Syria air strikes: A day of shame for the UK – but not for the Labour leadership

The OTHER big issue at the 'air strikes' debate: David Cameron refused to apologise for insulting everybody who disagreed with his cockeyed scheme. Here's Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell on the subject.

The OTHER big issue at the ‘air strikes’ debate: David Cameron refused to apologise for insulting everybody who disagreed with his cockeyed scheme. Here’s Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell on the subject.

So British warplanes are on their way to Syria – by the time you read this, they may even have completed their first raid, which means that about half a million pounds of our money wasted already.

David Cameron will get his war, after MPs voted in favour of air strikes against Daesh (IS if you like) in Syria by a majority of 174. This means the votes of the 67 or 68 (at the time of writing the total isn’t certain) Labour MPs who sided with the Conservatives were totally irrelevant.

Some Twits are already suggesting the result could trigger the ejection of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, putting forward the pro-air strikes speech by Hilary Benn as possibly the start of a leadership campaign. This is silly.

First, Corbyn is in no danger as a result of this vote. The number of rebellions has already been compared (favourably) with the number suffered by former Labour prime minister Tony Blair when he called for war against Iraq, and he went on to win another general election afterwards. Labour MPs enjoyed a free vote, meaning they were not whipped to support a line held by the leadership, so nobody rebelled against Mr Corbyn. And, as already mentioned, the low number of Labour MPs siding with the government means their choice did not make a scrap of difference.

Mr Benn’s speech was widely praised, but a pro-war speech from the son of Tony Benn is not cause for celebration. As Rhiannon Valentine tweeted, “Hilary Benn was not applauded because his speech was historic, he was applauded because he is supporting the Tory Government.” His illustrious father, whose pro-peace speech of 23 years ago has been widely publicised in the run-up to the ‘air strikes’ debate, was no doubt spinning so fast in his grave he may have drilled his way to Syria himself. There has been widespread disgust at Mr Benn’s rhetoric. In that context, it seems unlikely that the Labour Party at large will support any attempt by him to usurp the leadership.

I’m not going to rehash the arguments against air strikes that we have all heard too many times already. It seems to me, though, that the best thing Jeremy Corbyn can do now is carry on exactly as he is, and wait for Cameron’s strategy to fall apart.

Will Cameron avoid killing civilians? No. While some have used Iraq as an example of airborne warfare that has not cost civilian lives, the actual number of deaths is 369 (at the time of writing), I’m reliably informed.

Will Cameron reduce the chances of terrorist strikes in the UK? No. The terrorist attacks in France on Friday 13 November were hatched by European citizens and it is likely that any attacks here will be home-grown. The vote for air strikes makes you less safe, because people will believe it is actually doing some good.

Will Cameron end the threat of Daesh? No. But having planes over Syria alongside many other countries means someone else might strike a decisive blow – for which he would then take the credit.

It is Corbyn’s place to ensure the public is fully informed of the collateral damage caused by Cameron’s campaign. He should also keep a watchful eye on those of his own MPs who voted with the Conservatives, in order to make sure they understand what they have supported.

Those MPs are:

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East),
Ian Austin (Dudley North),
Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West),
Kevin Barron (Rother Valley),
Margaret Beckett (Derby South),
Hilary Benn (Leeds Central),
Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree),
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East),
Ben Bradshaw (Exeter),
Chris Bryant (Rhondda),
Alan Campbell (Tynemouth),
Jenny Chapman (Darlington),
Vernon Coaker (Gedling),
Ann Coffey (Stockport),
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford),
Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark),
Mary Creagh (Wakefield),
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow),
Simon Danczuk (Rochdale),
Wayne David (Caerphilly),
Gloria De Piero (Ashfield),
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth),
Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge),
Michael Dugher (Barnsley East),
Angela Eagle (Wallasey),
Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood),
Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside),
Frank Field (Birkenhead),
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse),
Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East),
Caroline Flint (Don Valley),
Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham),
Margaret Hodge (Barking),
George Howarth (Knowsley),
Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central),
Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central),
Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle),
Graham Jones (Hyndburn),
Helen Jones (Warrington North),
Kevan Jones (Durham North),
Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South),
Liz Kendall (Leicester West),
Dr Peter Kyle (Hove),
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East),
Holly Lynch (Halifax),
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden),
Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East),
Conor McGinn (St Helens North),
Alison McGovern (Wirral South),
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South),
Jamie Reed (Copeland),
Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East),
Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West),
Joan Ryan (Enfield North),
Lucy Powell (Manchester Central),
Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North),
Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge),
John Spellar (Warley),
Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston),
Gareth Thomas (Harrow West),
Anna Turley (Redcar),
Chuka Umunna (Streatham),
Keith Vaz (Leicester East),
Tom Watson (West Bromwich East),
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and
John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).

My final thought is that this vote – and many of the speeches during the debate – shows that the quality of our democratic representatives has fallen to a depressing depth.

The electorate really needs to raise its standards in choosing, not only MPs, but candidates to be MPs.

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41 thoughts on “Syria air strikes: A day of shame for the UK – but not for the Labour leadership

  1. joanna may

    Not that it will do any good but I have sent a simple email to my former MP Alan Johnson I just said “shame on you!!!” all bold, capitals and underlined.

    I am pleased that my current MP Karl Turner isn’t listed, unless that was a mistake.

      1. Mike Sivier Post author

        Evidence required. You are insulting a large number of people with this generalisation. Let’s see your reasons for doing so. Bear in mind, you must show evidence that tarnishes the reputation of every single politician in the UK Labour Party. Otherwise: retract.

  2. Thomas

    Because of this, there may well be terrorism over here, followed by a state of emergency to deal with the terrorism.

  3. casalealex

    2nd December, 2015 a date which will live in infamy.

    The infamous Labour MPs who sided with the Conservatives have joined the Roll of Dishonour.

  4. Jeffery Davies

    Hmm alot of blair babies backstabbing again oh its a free vote you say but those bb better look to those in their home towns you bet they displeased but bombing will only kill those innocent people has the villians flee that area more refugies then heading this way jeff3

  5. ChrisTine Bergin

    Someone called the British army ‘Lions led by donkeys’. I rather think that this latest show of arrogant stupidity proves it.

  6. philipburdekin


  7. amnesiaclinic

    A very good post, Mike. Thanks for all you have done to keep us very well informed. Unfortunately it is all about taking out Assad. That is what they wanted from the very beginning. If it is really about ISIS then working with the Russians would have been legal and much more to the point.
    But it’s war they want and unfortunately they may well end up with a far bigger war then they realize.
    Keeping ourselves informed is key and spreading that information so MP’s are also informed.

  8. Catherine Cooper

    Thank you Mike for your common sense . I feel sad and in despair this morning. Where has compassion and common sense gone from our so called democracy?

    1. joanna may

      What compassion?? Don’t you see what they are doing and the people they have killed in this country? You can’t have compassion when you are Murdering people!!! This is just another way for these Murderers like Cameron, IDS and GOO boy to legitimise such Murders!!! Only they can get away with it!!

  9. hilary772013

    BBC News this morning a Doctor who was originally from Syria who lives here said his brother, sister-in-law & their family and also his father,were killed by airstrikes made by Russia, he also said the terrorists hid amongst the general population, so civilian deaths are inevitable.
    I am also DISGUSTED at the way MP’s behaved when they debated this issue, laughing,jeering,clapping,sneering it was more like they were debating on where to go for a jolly jaunt. I am totally DISAPPOINTED & yes ASHAMED of the way they behaved, they will have blood on their hands both in Syria & here in the UK..
    There were a few that were respectful & dignified Jeremy Corbyn for one and I APPLAUD them the rest should hold their heads in shame IDIOTS!!

    1. John

      Hear hear! Lets just hope that as many members of the public get to see this behaviour as possible (disinct possibility with YT)

    2. NMac

      Hear Hear. I agree totally “hilary772013”, you aren’t on your own. I suspect the vast majority of people think the same way.

  10. John

    That cartoon of DC at the top of this article looks quite funny, because that blob bit above his head looks like he’s wearing a condom on his head. Quite appropriate really, because I think he is a bit of a ‘nob’ head LOL

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Yes, that’s the intention.

      Apparently cartoonists had to refrain from depicting Nick Clegg in the manner they wished, because they were being published in ‘family’ newspapers.

  11. ghost whistler

    If you think Corbyn’s position isn’t greatly weakened over this, you couldn’t be more wrong. He was elected on a huge mandate with an anti war message and has now allowed the Blairite red tory filth to seriously undermine him. To have the son of Tony Benn take that position is apalling.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The only people the Blairites, ‘moderates’ or whatever you want to call them have undermined are themselves.

      1. ghost whistler

        Hardly. They will succeed in forcing Corbyn out through a death of a thousand cuts. THey will repeatedly undermine his position, already seen as weak and at odds with society thanks to the media.

        There is no future with Labour. That party doesn’t exist anymore. It’s sad to say, but it’s the truth. Labour’s politics are the politics of capitalism and war and austerity. Corbyn is merely an anomaly they will succeed, sooner or later, in correcting. The way they have conducted themselves over this whole ghastly affair is shameful and unfortunately Corbyn is going to lose. He should have whipped them and told those who rebel that he has the mandate. If they don’t like it, they are free to stand down and be replaced.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        I question the motives of people who come out with this kind of rhetoric. Only the Conservatives – and the Labour right-wingers – can profit from comments which further undermine the position of those who are trying to restore the reputation of Labour.

        Most of the PLP supported Corbyn. The vast majority of the Labour membership does – and senior party figures know that Labour’s membership will desert in droves if Corbyn is seen to be betrayed by his own. You are trying to create a situation by describing it. Please reconsider.

      1. ghost whistler

        Corbyn has a popular grassroots mandate, but that doesn’t count for anything if he can’t or doesn’t succeed at doing anything. He lost this vote, he will be seen as further weak – on top of already being painted as a terrorist symnpathiser. His parliamentary party colleagues have behaved disgracefully.

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        Even if the entire Parliamentary Labour Party had voted against the air strike motion, the government would not have been defeated. In this situation it is inappropriate to suggest Corbyn should take any blame at all.
        By opposing his will in a free vote, all these MPs have done is identify themselves. Responsibility now lies with their constituents to watch those MPs carefully and build a case for their replacement at the appropriate time, if they don’t improve their behaviour.

  12. Dennis Gaunt

    I do hope you are right Mike. This is a sad reflection upon the state of politics in this country and more evidence of a PM whose confidence, arrogance, direction and decisions are increasingly shown to be lacking substance, misplaced and misguided. The only good thing about Hilary Benn’s contribution was that he made the Tory front bench look stupid and inadequate.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I have to say I don’t think that’s the way forward. Express your dismay at his decision, certainly; add that you hope he will monitor the effect of his support for air strikes on the civilian population of Syria, defence against attack in the UK, and the overall progress of the campaign against Daesh; and add that you hope he will come to realise the magnitude of the mistake he has made in the future – but don’t lower yourself to base insults.

      Bear in mind that these people are saying they came to their decision after deep discussion and careful consideration; a snap, emotional response, in that context, make you look the smaller person.

      1. che

        I take your point on board Mike but I would say that Chris Bryant has always been anti Corbyn and would do anything to undermine him and voting against his wishes reinforces that point.

        As an aside mrs Che has had a lot of dealings with Chris Bryant and … well, the less said the better.

      2. ghost whistler

        I think that’s absolutely ridiculous.

        Writing to his MP is entirely the right thing to do.

        And Bryant isn’t fit to be an MP. He’s another example of the hypocritical grasping self serving scum that populate the house.

      3. Mike Sivier Post author

        By now you’ll have seen the news report of Bryant speaking in the Commons. He said:

        “Over the last few days, a great deal of abuse has been hurled at Members for their views on whether or not we should support extending airstrikes to Syria. Some Members have been called murderers, others peaceniks and terrorist sympathisers. I hope the Leader of the House would agree that, although all MPs expect a certain degree of hurly-burly in political life, it is a fundamental principle that all Members are sent not as delegates but as representatives with the full power to exercise their judgment and their conscience to speak and vote without fear or favour, and that no MP should ever be intimidated.

        “I think we would all agree that, sadly, some of the abuse has been beyond the pale. Several Members have had their offices barricaded. One Member had her house surrounded, while many have had photos of dead babies pushed through their front door at home. Today I gather that some Members have received photos of severed heads. MPs have broad shoulders — of course we do — but may I ask the Leader to review the arrangements regarding the security of Members’ homes and offices? This is not just about Members; it is about their families and, indeed, their staff, as several Members have pointed out. In particular, will he look at whether the responsibility for funding these matters should now be taken away from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and restored to the House authorities?”

        So the practical upshot of people expressing their opinions in this manner is a possible increase in financial corruption by MPs. That’s not a brilliant outcome.

        The way forward is to – politely – demonstrate the consequences of these MPs’ decision, with a view to creating a case for their replacement at the appropriate time. Yes, even then, we’ll have MPs who whine that they are being treated unfairly. They’ll be wrong.

      4. Florence

        As a member of the Labour party, I support your line 100% Mike. The problem is as you say, the quality of those in the HoC is shockingly low, the speeches were hardly inspiring or even informative, except for the Labour MP who stood up and directly challenged the 70,000 so-called moderate fighters as being perhaps 10 – 15,000.

        The problem of the no-holds-barred type of bullying and spite shown is wrong, but I do find it understandable, on an emotional level. The Blairite neo-cons started the move against the people of the UK, the salt of the earth, the poor, the ill, the low-waged, those in need of the social security net. Their work has been carried on to the extreme the by the Tories, but it has been with the Blairites support. When they should have been shouting the house down about the cuts to benefits, the deaths, the suicides, they were voting for more, and promising in the 2015 election to be even “harder” than IDS.

        Well you reap what you sow. I have no truck with political thuggery, as my family were subject to it, at our home, when I was 12 months old (by Healy & his henchmen pre-WRP days). But to those now experiencing fear at what is coming through the letter box, perhaps it is their just deserts for the millions living in fear of the DWP “brown envelope”? For those who are being told “watch out, we can rob you of your income and livelihood”, are they not the ones who cared one jot about the working class, poor and ill, who made our lives, not just our jobs but our very lives, instantly disposable on the alter of their neo-lib beliefs, the same ones who voted to destroy lives and communities as “no alternative”? Now they are voting for more money to be spent snuffing out lives abroad, while the people here hurt too.

        The anger that they are seeing in these threats is a warning note, and we should all hear it. It is the sound of those who no longer have anything to lose. It is the sound of anger, despair, and impotence, and poverty, and loss of all that made the UK a place fit to live in. It is now fast becoming a place not fit to live in, thanks in no small part to these Labour MPs.

        If we want the debate to be decent and civilised, and I very much do, we need to make sure that those who are paid to represent us respect us, too. Many families are too close to the edge for these MPs to fail, to understand their mandate is now to provide an effective and united opposition to the Tories. Many will rightly see their continued role in providing succor to the creeping Fascists untenable. The Blairites (exSPADs) think they know “the game”, but they haven’t seen what desperate people in desperate times are capable of in the real world, because they have never been close enough to it (as a family member of mine saw in the genuine “red terror” army action in post-revolutionary Ethiopia). We really, really don’t want to go there, but if poverty continues to rise as is projected, we will get too close.

        A clear statement of support for the policies of the Labour party would be a very good place for each & every one of them to start, and would begin to rebuild some mutual respect. They have a choice, where most of us don’t, and they need to use it wisely.

        (Sorry for the length.)

  13. Ceri Mears

    This fight is not over by a long chalk. We must keep the pressure on the pig-abuser by all means possible.

    I want to see onboard footage of every bomb we drop in Syria.
    I want a complete analysis of every target we hit – how many Isis fighters/Syrian civilians each one killed or injured.
    I want David Cameron live on air the minute he learns the names of everyone who died as a result of one of his bombs.
    In short – I want this to be the most scrutinised military operation in history.
    And I dare Cameron to say it’s unaffordable.

  14. casalealex

    The Labour 66 MPs’ votes for WAR was irrelevant. It was won by 174 votes! Jeremy was right to give them a free vote, at least we know where they stand.

    1. Florence

      Yes, but if the 66 had voted against, it would have been a 42 majority, not the “resounding support” that they can now claim.

  15. Joan Edington

    A very interesting list, Mike. Every one of the old guard Blairites, except Andy Burnham, is on there. Says it all. I’m fairly frightened for Londoners in the months/years to come.

  16. Jim Round

    It’s been said many times, money is no object to buy the sticks to beat the drum of war (or to buy sticks to beat the sick and disabled eg: ATOS, Maximus contracts)
    The idea that constituents should monitor their MP’s sounds great on paper, trouble is that most constituents don’t know who their MP is, or what party they represent.
    Credit to the MP’s who voted against air strikes, we are not a superpower anymore and have a lot to lose in playing pointless war games.
    One thing I will ask is just how much MP’s know about arms deals, sucking up to Saudi Arabia and just how much lobbying the arms and oil industry lobbies for things like this?
    Isn’t it time they spoke out?
    Mind you, we rarely get to hear about corruption in UK parliaments from anyone on the inside, always seems to be when they leave the HOC or from disgruntled staff.
    In the mean time, I’ll leave you with this:

  17. Steven Smith

    The applause from Tory MPs for Hilary Benn`s speech must have been pre-arranged . It is well known that it is not considered etiquette to applaud or clap speeches in the House of Commons and they did not all simultaneously spontaneously forget this . They decided beforehand to give him a standing ovation in order to try to embarrass and undermine Jeremy Corbyn . Those Labour MPs who joined in were either completely stupid or motivated by similar considerations themselves .

    1. casalealex

      When the SNP MPs took their seats in HOC in May, there were a couple of occasions when they applauded, They were brusquely told off by the Speaker.

      You can wave your order papers, shout until you are purple in the face, hurl abuse across the Chamber, join in with frankly weird displays of mass groaning or that elongated “hear, hear” thing they do.

      But try joining your party comrades in a sincere appreciation of a point well made in the traditional way and you will have Speaker John Bercow on his feet telling you to respect the traditions of the House.

      At least, that’s what the 56 new SNP MPs found, when they broke into applause to support Angus Robertson, their leader at Westminster, who was hitting back at a furious attack on the party by Labour MP Ian Austin.

      “May I say at the start of the Parliament,” said Mr Bercow, “that the convention that we do not clap in this Chamber is very, very long established and widely respected, and it would be appreciated if Members showed some respect for that convention.

      “They will get their speaking rights from this Chair – of that they can be assured. They will be respected, but I would invite them to show some respect for the traditions of this Chamber of the House of Commons.”

  18. aussieeh

    Remember all the IRA bombings carried out over a number of years on the UK mainland? Well who could forget them really? I was working in Manchester when that one went off at the Arndale. All those years of terrorist bombings, all those people killed or maimed, I’m sure today many people are living with disabilities because of them. Does anyone remember how we got the IRA to stop?
    Well after years of governments sending in the troops and both sides committing atrocities and one particular female PM, a definite megalomaniac who seemed to thrive on war, all failed. It took a rather small, dumpy socialist who was seriously ill, but had a truckload of common sense and a bigger pair of b***s than any of them, the late great Mo Mowlam. She brought a halt to terrorism on mainland Britain, not Bliar not Mandelson, but this free thinker who managed to get all sides round the table to sit down and thrash out their problems, they did and the murder stopped.
    Remember how terrorism came back to mainland Britain? Bliar and his illegal war in Iraq, I wonder why. Camoron must have His war, show what a big man he is on the world stage of politics. This poor excuse for a human being has no qualms about civilian deaths; surely he has shown this in this country, with his murderous policies, thousands of sick and or disabled dead and the list still growing. What does he think will happen when Daesh get a foothold in this country. I only hope they get the right targets this time, the ones who truly deserve it.

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