Voting for Collateral Damage

By | December 4, 2015

This will be a two-part bog, the first before today’s vote is taken on the motion to extend bombing operations to Syria, the second after the vote.

I remember only too well marching through the London streets in 2003 to tell Bliar and his allies in the Commons not to invade Iraq. There were quite a few of us in fact, upwards of a million according to more conservative estimates. What remains in my mind is the succinctness of our collective message: ‘DON’T TELL US WE DON’T UNDERSTAND. JUST. DON’T. DO. IT’!

The message is the same on this day, 2 December 2015, and appended is an invitation to learn from past mistakes. Cameron was a fool – morally wrong, imprudent and politically inept – to label each and every opponent of bombing ‘terrorist sympathisers’ (more than half UK’s population). But what motivates him? Does he really think further episodes of bombing would quash ISIS? Does he think he can land another blow on the elusive Corbyn? Is he anticipating a more generalised party political return, after the manner of Thatcher’s ill-advised ‘Falklands War’? Is there money in it for him and his mates further down the line (the principal motivation for our super-rich governing oligarchy’)? Does he harbour the familiar delusion that Britain is a front-rank super power? Does he have a prejudice for violent solutions to political issues? Does he, like the politically ailing Hollande, feel that after the Paris attack he has to appear strong?

Whatever his motivation, there is in my view no rational case for dropping more bombs on Syria. UN support is niggardly and cautious, far short of sanctioning escalating western intrusion into a Middle-Eastern arena torn apart by factionalism and extreme violence. There is manifestly no broader political strategy on offer. This is so reminiscent of the assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya as to insult those of us MPs supposedly represent. There is no evidence that bombing would prove effective against ISIS, rather the contrary (ISIS cannot be defeated without a full-scale invading force, or, preferably by far, by trading and political isolation). Finally, and this is what saddens most of us I suspect (no, not ‘saddens’, makes us so angry and passionate about the vote later today), ‘collateral damage’ is inevitable. What an expedient, distancing and excusing term that is! Somebody yesterday tweeted photographs of Syrian children bombed into lifeless fleshy traces of what they once were. I decided not to RT it. But I thought, like many, many others, why can’t people see that these children could so easily be – and in a sense are, otherwise nothing matters any more – our children, our grandchildren. Collateral damage is the anonymous dispatch of fearful weaponry of destruction on towns in which children who continue to covet peaceful and secure lives WILL die alongside any ISIS fighters outside their underground bunkers.

So: not a UN operation; no political strategy; no evidence base for effectiveness; and more mutilated infants.

I cannot get my head round Labour MPs lining up to support Cameron. They are largely but not exclusively Bliarites. What are their motivations? Do they echo Cameron’s? Do they want to undermine Corbyn that much?

I am in London today and will join what demonstrations there are around Westminster with a sense of déjà vu.


The vote was taken late on 2 December: 397 for bombing, 223 against. It is now 3 December. The positives are that Corbyn held firm and that around two-thirds of Labour MPs opposed pouring oil of Syrian fires. The negatives swamp the positives. I listened to Hilary Benn sum up, substituting oratory for evidence-based policy after the fashion of Oxbridge debating (I judged an Oxford versus Cambridge debate on medical ethics once and was more disconcerted by its participants showy self-indulgence than I was excited by their smartness). ‘Great speech’ my arse! Alex Salmond’s evidence-based quip that Tony would be turning in his grave was adjudged ‘offensive’ by Tony’s granddaughter, Emily Benn, signal surely for more and faster turning. The Blairites purged the Labour Party after 1997, now, in a minority, they whine and talk of being bullied by a left leadership elected with the strongest mandate for decades. They are after Momentum now. Remember the thesis of Ralph Miliband: effective politics for change must reside outside of the Commons and Lords. Habermas: the formal democracy of western parliamentary systems is nothing beside the substantive democracy of genuine citizen input (some form of ‘deliberative democracy’). Ed grasped this (a little) better than David. It is the marrow in Jeremy Corbyn’s bones, which is why he strikes such fear beyond Torydom and causes Blairities to sweat.

Within an hour of the cheering and applause that accompanied the vote for more pointless violence, British fighter planes were airborne. It is so safe and sanitary this anonymous raining of white heat. We shall have to allow for the kinds of spin that allowed serial killer Bliar to hide for so long. Or can we not say such things? Might it be discourteous, even rude? There will already be dead babies, and as I have said, these will be ‘our’ babies. I have three beautiful grandsons and three beautiful granddaughters. I am now a Syrian grandparent too.

The socialist and Methodist minister Donald Soper once asked in relation to the Vietnam war that Harold Wilson kept Britain our of, ‘what is the difference between putting a baby on a fire and dropping napalm?’ His answer: ‘the anonymity of 30,000 feet.’ This might cause pilots to reflect; but how much more so does it apply to MPs who, in pursuit of their own agendas and ambitions – oh can’t we hear their squeals of protest – clap and cheer a vote to bomb far-away places full of unnamed and readily forgotten foreigners.

The parameters for an alternative policy re-ISIS seem fairly obvious. Syria is replete with a multiplicity of moderate-to-radical-to-terrorist factions pursuing their own agendas via transitory means-ends deals and alliances with third parties (each of which also has its own agenda). Each has to be heard, and their stances and ideologies contextualised, even if ultimately they are excluded. These diverse, contradictory agendas themselves comprise the agenda for and stuff of a political solution, however delicate and tricky it will be to agree and implement. That’s the way to go. (Corbyn re-enters, stage left.)

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