Monday 30 November 2015

Updated: No support for bombing Syria at Barry Gardiner's meeting with constituents

Barry Gardiner with Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday's Climate March
In a 20 minute cogent presentation in a North Wembley church hall last night, Barry Gardiner set out his thinking on the Syria air strikes issue. He said that he was not a pacifist and that sometimes military action was justified. He had voted for the Iraq war but later went on to criticise the lack of an exit strategy, was one of only 13 MPs who opposed the bombing of Libya, and had helped persuade a change of policy by Ed Miliband's Labour Shadow Cabinet on the earlier Syria intervention mandate.

Gardiner said that he had a duty to constituents to consider whether an extension of existing UK military intervention would be counterproductive.  He considered the legal basis for intervention on the basis of a request by a state to intervene in their defence. Assad had not made such a request. The British Government had recognised the opposition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

He discussed whether the  'Self Defence' criterion under Section 51 of the UN Convention was met. Action has to be necessary and proportionate and demonstrated by the 'overwhelming  necessity' for force to be used.

Finally in discussing UN Security Council Resolution 2249 which states that ISIS 'a global and unprecedented threat' to global security' and calls on member states who have the capacity to take action against them, he concluded that it was not credible to argue that there is no legal basis for UK government action. However, the question was whether it was right to do so.

Countering David Cameron's argument that air strikes on Syria would add capacity to the campaign against ISIS , Gardiner said that the same amount of assets would be deployed but now deployed in Syria as well.  It would not amount to a 'significant' military contribution and according to experts was not a 'war winning campaign' by any stretch of the imagination.

British expansion of the existing intervention in the region may feed radicalisation and do more harm than good.

Explaining that he preferred to use the term Daesh LINK rather than Islamic State, as the latter gave the organisation credibility as a 'state' and illegitimately appropriated Islam as a whole, he suggested that bombing bombing might kill many innocent people without significantly harming Daesh.

A cartoon shared widely over the weekend
Gardiner argued that without ground forces the Government's position was one of 'more hope than intent'. Discussing the current forces on the ground in Syria he said that the US had given up trying to train them and were now concentrating on supplying weapons and ammunition. 'A foolish approach' considering the disparate forces involved.

Cameron's suggestion that there was a 'moderate opposition' numbering thousands was a 'falsification of facts'. There were thousands of fighting forces under arms with different aims and rapidly shifting
alliances.  According the the Select Committee Report  so called 'moderates' had been squeezed out.

 Gardiner suggested that British troops could join a multi-national ground force co-ordinated by thw UN but only in tandem with a diplomatic strategy.

Rather than extending existing action the Government should be contributing to a diplomatic resolution of the conflict through the Vienna Conference.

In discussion, although recognising the legacy of Colonialism and Imperialism, Gardiner denounced as 'infantalism' the argument that history justified Daesh's murderous actions.  Challenged on whether, if the Government came up with a more plausible strategy, he would come back to consult constituents in another meeting, Gardiner said that an MP was not a delegate, and a church hall of people was not necessarily representative of all constituents.  He would read all the reports that constituents were unlikely to have time to read, weight the evidence and reach a judgement which he felt was in all constituents best interests.

On the question of whipping Gardiner said that he would not deserve to be MP for Brent North if he did not follow his conscience on such an important issue rather than the party line.

Responding to a question on the funding and arming of Daesh, Barry Gardiner said that the UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia needed to be rethought in the context of its export of its philosophy throughout the region. He said that Britain's involvement in the arms trade was a continuing problem, complicated by the fact that many jobs depended on it, but also needing to be tackled.

When discussion turned to what happened in Brent, Gardiner said that many in the Muslim community felt threatened by media coverage of the conflict. Leading figures in that community who spoke out powerfully against Daesh should be supported. We were fortunate that Brent is such a mixed community that no one group feels they can dominate.  He said that Labour had been critical of the Government's Prevent programme. It was a top down model rather than the bottom up approach that could harness forces at a community level. The thought that adolescent youth, at a stage in life when they were searching for their own identity,  could be inculcated with 'British values' was laughable. He was unable to attend the December 10th Prevent: Protectng Our Liberty?  meeting at the Interfaith Centre in Queen's Park because he would still be in Paris for the climate talks, but he welcomed the initiative.

No one at the meeting spoke in favour of the Government policy, or the approach of some in the Shadow Cabinet.  One woman who had been worried about what the 'French and Belgians would think of us if we did not support them' said that she had changed her mind during the course of the discussion.

The most moving speech of the evening was from an 8 year old girl who spoke eloquently about the bombing killing innocent people: 'It isn't right that some innocent people will be killed because of some bad people.'

Radio 4 Today report on the meeting is at 1.50 here LINK

Full transcript of Barry Gardiner's presenattion at the meeting HERE


Anonymous said...

Is this the meeting that the BBC reported as including a speech by an eight-year old "dressed as if ready for bed"? If so, I suggest you should report that. Quite something for a kid of that age. Deserves a mention.

Martin Francis said...

Yes, that is true and I tweeted about it last night. I didn't hear the R4 report will try and catch the podcast.