4 December 2015

There wasn’t any cheering when MPs voted to bomb Syria


The idea seems to have taken hold that pro-war MPs cheered in the Commons the other night when the result of the vote was announced. Partly it is down to MPs, such as the SNP’s Mhairi Black, who tweeted: “Will never forget the noise of some Labour and Tory cheering together at the idea of bombs falling.”

Her observation was retweeted, thousands of time, and by the time she had pointed out she had not meant the vote itself it was too late. On social media the idea of MPs cheering the result was off and running. On current affairs programmes such as the BBC’s Question Time it was repeated by audience members and panellists. You’ll hear it said for weeks, no doubt, on news quizzes and by topical comedians.

It is worth noting though, as Labour’s fast-rising Jess Phillips pointed out, that it did not happen. The Labour MP tweeted: “Just for the record of history which is being misrepresented. No one cheered when the result of last night’s vote was announced. No one.”

This distinction matters quite a bit because, in the era of social media, myths are recycled into supposed fact with frightening speed. It seems some people would rather believe the myth than the evidence of what actually happened.

After the result of the Syria vote was announced there was a small amount of laughter, on an entirely unrelated topic because procedure meant that Bercow referred to a petition on a different subject. Perhaps it was pent-up emotion, but a few MPs laughed presumably because the idea of discussing a petition after eleven hours of intense debate on Syria seemed ridiculous. There is no suggestion they were laughing about the Syria vote.

Yes, there was noise and cheering in the Commons, a lot of it, during the debate, particularly when Hilary Benn sat down at the end of his speech. This was a respectful outpouring of emotion and respect for a tremendously eloquent anti-fascist speech.

When the Speaker John Bercow moved to the vote, there was noise, as is standard and perfectly justified because that is how votes are taken. He asked for a verbal affirmation and MPs shouted out one way or the other. They were answering, not cheering or laughing. Bercow then called a full division, where MPs go off to the division lobbies to settle it. They then trooped back into the chamber to hear the result.

The video – on the Guardian website – is quite clear.

You’ll see there was no cheering. The cheering we are being told happened when the vote was announced simply didn’t happen. The result was greeted in silence, which on a question as grave as action in Syria is precisely as it should be.

Iain Martin is the editor of CapX