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September 3, 2013 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson

My daughter asked me whether the vote in parliament about Syria meant we were not going to war. This was the first thing she said to me when I arrived home in Maghull after catching the train back from London following the recall of parliament. 

My daughter is 12 and I thought the fact she asked me to confirm we were not going to war, summed up just how important this issue is. 

It was important to a 12 year old child and it was and still is important to many, many people in Maghull, Formby, Crosby and across the country. Quite rightly so and I would like to thank all those people who have taken the trouble to write to me about this issue.

The vote came after the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron had recalled parliament. He and his Lib Dem Deputy, Nick Clegg both tried to persuade MPs to accept the principle that Britain could attack Syria if the United Nations refused to act. 

But neither the Prime Minister nor his deputy were able to make a case that military action was right or that it would make matters better. 

So Labour MPs supported by small numbers of MPs from the other parties voted against the government's plan to support military intervention in Syria.

Along with my Labour colleagues, I voted against the government and am relieved that the government was defeated. This means that this country will not be supporting military action in Syria at least for now.

But let’s be quite clear. What is happening in Syria is terrible and the use of chemical weapons is sickening. The murder of people by the government and by the different opposition factions is a disaster.

The question is what to do? 

In my view, we should be giving as much humanitarian support as possible to those in fear of their lives and those who are injured. 

We should also be trying to get United Nations agreement to put pressure on all sides in Syria. 

We should be working with Russia, China and Iran if possible to use their relationships with the Syrian government. 

However, I do not support military action as envisaged by the United States and until recently by both the Conservative and Lib Dem parts of the British government as I believe it would probably make matters worse. Without the United Nations, we will be seen as aggressors by many in Syria and across the Middle East including Iran. 

Bombing can’t remove the chemical weapons and it will kill civilians. 

The rebels are a series of different groups. Some of these groups are as bad as the government and include Al Qaeda and groups who want to do what the Taliban have done in Afghanistan and I would be extremely worried by the prospect of supporting such groups.

The sad reality is that we cannot on our own stop the killing. Not intervening has terrible consequences for the people of Syria. But I am afraid that intervening carries huge risks as well. 

In my view we should only intervene if we are clear that doing so will improve the situation. We must keep the diplomatic work going and help the refugees. If we can get international support then we should consider supporting military intervention with the objective of stopping the fighting. But this can only happen through the United Nations.

What is happening in Syria is hugely complex and I don’t have certainty about what is right. But in my view we need to be cautious and if in doubt we should resist the temptation to attack Syria.

I hope my comments above give you a sense of my thinking and why I voted the way I did.



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