So far there has been a solid display of cross-party unity over the military action in Libya, designed to save the lives of rebels in the east of the north African country. The Labour leadership is firmly behind the coalition on its swift action in maintaining a no-fly zone and protecting Libyan citizens.
But this afternoon’s ongoing debate - it began at 3.30pm and will last six hours - has shown that the consensus is not quite as firm as it might appear at first glance. Instead, having talked to MPs in private, and having watched the first few hours of the debate, I would say the overwhelming feeling is one of pride at the initial intervention but unease about how events will now pan out.
Concerns are shared among MPs of all parties, under these categories:
1] End game. There is concern about the lack of an exit strategy for the Libyan intervention. Does it end with an uprising that extinguishes the Gaddafi regime? Could the country be split into west and east? Could the allies pull out before either side wins? Could this be another Vietnam/Iraq? How does the alliance attack Gaddafi’s troops and tanks – from the air – if they enter suburbs and urban areas. As Dennis Skinner said – in a point accepted by the prime minister – with wars it is “easier to get in than get out“. Or as Emily Thornberry asked: “What would be a successful outcome?” For now the answer of David Cameron – and of a supportive Ed Miliband – it is to uphold the UN resolution which allows the protection of Libyan citizens. That may, in reality, only be phase one.
Rory Stewart, the Tory MP, warned that when you dip your toe into such engagements you can soon become up your neck: ”I think the no-fly zone is the correct thing to do but this is a 20-30 year marathon with a very complicated region,” he said.