the sky to look at. I had no idea. I wandered around the back of the little wood where the wind drops away and found three guys with cameras and tripods. They pointed out Perseus with a laser pointer. Oddly this actually worked, the laser being visible for a good way as it bounces off water vapour in the air. These guys explained that they travel around the UK taking pictures at night. Sometimes storm chasing, sometimes meteor chasing. As, I stood, face raised to the heavens, their conversation floated over. F stops and ISO ratings. Tea and biscuits. Techy and camaraderie. The sky seemed full of aircraft but, as they predicted, this soon died down.

A text came in from our Ditchling correspondent who reported that it was like a festival up there and the shooting stars were plentiful. After an hour or so I decided to bed down. Returning to the car I collected my gear and walked through to the back of the wood and set up my bed. I stuffed my sleeping bag into the bivvy bad and took a final swig of hot chocolate then lay back and watched the skies. A meteor zipped across the sky every few minutes. Some thin and feint and some bright and wide. I drifted off to sleep.

About 2pm I awoke. I was uncomfortable. Could be worse. The Fastnet yacht race has started and they should be round Land’s End and into the Irish Sea by now. Could be choppy though they should get a good view of the sky. As I tossed and turned blood curdling screams emerged from my pocket. I was cold and something was digging into my back. The zip in the sleeping bag had broken and bits of me kept emerging into the cold air and the slope of the bed didn’t help.

About 3:00 I packed up and returned to the west side of the Dike to find the place almost deserted. All but one party of revelers had gone home. Before leaving I stood about a bit and took some more pictures. Now and then a car would arrive., drive around the car park and depart. Astronomers or doggers? It wasn’t possible to know.

Then foot to the floor and down the winding lanes back into the empty streets of Brighton to arrive at the sea front about 4:00am.
Not a bad place to live. Rural and urban. Thoughtful and rowdy. Nerdy and obscene. Brighton & Hove!

Star House

Star House