Parties avoid bloodletting over Syria during PMQs

The two leaders did not really challenge each other on the issue of Syria during PMQs today. Photo: Press Association

There has been so much bad blood spilled in private since the Syria vote in the House of Commons that we all half-expected Prime Minister's Questions earlier today to descend into an ugly slanging match.

But they scrupulously avoided that end, for once, and it is not hard to see why; they both have really tricky positions to defend.

Labour's stance looks confusing, illogical and unsustainable.

There are lots of reasons you could put forward to explain why you voted against action and have ruled out returning to the issue. You could argue that you don't agree with us having such a role on the world stage and that you would like us to be more like Norway.

Or you could argue that you do believe in us having a role and a decent sized military and a seat on the Security Council and that it is sometimes right to get involved, but intervention in Syria is not merited or simply wouldn't achieve the results its proponents think it would.

But Labour doesn't seem to be making any of these arguments.

Its claim that it would get involved if Islamic terrorists got hold of chemical weapons looks slightly ridiculous (I mean; how would that work? How would you find them and be sure you were hitting them? Mightn't getting involved now potentially make such an outcome less likely?)

David Cameron's position is a lot more logical, but arguably more damaging to the international alliances he sets so much store by.

He has been intensely frustrated for several years at President Obama's inaction and isolationism, particularly on Syria, and has urged the President in private to do more.

At the point that the giant is roused into action, Mr Cameron's has had the rug pulled from under him by his own ruling coalition.

There is a suspicion that at least some of the Tory rebels are primarily motivated by their personal opposition to Mr Cameron, rather than by any issues of principle.

And then, of course, there is the fact that the British public agrees with the vote and doesn't want action.

So no wonder both sides are so keen to move on. There may be a debate to be had - arguably a pretty important one - but they just seem determined not to have it.