Chi thoughts on Syria and voting intention

Dear Newcastle Central Constituents

I have spent much of the weekend considering how I will vote on the question of whether the UK should extend airstrikes against Daesh/ISIS from Iraq to Syria, seeking out and weighing the evidence and the risks.

I want to thank all of you who have written, emailed, tweeted, facebooked or stopped me in the street to share your thoughts. Most of you recognised what a difficult and complex decision it is. When I was selected to be the Labour Party Candidate for Newcastle Central I was asked what I thought would be the hardest part of being an MP. I said it would be this. I am not a pacifist, I believe our country is worth defending and our values worth fighting for. But the decision to send British Armed Forces into action is, rightly, a heavy responsibility.

For me it comes down to two key questions. The security of United Kingdom citizens, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. These are separate operational and moral questions but they are linked in that it is civilian casualties which help fuel the Daesh ideological that we cannot respect and value the lives of those who do not believe as we do. There is also the important question of solidarity with the French in the wake of their grievous and devastating loss; I shall come to that later.

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he set out the case for airstrikes on Thursday and I share his view that Daesh represents a real threat to UK citizens. However he did not convince me that UK airstrikes at this time would materially reduce that threat. The Prime Minister was clear that Daesh cannot be defeated from the air. The situation in Syria is complex and factionalised, with many state and non-state actors who may be enemies of our enemy and yet not our friend. The Prime Minister claimed there were 70,000 ground troops in the moderate Free Syrian Army but many experts dispute that number and the evidence does not convince me that they are in a position to lead an effective ground campaign. Bombs alone will not prevent Daesh obtaining money, arms and more recruits or launching attacks on the UK. The Prime Minister did not set out how we would do that, his was not a plan for security and peace in Syria with airstrikes a necessary support to it, but a plan to bomb Syria, with peace and security cited in support of it. That is not good enough for me.

Daesh are using civilian population as human shields. Syrians in exile speak of the impossibility of targeting the terrorists without hitting innocent bystanders. I fear that bombing Raqqa to eliminate Daesh may be like bombing Gaza to eliminate Hamas – hugely costly in terms of the civilian population and ultimately ineffectual.

Yet the evil that Daesh perpetrate demands a response. President Hollande has called on us to join with French forces. I lived in Paris for three years, I spent time in just about every location that was attacked two weeks ago, I have many friends living in Paris now, I believe the French are our friends and allies and we should stand and act in solidarity with them, and all those who have suffered in Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and around the world.

But there are other ways to act as well as airstrikes. Britain is the only G7 country to meet its International Development commitments, we are already one of the biggest humanitarian contributors to stemming the Syrian crisis, we can do more not only in terms of supporting refugees but helping those still in Syria, whether living in fear of Daesh or Assad. We can show the world that our response is to build rather than bomb. The Prime Minister argues that without taking part in the bombing we will not have a place at the table for the reconstruction. I would think our allies would be reluctant to overlook our financial commitment.

We can also do more to cut off Daesh funding, targeting their oil wells, their revenues, their customers and their suppliers. This may not be as immediately satisfying as bombing the terrorists but it is a more effective means of strangling them.

The vast majority of the constituents who contacted me were against airstrikes. I agree with them for the reasons I set out above. I should say that I have had no experience of bullying or attempts at intimidation in reaching this decision, Newcastle Central is too friendly, frank, comradely and Geordie a constituency for that. But some have suggested that I should vote against airstrikes to ensure a ‘clear conscience’ ’. This is not the case. There will be more killings and innocent deaths whether there are UK airstrikes or not, we will all bear a portion of responsibility for them.

39 thoughts on “Chi thoughts on Syria and voting intention

  1. Tony Freeth

    I agree with everything you have said.
    I think Nigel Todds analysis is also very cogent. Initially after the Paris massacre I felt incensed. I too love France and first visited Paris in 1966 to see the finish of the Tour de France. I go back to France every year.
    But in the cold light of day I cannot see what a UK contribution to the bombing would achieve. My mum was in London during the blitz and at the time of the V1 and 2 raids. She said it hardened rather than weakened people resolve. In fact she thinks that people adjusted to it as much as they could.
    At this time the case for bombing isn’t compulsive in my view.

  2. Val Schollar

    Hi Chi I totally agree with the decision this is something we should not become involved with as they: are already in our country and others they don’t need a reason to attack

  3. Rachael Wiseman

    As a member of your constituency I’m really pleased to read such a thoughtful statement and thrilled that you’ll be voting against air strikes. Thank you.

  4. Nick Brown

    Hi Chi
    Thanks for your thoughtful statement and I respect your decision. Heaven knows, I’d hate ever having to make such a decision myself.
    My hope is that the Shadow Cabinet/PLP go for a free vote otherwise the consequences to the Party will be incalculable.
    You’re right about Newcastle Central being an open minded branch and long may it continue


  5. Alan Bull

    Your decision is the only credible one that can be made.
    I think all those who are pushing for more conflict are either being bribes, blackmailed, or stupid.
    This is a no brainer. Stick with the trueth and you will do well 🙂

  6. john simons

    Good for you on this decision, doing what is right is not difficult. I will tell you this one little thing, what we all want and need is PEACE, where can that be found? We have been steadily ruining this planet, OUR HOME for goodness sake, why? We have forgotten how to get in touch with the PEACE that lives within our heart and how can we possibly have peace if we do not know where it is or how to find it. It takes a special kind of person to show us how, so to this end I direct you to, words of peace global and find YOUR peace then you can find out how to KNOW, not have an idea.

  7. Mary Graham

    Dear Chi

    I do not live in Newcastle but I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming to this decision and for going public with it. I have wanted to join the Labour Party all my political life but firstly I live in an area where the only realistic alternative was Lib Dem and supporting them kept a Tory out and secondly I could never forgive Blair and his team for taking us into more than 1 illegal war. Jeremy Corbyn has changed all that and I now feel I am a member of the party that is my spiritual home. As a mother and more recently a grandmother I hold all human life as sacrosanct – even those who perpetrate evil deeds and I am completely against war (although if any one tried to invade our country I would be there with my poker I assure you).

    I know you have had a difficult decision to make but the majority of Labour Members are anti bombing and those who voted for Jeremy knew his views and gave him the mandate anyway – I hope you can convince others in the PLP to vote against too.

    With very best wishes

    Mary Graham

  8. michael lambert

    hi Chi,

    its a long time since we were both at kenton comprehensive you went and persued your carrier and i thought i was clever and left school and went into the army instead of staying on and taking a levels but the answer to your question is correct that air strikes in their present form wont make much of a differance and what we really need is a combined effort between air-strikes and boots on the ground even though i think the SAS is already there from what i was picking up from former colleagues of mine who are in the know!!!! this is the only way we are going to defeat ISSiS

  9. Andrew Taylor

    Time for the UK to lead the world in peace rather than being the USA’s wingman. Today I watched a footage of a Syrian father collecting the shreds of his children’s flesh from rubble created by Russian bombs. There has to be another way.
    Furthermore, I to listened to the Cameron’s statement; despite his conciliatory manner, I didn’t trust a word he said. I’ve yet to see him and this Government do anything that is the ‘interests of us all.

  10. George Ormerod

    I think you are making the right decision. To bomb Syria is going to harm civilians, cause more refugees, and entrench the support Isis has. As you say there must be better ways to harm Isis and their support.

  11. Marjorie Glass

    Thank you for this reasoned outline which has helped me immensely to decide my position on this issue. May I take this opportunity to commend you for your thoughtful and compassionate approach.

  12. Stephanie Downey

    Dear Chi
    Thank for taking the time to so eloquently set out your thoughts and decision. I agree it is not an easy decision to make, and one that brings great responsibility. I agree with your position, and I also believe that bombing Syria is in effect playing into the hands of Daesh, as they want “the West” to be seen as aggressors.

  13. anne collinson

    So glad you’re voting against. Have asked my M.P. to do the same but sadly she’s a Tory and will vote for. Thanks for your integrity and courage. Bless you!

  14. Adam Kasar

    Dear Chi,
    Thank you for your concise explanation regarding your commitment to vote against British involvement in airstrikes on Syria.
    Your decision was obviously reached after long deliberation and for personal reasons. As a constituent and long-term West End resident may I applaud and support you in your stance on this issue.
    Drone and bombing campaigns will always cause more civilian casualties and are largely ineffective against guerrilla forces without accurate intelligence.
    May I urge you to contnue to vote against the escalation of violence in the Middle East and bring up links between Britain/Saudi Arabia and Saudi?Daesh in the House.
    Adam Kasar

  15. Marian Wainwright

    Bombing Syria will make a bad situation worse for so many reasons. Without ground troops there is no way bombing innocent civilians (ISIS will disappear, temporarily, whilst bombing takes place) can be justified.

  16. Tony

    Chi I think for absolutely spot on with this matter. The Americans have been bombing for a while now and has there been any real achievement? No. I’m pleased you have come to this decision and listened to a lot of people on this matter. We need to be doing a lot of other things first before we resort to air strikes.

  17. Jenny Biancardi

    Please do not vote to bombing Syria. I do not minimise the horror of the attacks in Paris, but adding more innocent deaths to the hundreds of thousands already killed in Syria is ineffective and immoral. The rage of revenge always causes more revenge in turn. Innocent people are always killed, some of the survivors will be in dispair, others will become terrorists.

    Also there is no hard evidence that there is an army suitable for us to work with.

  18. Sue Martin

    I am in complete agreement with your views and pleased that you have referred to listening to the voices of the majority of Newcastle voters. Thank you for setting out your reasons for deciding to vote as you plan to – you have my support.

  19. Ann Schofield

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think it will help a lot of people who are wavering and may even change some minds. Best wishes. Ann

  20. Charlie Parker

    I vote Labour however I am not a member of the party. I am relieved to read your response to the current situation regarding Daesh/IS with which I agree. Air strikes in Syria are not the answer to this problem and I support your activity to pursue a wider range of options to ultimately eliminate this threat. It is easy to write these words yet the effort to find the solution is going to take a lot of hard work and energy. I wish you well as you seek a way forward.
    Thank you.

  21. David Smale

    Thank you from the innocents who might now live because of your decision. They might not know that this debate is about to happen, but imagine how terrified they would be if they read our newspapers or watched our ‘news’.

  22. Khalid malik

    Well put Chi thank you for stating your position on the action proposed by the prime minister, we have to find an alternative to the tried and failed actions, its easy to bomb but extremely hard to find a peaceful settlement. I wouldn’t trust any of the 70k friendly troops, there are some nasty groups with their own self interest. Keep arguing the case.

  23. Kathryn Graham

    So glad you are voting against Syrian airstrikes. I am one of your constituents and am so relieved to discover you are taking this stance. Not an easy decision to make but I am content that this is the right approach.

  24. Farah Hussain

    Dear Chi,

    i would just like to say I am immensely relieved at your decision not to sanction further violence, inevitably against the innocent.

    Best Wishes

  25. Rebecca Shepherdson

    Reading this thoughtful, well argued, humanitarian responsé makes me proud to have voted Labour, and proud to have you as my MP.

  26. Nancy Burn

    Thank you for voting against this action and publicly and openly making it clear that your reasons for doing so were considered and based on evidence, not intimidation.

    I can’t convey my disapointment with the result, but it’s reassuring to know that the person who represents me and Newcastle Central voted with and for the people of the UK and the people of Syria.

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