Parliament’s back after what seems a very long summer, interrupted only by a two-week sitting in September, and it’s back to a very full domestic and, perhaps especially, international agenda. We have seen some dramatic new ideas emerging from the Party Conference, and whilst the Labour Party is in disarray, there is a very full legislative programme taking us through until Christmas.
For me, one of the most important issues we are facing is the situation in Syria and throughout the Middle East. I have to admit to being, uncharacteristically for me, in two minds. It is perfectly logical that if ISIL/Daesh are our enemies (which of course is beyond doubt), then bombing them at their headquarters around Raqqa in Syria is both sensible and logical. Thus, I am strongly inclined to support such action. However, I am increasingly also of the view that our 8 Tornado aircrafts are having very little effect, and that the whole region is becoming a wholly unpredictable maelstrom.
Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, perhaps even China are supporting President Assad with overwhelming military might both against the moderate Syrian rebels, who have been armed and trained to a degree by the West. They are also targeting Daesh. Is our enemy’s enemy automatically our friend? Should we overlook the situation in the Ukraine and Crimea for pragmatic reasons? Should we rattle sabres in the Baltic States if President Putin is to be our new best friend? Can we overlook Assad’s Hitler-style dictatorship, his slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of his own people and that he has caused millions to flee their homes? Can we overlook Russian planes in NATO airspace over Turkey in favour of defeating Daesh? The whole thing is a mess and the consequences of doing the wrong thing are, I believe, potentially profound.
The conclusion I have come to is that whilst our comparatively insignificant military contribution may not make a massive impact on the outcome of this conflict, doing nothing would ignore the strong moral and self-interested duty to defeat and destroy the evil which is Daesh. If we do not do at least our own little bit, we run the risk of leaving this vital task to others. A risky strategy in any instance, but perhaps more so when it would be those who we cannot and do not trust. The long-term consequences of such delegation could be very grave indeed.
The will of parliament was, when last tested, against intervention in Syria but is there not also an argument that these matters should not be decided by a vote of backbenchers in the House of Commons? If I, who have spent many years trying to understand the complexities of such situations, remain unclear as to the best course of action, can it really be best for the matter to be decided on a democratic basis where the House, as often as not, votes on party lines. Is it not the case that those who have the secret intelligence, the legal advice, the military expertise are better placed to decide whether or not we should take action and whether it is indeed in Britain’s best interests to do so.
Whilst I take my responsibilities as a Member of Parliament very seriously, I believe that it should be for the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Intelligence Chiefs and Generals to make these decisions and then to seek to justify them to the nation. If they get it wrong they will pay a heavy price for it, but they must not try to delegate those responsibilities to we backbenchers who are in truth ill-qualified to take them. By doing so, they also deprive us of the right and ability to scrutinise and question, and perhaps criticise what they have done for, if we vote for it, then we are to a degree responsible for the action and thus emasculated by our compliance.
There are no easy answers available. I will be watching and thinking deeply over the coming months.