Cameron seeks backing for UK strikes against IS

30 Nov 2015


As anti-war protesters took to the streets on Sunday in countrywide demonstrations against Britain's military involvement in Syria, the issue has sharply divided parties who must vote for or against it in a proposed vote before the House of Commons sometime this week.

It is for the second time in two and a half years that the Commons will vote on whether the United Kingdom should send its fighter jets to bomb Syria. In 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron's proposal for air strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces was spectacularly defeated. The Labour Party, and even a substantial number of Conservatives members, opposed it.

Now, empowered by a series of game-changing events – the Paris attacks, a Daesh bomb placed on a Russian plane, and a UN Security Council resolution supporting action against Daesh – Cameron is confident that he will get cross-party support for his proposal in the house.

He has said that 70,000 troops from the Free Syrian Army will back up the airstrikes on the ground – a claim seen as being far-fetched.

His optimism rests on the view that a section of the Labour Parliamentary Party (LPP) will vote for military intervention this time round. The dilemma posed by the proposed vote has brought existing rifts in the LPP to a head, with party leader Jeremy Corbyn opposing intervention, and prominent members of the LPP - shadow foreign minister Hilary Benn and Deputy Leader Tom Watson, for example - supporting it.

In a letter last week to members of the shadow cabinet and subsequently to ordinary members of the Labour Party - amongst whom his support ratings have been steadily rising - Corbyn put forth his arguments on why he opposes intervention.

On the popular Andrew Marr show on Sunday, he argued that for a start Syrian intervention would be counter-productive because it will necessary involve civilian casualties, citing in support media reports, including a Sunday Observer article that quoted refugees in Turkey from Raqqa warning of enormous civilian casualty figures if Britain were to bomb the city.

Further, there is no clarity on how British bombing would dislodge ISIL from Raqqa without ground forces, which the British government has ruled out. Finally, bombing Syria would make Britain ever more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

The Conservatives have been briefing Labour MPs over the last week, and Corbyn will meet his shadow cabinet on Monday to thrash out the issue. He could issue a whip to his MPs to vote against Cameron's proposal, or allow each to vote on his/her conscience. His detractors in the party point to Corbyn's practice of voting against the party position in his backbencher days.

Corbyn's reply is that the LPP is not in alignment with the views of the larger party, which opposes British involvement in Syria.

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