Friday, December 11, 2015

Syria, DA'ESH and voting with one's conscience ...

The recent vote in the House of Commons about Iraq was characterised by a series of splits which illustrated what a complex issue it was.

Four of the political parties, including all three of the Britain-wide parties with more than one MP,  were split. The Conservative, Lib/Dems and UKIP all had rebellions: the Conservative one being small in size and percentage terms but significant in terms of the experience and knowledge of foreign affairs and defence issues of several of those MPs who did rebel. It is quite an achievement for a party with only one MP to manage two significant backbench rebellions in the first year of a parliament, but UKIP managed it, with their leader Nigel Farage opposing the action but their one MP Douglas Carswell voting for.

And Labour treated us to the extraordinary and, I think, totally unprecedented situation of the leader and shadow foreign secretary of what had until recently been a party of government speaking on opposite sides from the same despatch box (and the latter sounding far more like a potential Prime Minister.)

Until comparatively recently in historical terms the decision whether to go to war was regarded as a prerogative of the Executive branch of government. There are strong arguments for that position. But one consequence of the 2003 Iraq debacle is that for the foreseeable future, a government which launches military action is likely to wish to obtain the agreement of the House of Commons in advance.

I have the greatest respect for all those MPs - on both sides - who voted for what they thought was in Britain's interests rather than what would mean an easy time for them.

It is evident that some MPs braved what I consider a totally inappropriate degree of pressure to try to influence them to vote in particular ways, and I am concerned that a lot of this went beyond lobbying and into the realms of bullying.

The most frightening illustration of this has, not, to my knowledge been published before today, and it is this. I've referred to the MPs who took flak for defying pressure - but what about those who did not, and chose instead to buckle under?

I was interested - and something between shocked and horrified - to read in a New Statesman magazine article here that

"all sides" (of the Labour party) "are aware that many more than the 66 MPs who did vote for airstrikes were convinced on the case for extending British bombing against Isis from Iraq into Syria, but pulled back due to pressure from their constituency parties."

A few lines later in the same article, the figure of 40-50 is given for the number of Labour MPs who thought Britain should extend the air campaign against DA'ESH into Syria but did not vote that way because of pressure from their constituency parties.

Am I over-reacting to this, or does it say something frightening that, if the New Statesman is correct, 40 to 50 MPs did not dare vote for what they believed was in Britain's best interests?

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