I have just stepped out of the Chamber of the House of Commons where I have listened to the cases made for and against extending airstrikes to Syria. Yesterday I attended a briefing by the secretaries of state for Defence, Foreign Affairs, Home Office and DFID, plus one from the Shadow Foreign Secretary. I also met with Muslim MPs, read through a tremendous amount of expert opinion and read through many hundreds of representations from constituents and party members.
I have concluded that I am not yet convinced of the case that the Prime Minister has made that extending air strikes to Syria will make us safer and thus I will be voting against the government motion tonight.
The two key objections that I have been unable to satisfactorily overcome in my mind, are:
- That the ground forces (claimed to number as many as 70,000) who are crucial to consolidate gains by aerial bombardment, are unreliable, hugely disparate and have changing allegiances, most of whom would rather fight Assad than ISIL at the moment. And;
- That the political transition is anything like advanced enough or that airstrikes on ISIL alone will support rather than cause to falter that process.
The Government hope that by embarking upon a process of political transition started by 19 countries including Jordan, Iran, Russia and China, they can end the civil war and persuade the ground forces to join the campaign against ISIL. If that political process continues from the current small but encouraging steps then I am much more likely in the future to be persuaded that air strikes would be a good idea.
I have no doubt that there is a legal basis for the air strikes being proposed, and I regret that I feel unable for us to fulfil our international obligations proposed by the UN resolution, but sometimes the wisest way to help your friends, neighbours and allies is to convince them that an alternative strategy might deliver on their agreed aims. I am also convinced that little that we do in Syria will make a difference to the level of hatred that we will face from ISIL and their supporters here, we are under threat and will be after our vote tonight, regardless of the outcome.
I want to thank everyone who took time to write to me on this subject, and for the dozens of sympathetic and appreciative comments about the dilemma that faced me. I have never thought that the case was an open and shut one and envy those who enjoy certainty about what to do when faced with a hostile and murderous death cult and the peculiar and particularly bewildering set of circumstances that currently pertain in Syria.
I can assure you that those of my colleagues who have reached a different conclusion do so equally solemnly and also believe in their hearts that voting for these airstrikes is the right thing to do. Regardless of the outcome of the vote I hope that colleagues will in future be able to respect that there is no monopoly on morality and that everyone faced with these most difficult of choices has to answer to their own consciences for that choice.
I have made my choice and I will vote, with hope but without certainty, for that tonight.