++LDV Members’ Survey on Syria – 67% oppose airstrikes now BUT…(and it’s a big but..)

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think about whether Liberal Democrat MPs should support air strikes against Daesh in Syria. 975 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

We wanted to test feeling in the party about whether and in what circumstances members would back airstrikes in Syria. Over two thirds said that they would oppose them in current circumstances, with less than a quarter in favour. However, when we looked at a Syria where there was a real post war plan, or a more coherent army of ground forces to support, that changed radically, with most members who expressed a preference supporting using UK air power to defeat Daesh. Only 10.7% of people agreed that we should never back airstrikes, with 75% answering “no” to that question.

There is very strong backing for Tim Farron’s Five Tests, with two thirds of members saying that they were “about right.”

Here are the answers in full:

Do you think that Liberal Democrat MPs should vote to back UK airstrikes in Syria in the following circumstances:

Before a wider solution to the Syrian Civil War is in place (ie now)

Yes 24.31%

No  67.18%

Don’t know 8.51%

As part of an agreement with other states to end the war

Yes 56.51%

No 31.28%

Don’t know  12.21%

Only to support a wide coalition of ground troops

Yes  46.46%

No  35.28%

Don’t know 18.26%

Never

Yes 10.67%

No 75.28%

Don’t know 14.05%

Do you agree with the “Five tests” outlined below by Tim Farron and others as preconditions for Liberal Democrat support?

Too strong/too high a bar 9.95%

About right 66.56%

To weak/too low a bar 17.23%

Don’t know 6.26%

Please indicate whether you agree with the following statements (tick all that apply)

We should be doing more to support the rebels 30.15%

Asaad is the better of two evils 22.36%

Taking action is Syria will reduce ‘jihadi terrorism’ with Europe 16.41%

As the rest of the world is taking action we shouldn’t stand back 27.18%

UK involvement, particularly the use of the Brimstone missile, will make airstrikes more effective and minimise civilian casualties 27.79%

There are insufficient measures to protect civilians 54.46% (Interestingly, when you look at the responses of women alone, this rises to 74%

At present, there is little evidence that the various factions fighting in Syria could be brought together to make a coherent state. 75.59%

We wanted to find out what people felt about previous British military interventions:

Do you think the following UK military interventions were justified in hindsight?

Iraq 1 / Kuwait

Yes 69.33%

No 20%

Don’t know 10.67%

Iraq 2

Yes 3,49%

No 91.38%

Don’t know 5.13%

Bosnia

Yes 84.31%

No 5.54%

Don’t know 10.15%

Kosovo

Yes 82.05%

No 6.05%

Don’t know 11.9%

Libya

Yes 26.46%

No 56.10%

Don’t know 17.44%

In 2011, when we asked members whether they supported these airstrikes, 73% were in favour. At that time, Ghadaffi had basically told Benghazi’s people that they were coming after them and it felt like there was a very urgent, humanitarian need for intervention. Nick Clegg said the other week that he regretted not doing more to secure the peace once Ghadaffi had gone.

Airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq

Yes 50.46%

No 27.38%

Don’t know 22.15%

Would attacks on Assad have been justified in 2013?

Yes 29.23%

No 51.9%

Don’t know 18.87%

In 2013, just before the parliamentary vote during which the government’s proposal was defeated, our members were similarly nuanced in their response as they are today.

So what does all this mean?

While members are opposed to military action under current circumstances, it seems that if things changed so that there was more chance of a coherent post Daesh plan and clear international commitment to deliver that, and if there was a co-ordinated ground effort, members would be much happier about backing action. If Tim Farron and the MPs were to decide to back military action, they would have to convince members that those things were more likely.

What happens now?

The parliamentary parties are having a joint meeting tonight. With the vote on Wednesday, we are unlikely to have long to wait to find out what choices they have made. They will have to be extremely sensitive about the way in which they communicate their decision to the party, giving a detailed assessment on whether each of the five tests have been met. Given that only a slim majority of members back military action in limited circumstances, that leaves a large proportion who don’t. Whichever way he goes, Tim Farron will have a significant group of people to reassure. This will be the first serious test of his undoubted communication skills since he became leader in July. He’s been enjoying a bit of an extended honeymoon as he has pushed the government hard on refugees, visiting Calais and Lesvos, he’s spoken with great passion and knowledge on housing and he has made some cracking speeches that have warmed members’ hearts. Whatever decision he makes now will upset some people. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles that.

  • 2,200+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 975  completed the latest survey, which was conducted on 29th and 30th November 2015
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. The surveys are, though, the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country.
  • We have been able to test the LibDemVoice surveys against actual results on a handful of occasions. It correctly forecast the special Lib Dem conference would overwhelmingly approve the Coalition Agreement in May 2010. In the 2008 and 2010 elections for Lib Dem party president, it correctly predicted the winner. However, in the 2014 election it didn’t; see here for my thoughts on this.
  • Polling expert Anthony Wells has written about the reliability/validity of LibDemVoice surveys here.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in LDV Members poll and Op-eds.
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25 Comments

  • Dave Orbison 30th Nov '15 - 7:55pm

    Interesting that it is fairly similar to the Labour Party result. I applaud any attempts to consult with the membership of any party to determine a policy decision. I understand that LDV is not an official organ of the LibDems but absent any other attempt to poll members’ views I hope the LibDem MPs will take note. Equally I hope the Labour result will give Labour MP’s minded to support bombing, pause for thought. Surely leaders supporting democracy in their party can be no bad thing.

  • Missed this poll, but the most popular answers are broadly in line with my views. It is difficult to see how Tim’s five tests have been met at the present time.

  • Question 1 with a ratio of 67 No to 24 YES is the telling one. That’s what will be debated in the H of C. – probably this week.

    The second question is so hypothetical today as to be almost meaningless – with no evidence of that as a reality scenario.

  • John Barrett 30th Nov '15 - 8:58pm

    With several thousand air strikes having already taken place in Syria and Iraq, the one fact that appears to be incontrovertible is that air strikes will not prevent future terrorist bombings in Paris, London or anywhere else.

    There is little evidence, if any, that adding British bombs to those falling on Syria will make any difference to the final outcome, apart from increasing civilian deaths and the number of refugees fleeing the war zone.

    The Labour and Conservative parties are split on this issue, polls show the county is not united in favour or against bombing, the members of most parties share a range of views on military action and the Lib-Dem voice poll shows that of those Lib-Dems surveyed a clear majority are against bombing Syria.

    The only surprise to me is that anyone thinks that political parties should each have one clear view on this issue. Only the SNP, where discussion and dissent by MPs are effectively banned, are totally ‘united’. We should not expect our MPs to follow any party line on this issue and should leave it up to each one to what he thinks is right on the day.

  • Well said John

  • Dave Orbison 30th Nov '15 - 9:46pm

    John Barrett when you say the Tories and Labour are split I presume you are not suggesting the LDV poll suggests anything less re the LibDems? We have been bombarded in the media about splits as if this was awful or some test of strength or weakness or that it was the problem of one party. In reality of course there are genuine differences of opinion across the board. It isn’t a straightforward issue. I just wish the media would present a thoughtful well researched and neutral analysis of the issue. Gone are the days of Weekend World and an informative news report. All we get these days are slanted, dumbed-down sneering reports. We are not as well informed as we once were.

  • Stephen Ruffian 30th Nov '15 - 10:16pm

    Good on you for publishing each answer in as full detail as possible. Might make difficult reading for the leadership depending on what it’s thinking.

    My own view is that it’s legal, but there’s no plan for ‘what happens afterwards’. I also think the “70,000 moderates” line comes from the same school as “45 minutes” and will be the punchline of grim jokes in ten years time, too.

  • John Barrett 30th Nov '15 - 10:41pm

    Mark – The last poll I looked at had 48% supporting air strikes now. Hardly overwhelming support. I agree polls are not conclusive, but I still see many people both for and against military action.

    Dave – I agree with what you say. The media are pushing for anything but an informed debate on the issue.

  • David Pollard 1st Dec '15 - 10:51am

    Arguing about whether THREE British war planes should bomb Syria is Stupid. Listen to Corbyn. On this one he is right. Ask the questions:- Who is buying ISIL’s oil? who is selling them weapons? then do something about it.

  • David Pollard 1st Dec '15 - 10:54am

    to Dave Orbison I would say read the Independent, Robert Fisk, James Cockburn, Jasmine Alibhi-Brown and Mark Steel.

  • Dave Orbison 1st Dec '15 - 11:15am

    David Pollard – agreed. As for Indy I guess I lament the editorial line and daily vilification of Corbyn excepting those contributions from those you list who are like a breath of fresh air to this daily propaganda

    I see that General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Nato deputy supreme allied commander Europe has weighed in with the futility of air strikes alone. Either the Guardian or Independent showed a map of Syria with the supposed locations of all the various factions. It’s a mess. The idea that ‘pin point accuracy’ of missiles, as we are always reassured, will secure some decisive victory alone is utter nonsense. Bombing for the sake of doing something is what ISIS want – a good enough reason alone not to do it. It will simply help their cause as we have seen over and over again. Putin, naturally portrayed as a baddie (and I’m no fan) gave an interesting interview on this subject. He asked, where does the oil flow from ISIS and money exchange hands? Where did the arms come from initially to enable these groups to get a foothold? And most telling of all he lambasted the West (well the USA – same thing) for it’s simplistic approach to ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ and taking no account that many are simply mercenaries who will flip sides for the highest amount. We need to hold the Saudi’s and Turkey to account for their part. It’s not a case of don’t bomb and do nothing, it’ s about fighting with an alternative strategy – one that focusses on the logistics that ISIS, like any armed force, depends upon to survive.

  • Nigel Quinton 1st Dec '15 - 12:53pm

    Well said David P and David O. This cartoon version of diplomacy peddled by our media (well, most of it) and US politicians is really unhelpful. Putin does talk a lot of good sense on these issues, even if one disagrees with his acts. He is acting in what he sees as Russian self interest but at least what he says has some grounding in reality. Cameron is sill in cloud cuckoo land.

    I really hope our MPs vote against.

  • I agree with Corbyn. Unfortunately, his own ‘allies’ are seemingly more concerned with toppling him than treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

    The BBC has indicated that the Lib Dems will all vote in favour of air strikes. We don’t appear to be learning, do we?

  • richard morris 1st Dec '15 - 4:26pm

    We seem to be largely supporting the David Davis position on this; which on this occasion i would personally endorse as well

  • Alan Depauw 1st Dec '15 - 4:42pm

    For me, the essential point is this: I believe that disabling as much as possible the source of terrorist weapons and organisation will protect us more from future atrocities than doing nothing.

  • Tony Greaves 1st Dec '15 - 5:17pm

    How? Future atrocities in this country will mainly depend on whether there is a reservoir of disaffected UK citizens-residents prepared to plan and carry out such attacks. That has very little to do with whether we bomb ISIL/Daesh in Syria now – though the PR spin stuff around such a bombing might result is a few more people being prepared to join this reservoir of disaffected activists. (“Home-grown terrorists” if you prefer.

    Tony Greaves

  • Alan Depauw 1st Dec '15 - 6:53pm

    Tony:

    Indeed, most of the terrorists are home-grown. Most have criminal records. They come from communities that have suffered from a combination of discrimination, poor integration and maladministration. To justify their criminality they have wrapped themselves in the black flag of fanaticism, joining a murderous sect that provides them with purpose, organisation and weapons.

    Therefore action needs to be focussed on three fronts. One is the normal policing against criminality including assuring efficient cross-border co-operation to tackle international criminal gangs. The second is to continue working towards integrating all communities within a single commonwealth of shared values. The third is to overcome the source of organisation and weapons, ISIS; which in its own terms has declared war on us.

    This is proven by the multiple attacks in France as well as in many other countries including some, like Tunisia, not involved in any anti-ISIS coalition. We are constantly warned of attacks planned in the UK. ISIS may not be recognised as such, but it considers itself a state with the territory and resources of a state which it uses to recruit, arm and deploy criminals to carry out indiscriminate killing.

    Talking will take a long time and it seems unlikely ISIS would bother talking to us if we’re not putting them under pressure. Meanwhile, motivated by their zealotry and with access to substantial means, is there any reason why they would stop organising attacks on us?

    Seeking and destroying their resources may not lessen their resolve, but at least it would weaken their ability to carry them out.

    Hence my belief that taking military action would reduce a direct threat to us that otherwise would remain unchallenged and intact.

  • Howards Way 1st Dec '15 - 11:23pm

    I have just read Tim’s statement on Wednesday’s vote asking our MPs to follow him into the lobby supporting the government’s motion.
    He has my full and unreserved support. His explanation of how he came to this decision has been well considered and I hope the whole party will get behind Tim, even though they are against the UK joining the bombing campaign.
    Personally, I abhor the thought of joining the countries dropping even more bombs on the Syrian population.
    However, degrading Da’esh’s ability to wage war across the globe has to be the overriding consideration. We also owe it to the people still living under the yoke of ultimate and violent repression a glimmer of hope that Da’esh will be removed from their lives.
    Along with the bombing campaign it is absolutely imperative to double our efforts to negotiate an end to the civil war. Until this happens Da’esh will not be defeated. As part of the negotiations, we need to bring to task the ambivalent role Turkey and the Saudis have played in the conflict.
    All stakeholders have to represented at the Vienna talks. There can be no peace unless and until the rebel groups are fully engaged. It is interesting to note that only today al-Nusra released two Lebanese soldiers they held prisoner, after protracted negotiations, where Qatar was acting as broker. This shows that Qatar are willing to take part and that even an extremist group such as al-Nusra are willing and capable of conducting fruitful discussions.

  • You war mongers are living in cloud cuckoo land if you think that more bombs will move towards a resolution. A military solution will only be found with a massively greater engagement than a couple of bomber jets. You’re basically signing us up to WWIII.

  • “However, degrading Da’esh’s ability to wage war across the globe has to be the overriding consideration. We also owe it to the people still living under the yoke of ultimate and violent repression a glimmer of hope that Da’esh will be removed from their lives.”

    This is, sadly, the opposite of sense. There is no ‘degradation’ of terrorist capacity that can come from dropping a few bombs. Although having a supporting state is obviously of use to terrorists, a terror network is quite capable of operating without one: it requires just a little money, a little organizational capacity, and an ideological commitment strong enough to override respect for others’ lives or one’s own. There is absolutely nothing in the way of military action that will ‘degrade’ the ability of jihadis to conduct terror operations in Europe or the UK — the short term answer to that is police and intelligence work, while the long-term answer is countering jihadi ideology with a strong and persuasive case for liberal ideals — a difficult thing to do when the loudest voices in the UK and Europe are those proclaiming racism and religious bigotry.

    Dropping bombs, as Mr Cameron now intends to do, in the absence of a coherent plan to fully and completely defeat Da’esh and to create a meaningful future for Sunni Arabs in this region, not only will fail to provide a ‘glimmer of hope’ — it may end up killing those who oppose Da’esh, and driving others to support it.

  • Jonathan Greenhow 3rd Dec '15 - 10:48am

    I am sad that Tim Farron chose the path he has taken. However we are where we are.
    Can we now show our uniqueness as a party to highlight, challenge and push for a real change in our national attitude to arms sales? If we could promote public awareness of this long term evil perhaps we can regain our standing in the public eye.

  • I have been a member of the Liberal party since the days of Jo Grimond. In recent years, I have threatened to resign my membership several times because of Libdem policies on transport, the environment, the N-S divide, student grant Uturns, miserable showing in a referendum on votins systems, poorly researched policies (free school meals for all under 7 year olds), failure to stand up against useless wars (but I was proud of my party in 2003), This is the last straw. And, from the poll results, I can see that the membership has more sense than parliamentarians.

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