DAVID Cameron and Ed Miliband have both discovered the truth of Harold Wilson's aphorism that a week is a long time in politics.
There the Prime Minister was a few days ago, impersonating a lobster on a Cornish beach. His biggest challenge appeared to be how to discreetly remove a beach towel. This weekend, he is nursing his political bruises from the worst defeat of his premiership.
A week ago, the Labour leader was being battered from pillar to post by the "toxic disunity" of critical colleagues. This weekend, Mr Miliband is riding high, claiming to speak for the nation on Syria and basking in the humbling of his opponent. Certainly, it seems Mr Cameron not only misjudged the mood of the country on Syria but also the mood of his own, increasingly rebellious, backbenchers.
Let's be clear, the early recall of Westminster - just four days before it was due to return - was for one thing: to produce UK support to enable the US Government to launch a strike on Syria this weekend. But, just as things appeared to be going swimmingly, on Wednesday evening, under pressure from his own MPs not to rush to military action, Mr Miliband slammed on the brakes and produced new conditions for Labour's support; namely, allowing the UN inspectors to report back, producing compelling evidence of the Assad regime's culpability in the Damascus chemical attack and a second parliamentary vote before any British military action was taken.
A deeply frustrated and angry Premier conceded what he thought were all three points but it was not enough. The Tories, using Tuckeresque language, accused Mr Miliband of playing politics.
The intelligence report on the Assad regime's culpability simply said intelligence suggested it was "highly likely" the Syrian government was behind the Damascus chemical attack. Labour wanted more, as did the Tory and Lib Dem rebels.
The expectation ahead of Thursday's vote was that Mr Cameron had done enough to sneak a victory given it was now simply a vote to have another vote. He had been privately meeting "wobblers" all day. He gave an impassioned speech but the shadow of Iraq was longer and darker than expected.
One Coalition source reflected: "If we'd have backed the Labour amendment, which conditionally backed military action, we would have sailed through. That's politics."
Ironically, it was pressure from his own frontbenchers which persuaded Mr Miliband to stiffen his resolve and toughen up his conditions on Syria and although his amendment was defeated, his political stature has been enhanced.
Meantime, Mr Cameron, who has seen his foreign policy taken out of his hands and whose international standing among allies appears weakened, looks politically diminished. Paddy Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, branded him a "broken back" premier. But one senior Government insider reflected: "Yes, things look bad for Mr Cameron at the moment but he will stand or fall not on this but on the strength of the economy."
Next week, the PM will, again ironically, be in Russia for the G20 summit when he will have to shake hands not only with Barack Obama but also Vladimir Putin. No guesses for who will have the biggest smile.
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