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The choice on Syria- BLOG

This article was written for the Derbyshire Times ahead of the vote on airstrikes in Syria:

This week I will be faced with the most difficult decision I have faced in the five and a half years that I have been an MP, namely whether to vote to extend airstrikes against ISIL from Iraq into Syria.

I have received many representations on the subject and I read them all. Recent polling shows that whilst a majority of both Labour voters and the General public support airstrikes, Labour Party members don’t- which is always difficult given that I answer to both constituencies.

Last Friday members of Chesterfield Labour Party met to discuss the situation. And whilst numbers were small, the prevailing mood against airstrikes was clear. The strongest reservation was the fear that our contribution would be both minor over there whilst creating further instability over here, this is reinforced by the fact that previous interventions have not led to lasting peace.

The contribution we will make is likely at this stage to be around 4-8 war planes, a small part of a large global effort. I have to balance up the fear that we may support action that will further muddle an already chaotic situation with our obligation to play a role in support of a UN resolution that calls on all governments to take all actions they can to degrade and defeat ISIL.

Whilst our bombing campaigns in Iraq have been targeted and have not led to civilian casualties, that is another fear.

And then there is the questions of how far and what the scope of our involvement should be; part of ISIL’s strength comes from them being the main opposition to Assad’s brutal regime, a plan for Syria that helps Assad causes me real doubts. though ISIL have a clear and stated aim to attack and kill us, Assad doesn’t and any action to destabilise him would bring us into conflict with the Russians, with goodness knows what consequences.

There seems to be a widespread view that ISIL won’t ultimately be defeated militarily without the use of ground forces. The make-up of these forces (and their commitment to joining an anti ISIL alliance) will be a key consideration that I will be seeking clarification on this week.

People have raised with me the question of non- military steps that could be taken to degrade ISIL. These include cutting off their funding sources, identifying who they are selling oil to and preventing them doing so and attempting to more successfully counter their propaganda against the West. All of these are important, though hard to do, I will be attempting to discover what steps have been taken to do this already and why it hasn’t been successful.

I am also very conscious that some of the logical steps that we could take against less ideological enemies are unlikely to have much impact here. Their ideology states that they are already at war with us, we have seen aid workers beheaded, people slaughtered in the most barbaric manner imaginable, gay people thrown from the roof, indiscriminate terrorist atrocities and terrorist plots against the UK foiled. They have killed far more Muslims than westerners but their hatred of all who do not share their warped ideology is established and limitless.

The strongest arguments in support of the action is that we are a part of the global community (as an internationalist I feel this strongly) and that we have a UN resolution and a specific request from the socialist French government and many other global allies to join this campaign.

The UN resolution, signed not just by the permanent members but by the entire Security Council calls on all members to take all available steps to defeat ISIL, it is beyond doubt that these actions would be legally justifiable. I also feel that having offered our solidarity to the French particularly, in the wake of the terrible atrocities, it is difficult to turn our back on that commitment when they have asked us to make that solidarity mean something.

It is also clear that our airstrikes in Iraq have made a tactical difference, they have succeeded in containing ISIL and stopping their advance and have pushed them back into their heartlands.

I can’t hide from the fact that there is also a political element to this question. One email I received summarised it perfectly. To paraphrase, it said this: “The world is imperfect, and terrible things happen. Wherever we intervene (Iraq, Afghanistan) we conclude we shouldn’t have, and wherever we don’t (Rwanda, Cambodia, Zimbabwe) we conclude we should have. Whatever we do here, many people will argue afterwards that things would have been better if we’d done the opposite.

Though I stand by my decision to vote against intervention against Assad in Syria in 2013, the appalling refugee crisis that has followed our choice not to stop Assad bombing his own people demonstrates that inaction can also have appalling consequences.

It appears pretty certain that, whatever I vote, the motion in support of airstrikes will be won. After the vote is won, airstrikes will take place and bad things will happen, the public can change their mind, but my vote will last as a matter of public record forever, I will need to answer for that vote and so I will read and consider representations that party members and constituents make as a part of that process. I can only promise that I will not vote lightly, or probably with any certainty that what I vote is the right decision either way, it is easy when you are certain, to think that the conclusion that you have come to is the obvious one, I see this as a very difficult balance but I will do my best to approach this question with an open and curious mind.



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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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