Saturday, August 31, 2013

My take on this week's recall of Parliament

I like to reply promptly to emails and letters from constituents. But I have received so many expressing a view of the case for UK involvement in a possible military strike against the Syrian Gov't that I cannot. Any response on this matter is complex, and I just do not have the time to reply properly. So I'm writing a blog post and pointing those I need to write to in the direction of it.

Lets recap. A few days ago chemical weapons were used to murder over a thousand civilians in a suburb of Damascus. After initially refusing to allow UN inspectors to assess the truth of what happened (as far as possible), Bashar al-Assad allowed the scientists in. David Cameron entered into discussions with several national leaders and it seemed highly likely there would be a military strike against the forces of the President of Syria. Parliament was recalled on Thursday. Most of us fully expected the motion under debate would be to grant the Prime Minister the authority to involve British forces in the attack.

Like many other MPs, I was deeply concerned about voting for a military strike, and felt that I might be forced to vote against my Gov't (for the first time). Main concern was that I could not see what such an attack would achieve. I also decided to email those constituents whose addresses were held in my office to gauge opinion. I received a huge number of replies, the majority of which were opposed to British involvement. However, the motion tabled on the evening before the recall was not what I had been expecting. David Cameron had been seeking to create a consensus with Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, and  a motion had been produced which was thought to satisfy his concerns - even though, after he had spoken to his own MPs it didn't. The motion condemned the Syrian Gov't, it allowed time for the UN inspectors to complete their investigations, and included the provision that before any British involvement in military action, there would have to be another vote of MPs (where  the evidence of UN inspectors would be available) to authorise it. This was a great relief to me. I could no longer see any reason not to vote with the Government. In fact I could not really understand why we were being recalled at all. It was probably because it was too late to cancel when it was realised the motion tabled was meaningless.

Anyway, the MPs turned up (apart from a few notable exceptions). The Gov't motion was defeated. So was what I considered a politically inspired Opposition amendment which said much the same thing. David Cameron immediately announced that he accepted the 'view of the House' and that Britain would not play a part in any international military response. And we all went home. It is impossible to yet judge the implications of all this - except that there will be no more jokey references to the French as "cheese eating surrender monkeys"! I expect the President of Syria to be much pleased by developments.

Personally, I was disappointed that the Govt motion was defeated. While I am not at all convinced that Britain should be involved in a military strike, I would have preferred  to keep options on the table. Actually, I do not think there would ever have been a second vote. But on the other hand, there is also a sense of relief that the matter has been killed off now. I do not think the people of Britain or the MPs that represent them would vote for a military strike against the Syrian Gov't.


Michael Goulden said...

I appreciate your difficulty in replying individually on this serious and complex issue and am grateful that you have attempted to set out your position in this blog.

Visiting Hopton Castle with the Powysland Club yesterday, we were graphically reminded by an historian of the Civil War that cruel massacres in such conflicts are not unique to Syria, and were commonplace in Britain in the not too distant past. It is another reason why many of us I think are weary of the emotive moralising language of the disciples of 'Humanitarian Interventionism'. As with the issue of chemical weapons which I commented on previously, the relentless demonisation of particular individuals like Assad, and the uses of internet video evidence, the justifications can all to easily become selective and manipulative, obscuring larger realities. There is clearly both a civil and a proxy war going on Syria and there are major strategic interests for some at stake in its outcome. The assumption that Western governments, unlike the Russians, Chinese and Iranians, have no other motive than the humanitarian, is disingenuous. That is where the obstacles to peace lie, and we should stop pretending otherwise.
We should be supporting genuine peace talks, without unacceptable preconditions, and tackling the continuing militarisation in which one suspects this country is covertly assisting along with many others.

Roger Blunden said...

I appreciate your taking the trouble to consult constituents over this important and sensitive issue.

Two aspects of this situation disappoint me.

Firstly, it is sad to see the whole debate being presented in the press and the political parties as a 'defeat' for the government and the ensuing yah-boo name calling which is now taking place from all sides. Why can't our politicians and the press have an intelligent debate about such an important issue, for which there are no easy black and white solutions?

Secondly, the debate has been presented as a choice between taking military action or doing nothing (apart from delaying military action). The only way these issues can be resolved in the long term is through very intensive and skilled diplomacy (did military action resolve Iraq or Afghanistan?). If we put anything like the resources invested in the military into diplomacy and negotiation, we could begin to contribute towards the solution of some of these complex and tragic issues.