Catherine's statement on Syria and voting intention

Catherine-West-cropped.jpg

"This week the Prime Minister is likely to call a vote on whether the UK should pursue a bombing campaign against ISIL/Daesh in Syria.

I am grateful to the thousands of local residents who have already contacted me with your thoughts. The depth and strength of the feeling this issue has generated locally only reinforces how important this decision is. Overwhelmingly you have told me you’re against air strikes.

I believe the decision to commit our armed forces into military action is the most serious a Government can take. As a newly elected Member of Parliament this is the first time I will face such a vote and over recent months I have been closely following the case for and against UK military intervention.

It is clear that ISIL/Daesh needs to be defeated. They pose a threat both regionally in their main area of military operations and internationally through terrorism. Their reign of terror has seen women subjected to unspeakable sexual violence, gay people killed and thousands upon thousands across the Middle East forced to flee their homes. The horrific attacks in Paris saw people of all ages, cultures and faiths enjoying the start of the weekend only to be caught up in indiscriminate acts of violence. We will all remember the shock at seeing the bloody images at the Bataclan and on the Paris streets. Innocent civilians in Egypt, Beirut, Ankara and Tunisia have been brutally murdered and I am in no doubt that they pose a threat to us here in the UK.

The question I have sought to answer is whether a UK bombing campaign will lead to the defeat of ISIL/Daesh. I have looked at the record of other Western interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, read the thoughts of the many constituents who have contacted me and listened carefully as the Prime Minister set out his case.

Ultimately, I have made the decision to vote against air strikes in Syria because I do not believe the Prime Minister has set out a strong enough case for how this action will lead to ISIL/Daesh's defeat or provided assurances that it will not put the British people at greater risk.

The situation in Syria is incredibly complex with no one single enemy and the vast majority of the millions who have left their homes since the civil war started are fleeing Assad. Air strikes are already taking place by the US, France, Russia and other powers yet it is clear that air strikes alone will not defeat ISIL/Daesh. The Prime Minister himself accepts that ground troops will be needed but it is unclear if Kurdish or Free Syrian Army forces could take on this role. When Jeremy Corbyn questioned the Prime Minister he asked "is it not more likely that other stronger jihadist and radical Salafist forces would take over?" a question I don't believe has been adequately addressed.

The UK has a diplomatic strength we should rightly be proud of. I believe our resources and efforts are best directed towards trying to achieve a Syrian Peace Process, which would secure an immediate ceasefire and plan for an orderly transition from an Assad-led government prior to national elections. This may appear a distant goal, but it is nevertheless crucial as ISIL/Daesh thrives where vacuums of power and conditions of chaos exist.

Here in London we are uniquely placed to use the city’s massive resources and technological expertise to help intensify international efforts to cut off the flow of funds and arms to ISIL/Daesh. We should also be taking the lead in pushing for a co-ordinated humanitarian response to the refugee crisis that is an inevitable result of the turmoil in Syria.

Crucially, we need to challenge the ideology that still today is seeing young men and women joining Isil/Daesh. I fear that a bombing campaign with the risk of further civilian casualties will only drive greater numbers into the recruiting grounds of their poisonous propaganda.

As I write this, no formal proposal has been put to MPs. I will continue to carefully consider any proposals the Government brings forward to address the persisting threat of ISIL/Daesh, but at this time I do not believe the case has been made for UK military intervention."

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commented 2015-12-07 21:05:06 +0000
Catherine, thanks for your email…not sure this is the right forum to debate this, but here goes: mentioned Labour in contest with aspects of UKIP and ukip factor policies, and that was a policy which failed due to official Labour ‘lack of initiative’ on the doorstep..reason is obvious! Suggest lack of ‘involvement’ in Syria for a similar reason.
Obviously respect your right to vote as you thought was the right thing to do. Said the same thing to your LD parliamentary predecessor last time, and before the vote (with no didactic emphsis except a historical reminder). Dont even know how she voted on that occasion!
commented 2015-12-07 20:10:41 +0000
I do not agree with your decision. You would know that this constituency was LD for 10 years as a result of the ‘Iraq’ factor and I have to wonder to what extent this affected your judgement: it is still a thorn in the side of Labour nationally, and is maybe a factor in everones judgement in our Party.
I rejoined the Party before the 2015 General Election in the belief that it was the best way to defeat the racists of UKIP. In fact Labour was not up to the challenge and this allowed the Tories to ‘steal’ some of UKIP’s clothes and win The Election.
Great challenges require great nerve and the capacity for great resilience and one has to wonder if Labour is now capable of rising to such a great challenge as the Syrian Conflict.
commented 2015-12-04 21:34:33 +0000
I do not agree with your decision. You would know that this constituency was LD for 10 years as a result of the ‘Iraq’ factor and I have to wonder to what extent this affected your judgement: it is still a thorn in the side of Labour nationally, and is maybe a factor in everones judgement in our Party.
I rejoined the Party before the 2015 General Election in the belief that it was the best way to defeat the racists of UKIP. In fact Labour was not up to the challenge and this allowed the Tories to ‘steal’ some of UKIP’s clothes and win The Election.
Great challenges require great nerve and the capacity for great resilience and one has to wonder if Labour is now capable of rising to such a great challenge as the Syrian Conflict.
commented 2015-12-03 15:44:36 +0000
I’m very pleased with your decision to oppose UK airstrikes in Syria. And I very much agree with Jocelyn. I am appalled by the opposition of so many of the Shadow Cabinet (and others) to the Labour Party’s leader.
commented 2015-12-02 23:10:09 +0000
Well said and appreciate your considerations. And as a personal reaction, very pleased that I voted for you. However shocked and saddened by your Labour colleagues. This has distanced me immeasurably from this political system and from a position where I was considering joining the Labour Party however not only this shameful historical decision but the behaviour towards your party leader means this will never now be the case.

Thank you for your no vote.
commented 2015-12-02 22:18:24 +0000
Thank you for the thought and time you’ve put into both making this decision and explaining your reasoning and thoughts to us.

I support and agree with this decision. Thank you.
commented 2015-12-02 19:57:15 +0000
I respect what you have said and the decision you have made, although I don’t believe it is necessarily the right one. This is really difficult to call but on balance I think we need to be seen to support our allies. It is all well and good for those opposed to air strikes to talk about comprehensive strategies, yes we need them. But ultimately you can’t negotiate with ISIS, they will have to be defeated militarily in exactly the same way the Nazis were in 1945. That means soldiers on the ground – ours or other peoples – and fighting, which means people will get killed. My concern is that, whilst David Cameron’s description of our party as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ is unforgivable, I don’t really know what Labour’s line in the sand on this issue is, when would we support military action, that disappoints me.
commented 2015-12-02 19:30:14 +0000
Catherine, I agree. I haven’t heard a coherent argument FOR bombing, as I wrote in a post on this site a couple of days ago – but I was struck by what Margaret Beckett said today. She talked about combing in other theatres of war including Kosovo, and concluded that in each case, bombing had been necessary and effective. I wonder what you made of her thinking.
commented 2015-12-02 19:07:36 +0000
Thank you for your decision.
commented 2015-12-02 18:59:07 +0000
Thank you for this very clear statement, with which I totally agree. It is simply not credible that a UK bombing campaign in Syria will do anything other than act as a further recruiting agent for ISIS/ISIL, and is more likely to increase rather than decrease risks to security here. The claims about ground troops are laughable and, as you say, the most important immediate goal must be to agree a peace process between Assad and as many of the opposition groups as possible within Syria, so as to form a united front at the next stage. Trying to prevent arms from getting to ISIS is laudable, and I’m glad you mentioned the refugees question as well.
commented 2015-12-02 18:11:31 +0000
I don’t get to vote tonight on whether or not we bomb Syria. Unlike a referendum on EU membership, I have to leave the decision to our elected representatives.

But, assuming I had a voice, I would vote against bombing Syria, because I cannot see it would achieve the only aims that would make it defensible.
I remind myself that the majority of the terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers were from our allies Saudi Arabian, the 7/7 bombers were British as were the killers of Lee Rigby and that it appears the murderers in Paris were EU citizens. The threat, it seems to me, is always closer to home than the rhetoric would suggest.
I’m also unconvinced that, even if military victory over IS could guarantee our safety, that an air campaign alone would secure that victory given the absence of a credible anti-IS force on the ground.
commented 2015-12-02 11:46:49 +0000
Thank you for your wise decision, Catherine – let’s hope that there will be more humans like you in the Labour Party voting against random bombing of Syria. I am standing for peace with our leader Jeremy Corbyn.
commented 2015-12-02 08:21:42 +0000
I’m so glad I voted for an MP with such an intelligent and thoughtful approach – I’m also against air strikes partly due to the overwhelming evidence that they do not work and more often make matters far worse – Again I’m really glad I voted for you
commented 2015-12-02 07:31:34 +0000
Imagine, for a moment, that one of our cities—Cambridge, say—has gradually been taken over by a criminal elite, so that city governance, the police, private security firms, are all controlled by this mafia. The people of the city try to continue to go about their business as best they can, but the corruption is sucking wealth out of the city’s economy and things get steadily harder and harder.

Then some people form an armed group and start fighting the criminal elite. They live in the city among everyone else, so ordinary civilians get caught up in the cross-fire. The armed group itself starts to pressure the civilians to hide them, feed them, give them money for arms. The armed group becomes as much of a danger to the people and the city as the criminal elite is. More and more people die. The city’s work and businesses start to collapse. Pockets of civilians try to get hold of arms and resist both the mafia and the armed group fighting them, but they are weak and not numerous.

Central government, which had previously turned a blind eye to the mafia controlling the city, now feels it has to intervene. But what should it do?

We can debate what it needs to do. But surely we would not advocate bombing Cambridge? We would not imagine that even “targeted strikes” against the armed group would be acceptable, bringing with it all the innocent civilians’ deaths, and the destruction of the city’s infrastructure. And we would not imagine that bombing Cambridge would help restore a secure, peaceful and uncorrupt city government.

Why do supporters of the bombing proposal think it will work in Syria?
commented 2015-12-01 21:55:33 +0000
Good statement, Catherine.
Richard
commented 2015-12-01 19:24:38 +0000
I appreciate your addressing the issue of alternatives to bombing in Syria. I also think the government is in a rush to any action without considering other forms of activity to defeat the Daesh. My concerns also extend to the arguments that we should do nothing as some in our party hint at. That I believe to be an immoral position. Catherine be part of policy development in the party that takes us to a sustainable position and avoid those that attack other Labour MPs for coming to a different decision.

Mike Berkoff
commented 2015-12-01 11:44:56 +0000
Very well said Catherine, I’m sure you echo the whole shadow cabinet in writing this.

I take a more simplistic view of the subject. I understand and agree that action needs to be taken to remove IS from the region as they are distabilising it with their actions. However Airstrikes alone are not the answer and any ground offensive should only include regional forces and not foreign ones. There is currently no regional force, apart from the Syrian army, that could be used that doesn’t put Britain in direct conflict with Russia and this is something I believe we need to avoid at all costs. Britain’s goal must be to stabilise the region and in doing so reduce the threat to our country. David Cameron wanted to bomb the Syrian army only 12 months ago so I don’t believe he will want to join forces with them against IS. Backing the FSA will put us in direct conflict with Russia and could escalate this to a more serious conflict.

1, is this working in Iraq where we currently partake in airstrikes? Quite simply no, and Iraq also has the ground troops to, in theory, make the work, it still isn’t with IS there becoming stronger and more organised.
2, will it decrease the threat of terrorism in the UK? Experience dictates that this action will increase the threat of terrorism in the UK from UK citizens who become sympathetic and radicalised because of our intervention. The opposite will happen.
3, there is always innocent victims from such actions, any number is unacceptable, there cannot be a guarantee that there will be none. This is something that will be used by IS as recruitment tool. What actions will be taken to stop this from happening.
4, how much will this cost, I saw an estimate of about £500,000 per airstrike, where is the money coming from and how many airstrikes, per week, is estimated. How much will this all cost the taxpayer.
5, how long with it take, prediction are that this will become protracted and we could be embroiled in this war for a generation, I shudder thinking how much this will eventually cost us.
commented 2015-12-01 11:37:54 +0000
Well said. Thank you for such a nuanced and considered position.
commented 2015-12-01 11:20:59 +0000
Dear Catherine,
Thank you for the thorough statement of your position on the current issue before parliament. I fully agree with you that the case has not been made to extend bombing to Syria. And limiting debate to one day smacks of a ‘rush to war’ as Jeremy Corbyn has called it. There is a great temptation to do something, and to be seen to do something — and something must indeed be done. We can’t just hope that IS will fade away. But the idea that within a week or two we’ll have a fully worked out plan, in coordination with substantial effective ground forces, to overthrow IS (let alone helping to prepare the ground for the post-conflict settlement) is laughable.
Your fellow Labour MPs who may be thinking of voting with the government should have no illusions that sending the RAF to bomb in Syria will seriously weaken IS. It will be a symbolic action and, apart from the calculation of whether the UK will be more vulnerable to attack, the only certainty is that more innocent Syrian citizens, already living a nightmare, will be killed.
commented 2015-12-01 10:17:27 +0000
I am very pleased you have come to this decision….supporting a political resolve in Syria is the first step and then supporting local fighters to defeat and purge Isis will then follow….if air support for local ground troops is needed then and only then should we step in to help…..but addressing the Saudi Iran Turkish and others involvment has to be delt with…
commented 2015-12-01 09:41:25 +0000
Thanks for such a thoughtful post. Whichever way you vote, I appreciate the consideration you are giving, and the efforts you are making to sift the evidence, and understand the views of your constituency.

Rosalind – The idea that there is such a thing as missiles which can exclusively kill combatant individuals and spare civilians is, I’m afraid, pure fantasy. Alas, Isis troops do not stand on a battlefield waiting to get bombed, but are embedded in the cities (and even communities) they claim to represent. Irrespective of whether it is right or wrong to strike Isis, we have to accept the responsibilities and casualties that will go with it.
commented 2015-12-01 09:35:54 +0000
Catherine, when you say “it is clear that air strikes ALONE will not defeat ISIL/Daesh”, this allows room for the possibility that air strikes do have a useful function – only that you wish other measures to be taken as well. What are those other measures? You suggest four:
1. “Trying to achieve a Syrian Peace Process [to] secure an immediate ceasefire and plan for an orderly transition from an Assad-led government.”
2. “Use [London’s] massive resources and technological expertise to help intensify international efforts to cut off the flow of funds and arms to ISIL/Daesh.”
3. “Taking the lead in pushing for a co-ordinated humanitarian response to the refugee crisis.”
4. “Challenge the ideology that still today is seeing young men and women joining Isil/Daesh.”
Of these, the first is an aim that, as things stand at present, Russia would oppose, possibly militarily. The third is not a response to ISIL but to the consequences of general Syrian instability. The last – a long-term cultural and educational programme – cannot realistically be introduced without being regarded as an imperialistic imposition. This leaves the second, which may simply not be sufficient.
So, while I share your misgivings, and agree that the case for bombing has not yet been made, I also fear that no adequate counter-measures have been proposed either.
commented 2015-11-30 23:16:27 +0000
I am very pleased that you as my MP have decided to vote against military strike. Any further military action is going to only fuel Isis and increase more radicalisation of the youth. There will be more civilian casualties, Isis will only use the attacks by the west to justify their jihadi war to their deranged followers. Thank you, Catherine West, I am very happy to have voted for you.
commented 2015-11-30 22:31:09 +0000
Thank you for your thoughtful post, which I appreciate even if I disagree with your conclusion. Clearly this is a very complex situation, but you do not mention the precision of the Brimstone missiles, which can kill individuals, avoiding civilian casualties. Also you give no mention to the leadership that Daesh is giving terrorist cells in Europe. There would be no Paris attacks without direction from Raqqa. Yes, we need a diplomatic solution running after and along the military strategy. But these violent terrorists cannot be reasoned with. They only understand might. Please reconsider your position and vote to support air strikes in Syria.

Catherine West MP

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