I would like to thank all my constituents who have contacted me since the atrocities in Paris, Beirut, Sinai, Tunisia and Ankara with their views on how best we should deal with the global threat that our country and the rest of the free world faces from ISIL/Daesh.
With our security services having foiled at least seven serious terror plots in the past year and our country’s threat of attack at ‘severe’ level, I am not surprised that most people in our area paid little regard to the argument peddled by some that we as a country are to blame for standing up for the security and defence of our nation.
I received a very wide range of opinions from hundreds of constituents regarding whether the United Kingdom be authorised to extend targeted air-strikes from Northern Iraq across the border into Syria. Some constituents felt we needed to go further than Government proposals and that the UK should send ground troops. Others expressed a purely pacifist position – against any form of military action in Syria or anywhere else in the world at any point.
But most views I received stood between these positions. Some felt we should ‘stay away’ yet others spoke of the need to support the UN resolution by joining France, Germany, Russia and the US in targeted air-strikes, as one constituent put it: “Labour is an internationalist party; it is right that we show solidarity with President Hollande and the people of France”. Others pointed to the logical inconsistency (a view I have long held) of supporting air-strikes against ISIL/Daesh in Northern Iraq but not across the Syrian border in Raqqa where ISIL/Daesh have their headquarters.
Both among constituents who favoured air-strikes and those who did not, there was strong support for the Vienna talks held by the international Syria Support Group and the way in which that group had brought together a wide coalition of nations. The UK is indeed now part of a coalition of over 60 nations, and it is incumbent on us to work with other countries to cut off the flow of finance, fighters, and weapons to Daesh/ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
What struck me most from communications from constituents was the very thoughtful nature of most of the emails and letters, with one constituent, who was personally against air-strikes, expressing the views of many by describing the decision as ‘finely balanced’. Another constituent described how air-strikes had enabled the Kurds to stand up to ISIL/Daesh. Others feared that there would be inadequate ground-troops in Syria and feared that Britain might have to send ground troops (something I do not feel that we should support).
I appreciate the very considered feed-back from my constituents. I read every single piece of correspondence from my constituents on this issue. While I was not immune to receiving some limited and unacceptable abuse, this was happily rare, compared with that received by some MPs in other parts of the country. I know most of my constituents will be aware that I do not get intimidated by any attempts of bullying, whether on social media or any other way. Any attempts to intimidate me in the exercise of my representative duty will not succeed.
One issue that concerns me immensely is that we must always challenge the casual racism that insinuates ISIL/Daesh is anything to do with ordinary Muslims, as it is Muslim people who have been on the receiving end of more ISIL/Daesh brutality than that of any other faith group. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are always wrong. In an area like ours which is home to only a very small number of Muslims and Jews, I think it is particularly important that we all challenge abusive comments against people of these faiths.
Finally, I realise that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Shadow Cabinet have been viciously criticised by groups like the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and by individuals like George Galloway for allowing Labour MPs a free vote on the decision that came before Parliament. Although I have always been open about the fact that I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn in September’s Labour Leadership election, I believe that he and the Labour Shadow Cabinet deserve heartfelt praise for that courageous decision. They acted in the spirit of the democratic socialist party that Labour is; not the narrow sect that some people would like to turn the Labour Party into.
It was that openness to allow Labour MPs to choose in line with conscience, careful consideration and constituent opinion, that led me to go into the same division lobby as Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn and many other MPs. The key factors for me were: it made no sense to allow our RAF to undertake targeted air-strikes in Iraq but not across the border in Syria, the location of ISIL/Daesh’s headquarters; and that I could not reconcile the unanimous resolution of the UN that we should take all necessary measures to counter ISIL/Daesh into a false choice between military and non-military action. The motion that MPs supported makes a clear commitment to seek to cut off ISIL/Daesh’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons: it is right that it does so.
I include here a link to the magnificent speech made by Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, towards the end of the Parliamentary debate. The speech well illustrates how our commitment to pluralism, freedom and the security of our nation and all those who face suffering matters in a dangerous world.
Hilary’s speech reminded us why socialists have always been prepared to fight Fascism, including in the International Brigade in Spain. Twm Sbaen of Rhosllannerchrugog was one such socialist hero. I firmly believe that the Labour Movement in our generation fails if we do not show the same resolve in standing up in the fight against the modern-day fascists of ISIL/Daesh. Appeasement and inaction should not be in our name.
(see link for the wonderful story of Twm Sbaen)
Susan Elan Jones MP
3rd December 2015