Of all the decision politicians are required to make, none are more serious than those that commit our country to the use of military force.That is why Ed Miliband’s principled and level-headed response to the crisis in Syria was exactly what we should expect from a future Prime Minister.
The suffering of the people of Syria is beyond words. Nobody seeing the footage of civilians, including children, who were the victims of chemical weapons attacks could fail be to be appalled by what they saw. Tragically, the same has been true from the time this bloody civil war began in April 2011. Since then more than 100,000 people have died according to the UN General Secretary. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has described it as the ‘worst displacement crisis in history” citing 2 million registered refugees, and an estimated 4.25 million people who have been internally displaced.
The Labour Party has always been an internationalist party. It has sought throughout its history to support people that face the horrors of tyrannical rule and to intervene where necessary. All of us in the Labour Party are horrified by the situation in Syria and the use of chemical weapons. As internationalists we have a responsibility to help to end this situation and end the suffering of the Syrian people. The argument is over how, not whether, the UK can play a role within the international community to bring this about. The choice is not between intervening last week and never intervening, and caution is not an endorsement of inaction.
I understand why there were many, including David Cameron, who felt we must take part in immediate air strikes to teach the Assad regime a lesson. But recent history has taught us we must act only when we are certain we are in full possession of the facts – and when we have sought the backing of the international community.
Doing otherwise risks creating discord and ill-will amongst allies that can last for many years to come, making coordinated action far more difficult to achieve in the future. David Cameron recalled Parliament without giving any thought or weight to preparing the ground with the public, or even within his own party, for military strikes. The lack of detail given to Parliament was allied with the lack of a compelling case for intervention in advance of the report of the United Nations weapons inspectors. Ed Miliband made the right call and I voted with my party and with Ed accordingly. I find it disappointing that some members of the Government responded to Ed’s call for calm, measured examination of the expert evidence in advance of military intervention with displays of petulance.
I have since received a number of emails from constituents expressing support for Labour’s position. I don’t doubt the good intentions of those who argued for air strikes, including David Cameron, but I doubt the judgement of a Prime Minister that does not see the importance of building consensus in advance of a vote for war.
Of course there will be those whose view for intervention is fixed on the basis of the facts so far, without the need for wider support or evidence. Their frustration has bowled over into ad-hominem attacks. The mettle of a future Prime Minister should not be tested on a series of “agree with me or else” positioning on issues such as this.
Gloria De Piero is the Labour MP for Ashfield