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)
Don’t know 8.51%
As part of an agreement with other states to end the war
Don’t know 12.21%
Only to support a wide coalition of ground troops
Don’t know 18.26%
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
Don’t know 10.67%
Don’t know 5.13%
Don’t know 10.15%
Don’t know 11.9%
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
Don’t know 22.15%
Would attacks on Assad have been justified in 2013?
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