Gordon has written the following letter to all constituents, who have contacted him about today's House of Commons vote on whether the UK extends airstrikes to ISIL targets in Syria.
Thank you for writing to me and contacting me with your views and concerns about the situation in Syria and the Debate and motion which MPs are being asked to consider. All the representations I have had from constituents, those who have written urging that the UK extends its military action against ISIL (otherwise known as ISIS / Daesh) by air strikes into Syria, those who have urged against it, along with those who have simply commented on the difficulties of the situation and asked me to exercise careful judgement, are ones that I have weighed and will continue to think carefully about as we debate this issue today.
As someone who has visited Syria and whose training and knowledge as an historian has given me some understanding of its complex past and present and of the areas around it, I know decisions that have to be made about the UK’s actions are neither simple nor easy. They involve my colleagues and I having to consider the Government s proposals in thinking deeply about the human, the ethical but also practical issues involved. I think that means understanding that any strategy to combat ISIL has to be coherent and multi layered, not just military action including air strikes, and that the judgments that have to be made are difficult and quite finely balanced.hat I have weighed and will continue to think carefully about as we debate this issue today.
That is why I appreciate both as your MP but also as a member of the Labour Party for over forty years, the free vote that Jeremy Corbyn and the Shadow Cabinet have given us on this issue to exercise that judgement. I believe very strongly that simplistic arguments for or against extending the air strikes against ISIL or suggestions that we can simply as a country opt out of the issues or threats terrorists face us with cannot be either honest or safe. As someone who like others had people close to me right next to where the 7/7 bombers killed and maimed people in London in 2005, I am acutely aware of that. A Blackpool couple on holiday died on a Tunisian beach as a result of an ISIL inspired gunman and the sort of people killed at the rock concert in Paris by ISIL terrorism could equally have been at a concert at the O2 in London or one in Blackpool.
Any action though ,while bearing in mind that we are already engaged in bombing missions against ISIL in Iraq , has to be accompanied by a proper ,coherent humanitarian ,political and diplomatic set of activities to drain the swamp of what the UN Resolution passed unanimously called ISIL’s 'unprecedented threat to international peace and security'. That’s why Jeremy Corbyn has been right to keep pressing the Prime Minister and the Government, even though those set of activities are covered in the motion put to us , on how adequate or comprehensive they are. I have carefully read the UN resolution and summaries of the debate that went with it and it does provide a very broad understanding of what is needed and a base for strong further action.
But I remain concerned that the Government so far has not given a convincing account of how numerous or effective local forces opposed to ISIL would be able to coordinate on top of these other actions which the UN resolution proposes. Again the Prime Minister and other Ministers will be pressed strongly on this today and I will be listening carefully to what is said.
Some people have written to me saying that bombing campaigns or military intervention never solves anything, and have cited Iraq and other interventions with reference to that. I am in no doubt that however careful such campaigns are there may always be innocent civilian casualties which is why such action must always be viewed as the least worst option. But there are times when such action is that. In the 1990s the UK alongside others intervened militarily in Kosovo and the Balkans and in Sierra Leone to combat genocide and indiscriminate killing of civilians and brought those conflicts to an end as part of broader diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives. And arguably our failure to intervene earlier in the 1990s contributed to the situation which produced the horrific mass murders of Srebrenica , the worst atrocities on European soil since those of the Nazis in World War Two.
Comparisons of current terror groups to the Nazis should not be made lightly. But I think my parents who served in the Second World War in the forces and all that generation in Britain and across the world who opposed that threat to this country and a civilised world might recognise the Nazis’ counterparts in ISIL’s ideology and actions.
Targeting people on the basis of their religion, race, sexuality or beliefs, perpetrating massacres not just in Paris but in Tunisia, the Middle East, Nigeria and elsewhere of innocent civilians .Taking hostages of women and children, raping and enslaving them, and disposing industrially of those who are of no use to them, like the pits full of the bodies of older women found in those areas recently recaptured by the Kurds from ISIL.
I am not a pacifist, though I respect the beliefs and the integrity of those who are. But I also understand the difficult decisions that not just that World War Two generation had to take , conscious of all the accompanying suffering, in order to preserve their values , security and a civilised world , but which succeeding generations, as now, have to wrestle with, confronted with how we deal with ISIL. And I am acutely conscious of the famous saying 'for evil to triumph, it is only necessary for good people to do nothing.’
That does not mean giving this Government or any Government a blank cheque for action. It also means respecting the integrity of those who, looking at the complex of factors on which to base their decision, come to a differing conclusion to yours. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn in setting out differing views of those factors within the Labour Party have done so with dignity, thoughtfulness and restraint. This issue should not be an occasion for people to abuse or try to destabilise the leadership of the Labour Party. The Prime Minister in particular has a duty to remember this and he will be judged by the way in which he presents his proposals as well as what is in them. It is an occasion on which I and others have to weigh up the debate, to have responsibilities and have regard for the views of all my constituents and of Labour members as well as Labour voters, in making my decision tonight.
I apologise for the length of this letter. But I thought it important you understand the range of factors I am continuing to consider carefully before making that decision.