Where do we go and how do we conduct ourselves after last night’s decision to bomb Syria? I expect some will be offended by what I say below
The decision of the UK parliament to authorise bombings is undoubtedly a blow.
I imagine we all fear seeing videos in future like those that Chelsea Manning released to the world and for which she paid such a terrible price – a video of an exercise in smart warfare where a minibus of innocent men and children are machine gunned down and murdered.
And things happen like that when ‘intelligence’ is not delivered by people on the ground and in Raqqa and elsewhere there is little reliable intelligence on the ground.
It is unlikely that there will be military successes in defeating Daesh and liberating areas for ‘democracy’ – because there will be few democrats on the ground other than YPG who, as many MPs drew attention to last night, are being bombed by Turkey and denied heavy weaponry by the Western powers. But the YPG do not have the capabilities alone of liberating Syria for democracy.
Most foreign interventions start with large popular enthusiasm. As wars progress, support drops away if there is no success. In the absence of military successes, Cameron either has to accept de facto defeat or go for further involvement to justify his earlier decision to enter the war. We know from #pigsgate and #terroristSympathisers that Cameron never admits to being wrong.
So this debate has to continue.
But it worries me how this debate, and yes argument, is to be conducted. Many of those who voted for the war probably don’t understand the above. They probably believe a ‘surgical’ intervention, smart technology can ‘take out’ the Daesh leaders as it was claimed Jihadi John was ‘taken out’.
Certainly people outside Parliament may believe that.
If that was true – I wouldn’t protest. The problem is, it isn’t true.
But it is stupid and insulting for such people to be called ‘child murderers’ or similar if they support that illusory solution. I don’t believe many Labour Party members are making such insulting accusations. If they are, they should sober up, think and stop doing so. You don’t win arguments by such actions – it is repellent and has no place in labour movement debates.
There is unfortunately a tendency in politics for incoherent rage to substitute for coherent argument. A few organisations on the left outside of the Party encourage abusive language, they have no interest in the quality of the debate in the Party. Party members need to understand that and not unthinkingly retweet or share such abuse.
Some of them believe that this was a simple moral question – it isn’t. How to help the people of Syria and Iraq and elsewhere eliminate Daesh is an issue which the left has to answer.
I was encouraged that so many Labour and other MPs spoke against the governments support for Turkey and for arming the Kurds. I was pleased to see that my Kurdish friends were raising that on the streets of my town last night. The rest of the anti-war left needs to catch up with them and avoid appearing outraged pacifists with no answers to the practical problem of eliminating Daesh.
It is important to support the secular Kurdish forces and to help Syrians elsewhere to develop such militias – to overthrow both Daesh and Assad.
The absence of a plan on the left to articulate how we do that is a problem. The refusal of Stop The War to even discuss this – weakens all of us who oppose bombings.
But I have also been disgusted that Labour MPs tried to use the Syrian debate as a factional issue to try and depose Jeremy Corbyn. The strong majority against bombing in the PLP was reassuring. That is a rebuff to them and they should stop.
I have always believed that all MPs should go through a reselection between elections. That is not an unfair threat, it is democracy. Being an MP should not be an unaccountable job for life.
They should be judged in the round. On their political wisdom and the quality of their relationship with their Party members and their accountability to the labour movement, on their work against the Tories, on their overall voting record. And there will be no possible selection for well over a year possibly two. So for MPs to say that members who raise possible reselections are making unfair threats is pathetic. If their members are happy with their conduct there is no ‘threat’.
I am against intolerance and argument through insult but I will defend democracy in our Party. I will oppose witch-hunts and attempts by some on the right of the Party to outlaw debate about democracy in the Party.