Bradshaw on war / absurdities high-lighted

See 2nd article for Bradshaw’s personal web page on issue

Labour must be clear on Syria policy,
says Ben Bradshaw
Sept 6th 2013

Ex-minister says Ed Miliband was right to oppose rush to war but says party must 'do difficult things' to stand up to dictators

The Labour party will have no future if it refuses to "do difficult things" to stand up to dictators, a former cabinet minister has said in a strongly worded intervention in which he calls for an urgent and deep reflection about last week's Commons votes on Syria.

Ben Bradshaw urged the party leadership to give clear and unambiguous answers over its policy direction on Syria, in a sign of the deep unease at all levels of the party about the impact of the government's defeat, which killed off the possibility of military intervention.

In an article for the Guardian, the former culture secretary writes: "The Labour party is internationalist or we are nothing. We have a strong and proud tradition of supporting humanitarian intervention and being prepared to do difficult things with other liberal democracies to uphold global norms and stand up to dictators."

(Ask yourself about the dictators we have supplied with arms, chemical weapons, money, - ask yourself about our support for apartheid, for the war in Vietnam, for the overthrow and murder of democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1973 - just for a start) ... (Then ask yourself what have we done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria - what have we allowed Israel to do to the Palestinians?)

Bradshaw accuses David Cameron of "grotesque mishandling" of the Commons vote and says Ed Miliband was right to "put a brake on Cameron's rush to war". The Labour leader forced the prime minister to amend his original Commons motion to beef up the role of the UN and to ensure that parliament would have a second vote to authorise any military intervention.

Bradshaw criticises Cameron for the way he ruled out any military involvement within minutes of the vote. He says most MPs were not voting to rule this out. But he indicates that he fears that Miliband's response to the vote this week – calling for more talks with Iran and a greater focus on humanitarian action – is mistaken.

"A considerable number of Labour MPs (many more than have so said so publicly) feel deeply uneasy about this. Where do we stand if Democrat America, Socialist France, Turkey and the Arab League go ahead with strikes? What is our view of how Britain should vote in the UN security council?," he writes.

"How should we respond in the unlikely event that Putin was speaking the truth when he said he'd change his mind if it was proved Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks? Does being nice to Iran and talking about Britain's now diminished diplomatic and humanitarian role constitute a foreign policy? Labour needs to have clear and unambiguous answers to these questions."


Bradshaw praises the Labour amendment in the Commons that sought to provide a proper legal footing  (Read the Laws Prohibiting War and the reality of the 2005 policy "Responsibility to Protect" R2P) for military strikes by giving the UN a greater role and insisting on definitive proof linking the Assad regime to apparent chemical attacks. But he is concerned that Labour seems to be hardening its conditions following the government's defeat in the Commons, after the party said it would only countenance a military strike if there was a "very significant change" on the ground.

"Instead of sticking to this sensible and measured approach, we seem to have abandoned it because of the incompetence of a Tory prime minister. We have allowed Labour foreign policy to be dictated by the government," Bradshaw writes.

Bradshaw reinforces his message about the importance of being prepared to act on the international stage, recalling his decision to abandon a BBC career for parliament. He writes: "I came back from being an observer of politics as a BBC journalist to being an active Labour party member and then an MP because of my disgust at the Tory government's inaction in the Balkans in the 1990s. It was thanks to the 1997 Labour government working with President Clinton that Milosevic's rampage of slaughter and ethnic cleansing was stopped."

The former cabinet minister warns of the dangers of deciding foreign policy on the basis of the Iraq war a decade ago. "The prism of Iraq was used to explain last Thursday's votes, not least by senior Conservatives reaching for an excuse for their failure. The problem with prisms is they distort. Leadership is about learning the right not the wrong lessons from the past, judging each case on its merits and deciding accordingly."

The intervention by Bradshaw, who served as a foreign office minister under Tony Blair and who was promoted to culture secretary by Gordon Brown, comes amid growing unease among Tory MPs over the government's handling of Syria. William Hague, the foreign secretary, faced what were described as "blunt" questions from backbenchers at a meeting of the Tory 1922 committee on Wednesday evening.

One MP who was in attendance said: "The meeting was conciliatory. But William was asked about the misjudgments in No 10 about the Labour party's voting intentions, about the misjudgments about the US plans – there must have been a skin-deep understanding of Washington – and about the misjudgments in presenting the case. How could the prime minister say you could drop bombs on the assets of the Syrian regime and say that is not taking sides?"
On Syria  BEN BRADSHAW on August 30, 2013

Last night the Commons voted against Britain taking military action – by accident. It may be an outcome supported by a majority of the public, but it was not what any of the main parties or their leaders wanted.

David Cameron, in an act of terrible miscalculation, tried to bounce MPs into supporting military action in principle before they or the country were ready. Ed Miliband – who was very clear he did not rule out supporting action – felt the evidence – not least that from the UN weapons inspectors due in the next two days – should come before the decision.

If Cameron had supported Labour’s sensible and measured amendment or waited until next week, the vote would have gone through. Instead, both leaders seem now to have ruled out supporting military action, regardless of what the weapons inspectors say and Presidents Obama, Hollande and others decide to do.

This is an extraordinary moment for British Foreign policy and, I’m inclined to agree with the former Lib Dem MP, Paddy Ashdown, a worrying one. Britain has said dictators can use chemical weapons, killing thousands, and we will do nothing.

Cameron and the Government did precious little to prepare the public or MPs for this week’s rush to decision. But, public opinion is fickle. More reports like last night’s on the BBC of an appalling attack on a Syrian primary school could quickly change the public mood.
I voted for Labour’s amendment (below) because it mapped out a sensible process for making a decision. I abstained on the Government’s motion because I felt Britain should keep our options open. Both those approaches now appear closed. It is now left to France, America and others to uphold international law, human decency and the principle of humanitarian intervention.
Labour’s Amendment

This house expresses its revulsion at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Ghutah, Syria on 21 August 2013; believes that this was a moral outrage; recalls the importance of upholding the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons; makes clear that the use of chemical weapons is a grave breach of international law; agrees with the UN Secretary General that the UN weapons inspectors must be able to report to the UN Security Council and that the Security Council must live up to its responsibilities to protect civilians; supports steps to provide humanitarian protection to the people of Syria but will only support military action involving UK forces if and when the following conditions have been met that:

(a) the UN weapons inspectors, upon the conclusion of their mission in the Eastern Ghutah, are given the necessary opportunity to make a report to the Security Council on the evidence and their findings, and confirmation by them that chemical weapons have been used in Syria;

(b) compelling evidence is produced that the Syrian regime was responsible for the use of these weapons;

(c) the UN Security Council has considered and voted on this matter in the light of the reports of the weapons inspectors and the evidence submitted;

(d) there is a clear legal basis in international law for taking collective military action to protect the Syrian people on humanitarian grounds;

(e) such action must have regard to the potential consequences in the region, and must therefore be legal, proportionate, time-limited and have precise and achievable objectives designed to deter the future use of prohibited chemical weapons in Syria; and

(f) the Prime Minister reports further to the House on the achievement of these conditions so that the House can vote on UK participation in such action, and that any such vote should relate solely to efforts to deter the use of chemical weapons and does not sanction any wider action in Syria.