Monday, 2 September 2013

Voice from Lordswood

This weekend I spent most of Saturday and Sunday afternoon in Lordswood meeting residents to garner more signatures for the anti-Asbestos petition. 

Whilst on the doorstep I inquired as to whether the individual supported the stance by Ed Miliband and Labour on the amendment submitted to Westminster last week. The overwhelming response from the doorstep was positive towards the Labour position. 

Despite the rhetoric and heat coming from the right wing press there is very little appetite to be engaging in another conflict in the Middle East. The Murdoch press last weekend was woefully out of tune with the reality on the ground; sadly it seems Cameroon loyalists too who seem gung-ho in going straight into a conflict. 

The PM was right last week the issue was that of judgement; and it is also clear that it was Obama’s judgement less than 48 hours later to prolong the timetable. To most reasonable people it is quite clear that Ed’s amendment has been proved right in the fullness of time; to delay and consider the evidence rather than a headlong rush to war. I truly believe Ed Miliband has set the tenor for the debate in the US and possibly France; the UK position put significant pressure on Obama to change his position.

The Labour amendment was also clear; Labour was, is, and in future not opposed to enforcing International law but only with an evidence base and mandate. The government has still refused to publish; in full; the attorney general’s guidance for war. Cameron failed to secure a majority last week largely because of Conservative Party incompetence. 

The fact is that Ed Miliband set out a very reasonable plan for listening to the UN and making a considered approach to act, within the realms of International law, and on a timetable governed by the British people. In the last couple of days the US has rightly presented its evidence on culpability. Whilst welcome and comprehensive this also needs to be considered with the UN report. Only after all the pieces of evidence are assessed can lawmakers have a fair chance to assess the position. 

The immaturity about another debate on this shown by the Tories – namely George Osborne - once again highlights weakness. Whilst it is true the government lost the debate was on the basis of the evidence at the time of the debate; coupled with the absence of a number of lawmakers who were ‘discussing Uganda’ or indisposed. This was a judgement issue and it was judged by many that Cameron was rushing into conflict; not – and this is crucial - that it may be necessary to enforce International law should the evidence be present. 

I am disappointed that the majority of Medway based MPs; Mark Reckless MP and Rehman Chisthi MP supported the government motion given it was flimsy. They represents 5/6ths of Medway residents and it is for them to judge how they voted. Those Tory MPs that rebelled acted in a principled and considered way.

Whilst there does have to be a separation between domestic politics and our international obligations the two do not act in isolation. I absolutely agree that this debate was set on the backdrop of the Iraq conflict; it is true today there is a natural suspicion of the state around going into war; and also from a more educated public living in a far more inter-connected world a requirement for more information to make informed judgements. Cameron though did not build a credible case for action. Taking away his rhetorical ability to persuade the actual case presented on Thursday was poorly prepared and looked even weaker in the hindsight of Obama’s position to prolong the debate. Cameron suggested we needed immediate action and that delay would be irresponsible; how moronic that looks now that Obama has presented the exact opposite position.  

This does not mean however that with a change of facts the debate cant change. This perhaps sounds idealistic but a free non-whipped vote could easily be timetabled again once the UN has reported in detail. We now know Obama does not have to act for a month. 

Ed Miliband has always made it clear he disagreed with how the Iraq conflict was handled and promised a different approach to dealing with International issues. That was a large part of why I, and many thousands of progressive Labour members, voted for him in 2010. The lessons needed to be learnt. 

The country can not afford both in treasure and lives a cavalier and reckless approach to leadership that could have rushed us into a conflict, but nor can it afford to a second-bit player on the global stage. A Prime Minister still smarting from a personal defeat that it so impacts his judgement to act in light of changed facts is an even weaker Prime Minister in the eyes of our allies. How Cameron and the Tory party respond in defeat is a test of them; will the government accept it was hasty last week in pushing for a recall? Will it re-assess itself the evidence base? 

People are rightly asking me what I would have done. If I were MP I too would have listened to constituents and would have voted against a rush to war. I am however never closed minded to future evidence. but to act without all the facts is something I could never ever support. Cameron was pre-judging the outcome of the UN inspectors last week; his rush to a compromise on Wednesday night still sanctioned in my mind indirect military action, party I suspect, because he was working to a US timetable. Crucially, all of this before the UN Inspectors were allowed to report back.

I am however disposed to oppose conflict given the public mood unless there is overwhelming evidence Assad is guilty.  I do have real anxieties that the replacement for Assad could be an extremist Islamist government. The Free Syrian Opposition needs to do a lot more here in giving the public some assurance it has a post-Assad plan; they clearly do not.

Taking our country into conflict is the most important undertaking of any Prime Minister; Cameron’s inability to lead and govern last week and now by refusing to open up a debate in light of new evidence highlights to me why we need a change of leadership in this country. Ed Miliband last week acted as a Prime Minister and the International community responded after the vote in Westminster. 

Labour could lead the debate again in my mind by tabling a free vote on the evidence base presented in future weeks should circumstances change. MPs could then look at the evidence and either re-affirm a previous position with more confidence or make a different judgement based on new evidence.

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