Tim Farron on why he supported air strikes – and other things

 

Yesterday the Independent on Sunday published an interview with Tim Farron under the headline ‘Lib Dem leader on why he went against his party over Syrian air strikes‘.

Tim Farron has argued that the Liberal Democrats are “not a pacifist party”, following grassroots criticism of his decision to back Syrian air-strikes – a move opposed by two-thirds of members.

The Independent on Sunday can reveal that the Lib Dem leader was rebuked at a meeting of a senior party committee this month for failing to consult properly on the controversial vote.

He argued that the decision on Syria should be seen “through the prism of the 2003 Iraq war”.  He is quoted as saying:

The 2003 Iraq War was an illegal and counterproductive war. That wasn’t just Liberal Democrat nerdy concern about the legalities: it was about what that meant for the image of the United Kingdom overseas, the stoking of terrorism, the stoking of mistrust and, much worse, hatred of the West.

I am very, very proud and support Charles Kennedy in his opposition to the Iraq war in 2003. But I’m equally proud of Paddy Ashdown in leading us in calling for the intervention in Bosnia in the mid-90s, because we’re not a pacifist party, we’re an internationalist party and we believe in the rule of international law.

The article then describes the motion of regret carried by the federal Policy Committee, which Tim Farron chairs. He responds:

I’m sure there’s loads of people who are unhappy with the decision I took, but there’s loads more who wrote in and said, ‘that was really brave, we’re proud that you did that’.

I argue that we won more support with the position we took than lost. The reality is it was a tough decision, but I think we were right to make it. I think the easiest political thing for me to have done would have been to troop behind Corbyn, so I’d have had fewer emails and no one would have batted an eyelid.

The interview covered many other topics, including drugs policy and the state of the Labour party, although it was inevitable that the controversy over Syria air strikes dominated. Speaking about the flooding in Cumbria – note that this was before the devasting floods this past weekend in Lancashire and Yorkshire – he pointed out that the Departments of Energy and Climate Change, Environment and Local Government were all subject to drastic spending cuts at the Comprehensive Spending Review last month.

The three departments that counties like Cumbria desperately need for the long term, the medium term and right now are absolutely denuded and it’s pretty horrific.

You can read the full article here.

 

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26 Comments

  • I assume the rebuke occurred at FE? Rather worrying the first we hear about it is through the media and not from our elected reps. Yet another example of why we need more transparency.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 28th Dec '15 - 2:20pm

    I don’t agree with Tim but accept his point of view. The truth is that the public and party are divided on air strikes, as he says. I know and trust that Tim & his team made the decision for sound liberal reasons. Tim Farron is no warmonger!

  • …….” I think the easiest political thing for me to have done would have been to troop behind Corbyn, so I’d have had fewer emails and no one would have batted an eyelid!…..

    I think Tim’s fear of being linked with Corbyn played a major part in his decision ‘to troop behind Cameron’…..BTW before someone tells me that his vote for was NOT trooping behind Cameron….Tim’s the quote above blurs any distinction…

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '15 - 3:19pm

    This is an issue where I thought the centre-ground was in the wrong place. At first it was in the right place, but then the centre-left started complaining about it because they lean anti-war and the centre-right started complaining about it because we weren’t bombing Assad too and the main British international affairs think tanks started complaining about it for different reasons, but I think the analysis was lacking political reality, which is why people like Obama, Hollande and Cameron openly disagreed with them.

    The Henry Jackson Society, seen as a hawkish think tank, should now be seen with the same prestige as the other British think tanks. Yes, they are sometimes a bit too hawkish, but the others seemed unwilling to give an opinion or basically threw their rattle out the pram and said because we’ve left it too late we shouldn’t intervene at all.

    When it comes to Assad: I am not sympathetic to the Putin worldview that he is the legitimate leader of Syria. I’m anti-dictator unless they can demonstrate public support.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec ’15 – 3:19pm……………When it comes to Assad: I am not sympathetic to the Putin worldview that he is the legitimate leader of Syria. I’m anti-dictator unless they can demonstrate public support…….

    That was the mindset that created the disasters that are Iraq and Libya…

    As for “demonstrating public support”???? I’m sure shouting, ” I don’t support Kim Jong-un” is a recipe for a long and happy life…

    BTW…Assad still has far more support than any other faction…

  • I must start by saying I have a great personal regard for Tim Farron. To put that in context I have been a Liberal since 1961 and was the first Liberal elected to South Lakeland District Council back in 1974. I was delighted when he gained Westmorland.

    I first joined the party back in 1961 because I believed it to be a radical force. Loyalty was strained during the Coalition years but I supported Tim for the leadership because I thought the party would learn the lessons and rediscover its radical soul.

    Sadly, the Syria vote – and the Trident fudge – have disappointed me and yet again I have to question my allegiance.

    I acknowledge the party is not a pacifist party – and I am not a pacifist. But equally I am not what historians would describe as a ‘Liberal Imperialist’.

    I’m afraid I can’t agree with Tim that the decision ‘was really brave, we’re proud that you did that’, There’s nothing brave about voting in the H of C to bomb from 30,000 feet with all the possibility if killing innocent civilians – and there’s nothing particularly brave to defy the wishes of 67% of the party membership and to split the parliamentary party. I’m glad the Federal Executive took the stance it did and I can only hope for the more creative radical leadership I expected from Tim when I voted for him in June. If we don’t get that I suspect the ‘Lib-Dem fightback’ will fizzle out.

    As for Eddie Sammon’s championing of the Henry Jackson Society, Oh,dear.

    Don’t you realise Tom Brake resigned from it in protest , Eddie ? Don’t you realise the HJS has come under sustained criticism for remarks made by its senior executives Douglas Murray and Alan Mendoza.

    Murray complained in March 2013 that London had “become a foreign country” because white Britons were a minority in 23 of 33 London boroughs. He added: “We long ago reached the point where the only thing white Britons can do is to remain silent about the change in their country. Ignored for a generation, they are expected to get on, silently but happily, with abolishing themselves, accepting the knocks and respecting the loss of their country”.

    The radical Liberal Party I joined in the 60’s would have howled with anger about that sort of stuff.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '15 - 4:22pm

    David Raw, thanks for that information. I don’t agree with those sentiments, but there are others that I agree with. I want to keep the conversation focused on the intervention against ISIS in Syria and Tim’s interview, so I don’t want to talk anymore about think tanks here.

    Best regards

  • “The 2003 Iraq War was an illegal and counterproductive war. That wasn’t just Liberal Democrat nerdy concern about the legalities: it was about what that meant for the image of the United Kingdom overseas, the stoking of terrorism, the stoking of mistrust and, much worse, hatred of the West. I am very, very proud and support Charles Kennedy in his opposition to the Iraq war in 2003.”

    This is classic rewriting of history from 12 years down the line. Actually Lib Dem opposition to the war at the time was entirely due to concern about the legalities, and not for any of the other reasons Farron now lists. Charles Kennedy stated four conditions necessary for him to support an invasion (not dissimilar to Farron’s recent five-point list), the most important one of which was the passing of a new UN resolution.

  • Russell Simpson 28th Dec '15 - 5:13pm

    I’m not sure why Farron says that he got “loads more” letters of support for his decision (if in fact he did?). Given he ignored the very clear message from members to oppose bombing Syria he’s made it very clear that he’s not that bothered about what members think!

  • George Kendall 28th Dec ’15 – 3:45pm….exats “I think Tim’s fear of being linked with Corbyn played a major part in his decision”………That’s not how I read the Independent article at all…..My impression is that Tim Farron genuinely thinks that extending air strikes to Syria was the least bad option, even if it might have caused him political problems to vote that way…….

    Let us differ!
    If anyone believes that adding a few UK planes to the might of the US, Russia, etc. will make any military difference then I’d like to hear how.. If no military advantage then why? Solidarity with our allies, perhaps? More likely the ‘knee jerk’ idea that something/anything MUST be done…..Cameron, like Bush before him, had unfinished business in the Middle East…

    As for causing ‘political problems’…Cameron’s description of MPs voting against as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ might be deemed a ‘political problem’ and those ‘moderate’ Labour MPs, who many on LDV want to recruit, seemed to vote the same way for the the same ‘reason’…

  • David Allen 28th Dec '15 - 6:33pm

    “I argue that we won more support with the position we took than lost. … I think the easiest political thing for me to have done would have been to troop behind Corbyn…”

    Sorry Tim, you can’t have it both ways. It can’t both have been politically best to vote anti and politically best to vote for!

  • George Kendall 28th Dec ’15 – 6:31pm…[email protected],I don’t think anyone believes that adding a few RAF planes will make much difference….

    Then why are we there?…

  • It is possible to compare Tim Farron’s support for military action in Syria with Paddy Ashdown’s support for military action in Bosnia but the comparison is not favourable to Tim Farron.
    In Bosnia a “peacekeeping” operation had been authorised by the United Nations’s Security Council under chapter VII. UN peacekeeping forces were deployed to Bosnia. There is no United Nations operation in Syria.
    In Bosnia NATO acted in support of the UN. In early 1994 NATO enforced a “no-fly” zone over Bosnia by shooting down Serbian airplanes. A “no-fly” zone was part of Tim Farron’s five tests and was rejected by David Cameron. There is no “no-fly” zone in Syria for the RAF to assist in enforcing.
    The presence of “no-fly” zones and the peacekeeping force, UNPROFOR, meant that the UN assisted by NATO was able to offer protection to civilians in Bosnia. As Srebrenica demonstrates this was not always effective but the intent was there. Neither the UK, nor NATO, nor the UN is able to offer any protection to Syrian civilians who wish to flee Isis, or Assad or David Cameron’s army of 75,000 “moderates”.
    There was a framework for a peace-settlement in Bosnia, “cantonisation”, which was incorporated in the 1994 Washington Agreement and a ceasefire between two of the three warring factions and was eventually forced on the third.
    In summary in Bosnia there was active engagement of the UN under chapter VII, a peacekeeping force on the ground and a “no-fly” zone in the air. UK participation both in UNPROFOR and through NATO was able to offer protection to civilians and exert pressure for a peace settlement whose eventual form was already known. None of these elements is present in the UK’s military action in Syria.

  • Zack Polanski 28th Dec '15 - 8:04pm

    All I’d say on receiving letters is that I’m not the leader of the party nor even an MP.

    But out of the nearly hundred text messages and emails I recieved from London members that I don’t know who I’d contacted during the internal assembly elections – and had retained my details – not one was in favour of air strikes.

    Admittedly, it’s a self selecting sample as I’ve been very vocally against – but is the suggestion then that the other candidates were receiving lots of correspondance from people suggesting that air strikes were a great idea? It just doesn’t seem quite right to me.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Dec '15 - 8:10pm

    On the issue polls consistently showed that more people supported airstrikes than did not. If people received nearly 100 texts and emails and all against then it is a sign that something is wrong with the party.

    I don’t even see how it is the morally right thing to do either. We shouldn’t just abandon people to ISIS because they aren’t knocking on our doors.

  • George Kendall 28th Dec ’15 – 9:10pm…

    Well you seem to have made up an argument for intervention all by yourself…

    Cameron had our ‘unique’ Brimstone missile and 70,000 ‘moderate’ unicorns…Tim had 5 conditions to be met….

    Both were nonsense…

    Every military expert agrees that the only thing that can make such bombing effective is to be in support of a specific ground offensive over the territory bombed; Cameron has ruled that out…How many of Tim’s ‘conditions’ were met?

  • Richard Underhill 28th Dec '15 - 10:13pm

    it is widely accepted that the military effect of the UK’s action is minimal.
    There are strong diplomatic reasons for saying YES, mainly relationships with USA and France.
    We knew in advance that the vote would be YES, because the government said so, they would not otherwise call the vote.
    Politically it is not greatly in our interest to help the Tories, unless there is a strong case based on the national interest.
    Politically it is not greatly in our interest to help to divide labour MPs from their leader, that is happening anyway.
    Keeping our MPs together is desirable, but was not achieved.
    So we should expect this stepping stone to lead to mission creep, in which case Tim may oppose such further steps.
    He should not be censured. He is doing his best in different circumstances.

  • I don’t hear Tim or anybody here coming up with a realistic end game/vision to which UK bombing in Syria would directly contribute. It may help the diplomatic jousting with Russia, but staying on a head to head with Russia over Asaad doesn’t.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Dec ’15 – 10:13pm…………..So we should expect this stepping stone to lead to mission creep, in which case Tim may oppose such further steps………He should not be censured. He is doing his best in different circumstances….

    Military experts agree that bombing, without boots on the ground, won’t work…Given that, why vote for something that can only lead to failure or mission creep?

    As for not censuring Tim? He set out 5 conditions; they weren’t met and yet he still voted ‘Yes’…What’s not to censure?

  • David Allen 29th Dec '15 - 3:25pm

    What I like least is the argument that “the decision on Syria should be seen ‘through the prism of the 2003 Iraq war’ ”. The translation of this phrase from politicalese into English is clearly:

    “We Lib Dems need to use Syria as a means of balancing up our political positioning. The problem with making the right decision on Iraq 2003 was that it tends to align us with pacifists and the far left. So let’s balance that by showing that we can happily go militarist and drop bombs on Syrians with the best of them.

    Of course, some people might worry about peripheral questions, like “will it work?” or “will we kill civilians?” Let’s ignore those questions. What has to come first is to get the political positioning of our party right!”

  • Yet again a Lib Dem leader shows he knows nothing about building a core vote for the party. For five years we had Nick Clegg, pretending that the party would get some sort of reward for propping up David Cameron, the Tory leader who failed to win, but at the cost of a total abrogation by him of pledges made the voters of this country. He preferred to make easy short term decisions, “in the national interest”, rather than stick to what he promised and fight for those who had given us their support. The lesson was never learned that a core vote is built on people who trust you to deliver, and Nick deliberately sacrificed that trust, through Tuition Fees, the Bedroom Tax, NHS Reform and so much more.

    Now it seems Tim is doing the same. A legacy of a clear position on Iraq. A clear set of five tests which had to be met, and what happens? Every result fudged and then brushed under the carpet with an “I argue that we won more support with the position we took than lost.” No Tim, what you have is another bunch of current and ex Lib Dem voters now feeling totally alienated. Nick tried that sort of approach for five years or more and it cost us most of our MPs. Nick had Ryan Coetzee as his guru to show being in coalition was not as bad as we all thought and it actually turned out massively worse. Who is providing the data to justify your “I argue that we won more support with the position we took than lost,” or are you just another leader who really says “Follow me or leave”? If that is the case I fear you will find another batch of longstanding Lib Dems will just leave.

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