+++ Government defeated on Syria motion by 13 votes

The Coalition Government’s motion backing a strong humanitarian response “which may include military action” has just been DEFEATED in the House of Commons by 13 votes (285 votes against to 272 in favour).

Responding, David Cameron has said he “gets” the will of the House.

Earlier, Labour’s amendment – urging further evidence of the Assad regime’s responsibility for chemical attacks – was defeated by 112 votes.

No official list yet, but here’s an *unconfirmed list* of Lib Dem MPs thought to have abstained or voted against the Government:

Gordon Birtwhistle
Malcolm Bruce
Paul Burstow
Tim Farron
Andrew George
Julian Huppert
John Pugh
Ian Swales
Sarah Teather
Roger Williams
(David Ward)

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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55 Comments

  • An important subject, a generally good debate, an ultimately pointless motion, a slightly surprising result.

  • I guess that’s one upside of a “hung parliament” — the Government don’t always get what they want. Quite aside from the merits or demerits of this *particular* situation, that’s something one would like to see more often — a clear demonstration of the power of Parliament as an institution distinct from Government.

  • Take that Nick

  • Andy Boddington 29th Aug '13 - 10:50pm

    Matthew Holehouse at The Telegraph says:

    “It’s a huge rebellion. It will lead to calls, at least, for an early general election or for Cameron to resign. And it has brought Ed Miliband’s dreadful summer to a sudden end. ”

    No. Miliband was fairly dreadful in the Commons – though what he said was right. Cameron is secure because unravelling the Coalition is too comp[lex for a goverment that is coasting

  • Little Jackie Paper 29th Aug '13 - 10:51pm

    I’m not sure what is more surprising – the result or the tone of the ‘tweets from a list by libdemvoice’ that are appearing on the right of my screen.

  • The Government did not provide the necessary evidence of Assad’s culpability today to allow anyone of good conscience to support them. Cameron’s admission that that the Government had no more evidence to offer was extraordinary. They had better hope that Obama has some, and they can persuade MPs next week, or the Government will be hobbled by this for the rest of the parliament.

  • I hope the figures show that a good proportion of our MPs were on the right side of the argument. But a tragic shame that our leadership missed the chance to come out early against military action and avoid ceding the lead to Miliband?

  • It will be interesting to see who abstained and who voted against, both in our party and the Conservatives. (Perhaps, for the latter, the military-industrial corporations simply didn’t stand to make enough money from a couple of days bombing?)

  • Eddie Sammon 29th Aug '13 - 11:01pm

    I think voting against both the motion and the amendment was the right decision. I will also be refusing to campaign for the party whilst Nick Clegg remains leader because I don’t think he is honest enough.

    Britain attacking Syria on the weekend would have churned up a lot of global resentment and I don’t think that is in the UK’s national interest. I respect those who disagree, but I have limited respect for those who are dishonest.

  • Why, Stephen, is it “shaming” when, after a long and well-informed debate, the House of Commons votes in a way that expresses the view of the overwhelming majority of the British people?

  • Shameful and shameless performance by Clegg. This is not a coalition with him in charge; it’s a full blown Tory government.

  • A good day for Parliamentary democracy, rather than knocking the Government as Liberals we should give them credit for acting in a way which respects it and pupiblic opinion.

    That said, this is not a good day in every other regard. International Law is again left looking utterly pointless. What signal does this send to dictators of those country’s who really don’t give a damn about diplomacy? We have, in effect, as a country given Assad a free pass by saying that we won’t even consider a military option from now on.

    I was not yet convinced by mililtary action and wanted to have the options explored and debated, with objectives and frameworks laid out. To not even look into those options is utterly shameful.

  • The crucial fact, surely, is the lack of airtight proof that the Assad régime actually used chemical weapons. Had such proof been available, I have little doubt that the outcome of the vote would have been very different. I believe the sense of the majority of the House of Commons was that more than a mere probability was necessary to warrant a military attack.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Aug '13 - 11:14pm

    What a wonderful victory for parliament against the executive.

    What a pity Nick Clegg and a few LDs in leadership positions got themsevles on the wrong side of this.

    A brilliant night. (And opinion in the Lords with 76 speakers was about 8 to 1 against attacking Syria).

    Tony

  • Agree with result tonight. The evidence for intervention is unclear and the consequences for stability in the wider middle east uncertain.

  • Julian Huppert for Leader!!

  • A Social Liberal 29th Aug '13 - 11:19pm

    Tonyhill

    Because allowing such mass murder is disgraceful, wherever it happens and whover commits the atrocity.

    Tony Greaves
    Newsnight is giving the opinion that it was Tory MPs who sold out their leader.

  • Mass murder is terrible whatever the weapon – conventional, chemical or tonight’s napalm/thermite. Specific response to chemical only would be incomprehensible to Syrian victims.

  • @ Tony Greaves: with reference to Clegg’s judgement, that shouldn’t really come as a great surprise

  • A Social Liberal 29th Aug '13 - 11:44pm

    No it wasn’t Ed, but our ability to turn our heads will definately be seen as betrayal.

  • Apparently 11 rebels, 13 abstentions – not good for Clegg

    Social Liberal,

    Sorry for the little spat we have had. We fundamentally disagree on certain things but I would like to apologise for some of the grumpiness today. Okay?

    Quite an emotive day

  • A Parliament that can defy the United States of America might just be a Parliament worth the name.

  • Simon Bamonte 29th Aug '13 - 11:50pm

    @tonyhill:
    “Why, Stephen, is it “shaming” when, after a long and well-informed debate, the House of Commons votes in a way that expresses the view of the overwhelming majority of the British people?”

    Because some people have become (or always have been) loyalists to the extent that they’ve not only lost all their principles, but in their quest to supinely support their “leaders” and climb ever further up the Westminster career ladder, have not even entertained the thought that, just this once, the wishes of the electorate should come before party loyalty and the wishes of those shadowy figures (be they the arms manufacturers or Tony Blair) who are always pushing for More War.

    Pay no attention to them, though. This is about the first time since the government was formed that I can say that, in my opinion, sanity has prevailed in Parliament.

    @A Social Liberal:
    “Because allowing such mass murder is disgraceful, wherever it happens and whover commits the atrocity.”

    Funny how it’s always some random Middle East country being attacked for atrocities and brutality. Yet, after all these years, nobody is calling on the US to be bombed for using Napalm on civilians in Vietnam or depleted uranium on civilians in Iraq. Something in the region of 30 civilians have been killed for every 1 terrorist in America’s drone strikes over the past 5 years. As recently as 2005, America has not only blighted the lives of those who survive depleted uranium attacks, but the lives of future generations through birth defects. North Korea is arguably far more brutal and inhumane than Syria under this civil war, yet nobody is calling for the West to invade N. Korea. Before this war, Syria was rather peaceful and Assad, as authoritarian as he is, held together a mostly secular government. I’m sure, in the mind of a loyalist like Mark Pack, this makes me some left-wing fanatic who has the gall to want the West to be held accountable for its crimes just like we demand other nations and regions be held accountable. I do agree that whoever is responsible for this attack fits the definition of evil and is not fit to call themselves human. However, not only are we not the policemen of the world, we (we being the West in general) have a rather hypocritical and selective policy when it comes to which nations we will and will not allow to commit atrocities. Further, this government has constantly told us there is no money left for the disabled, for tuition fees, for the NHS, for legal aid and on and on. Yet suddenly when Cameron and Clegg want war, there’s plenty of money to go around. It won’t take much more for this government to truly reach the moral depths in which Mr. Blair himself inhabited.

  • Bill le Breton 29th Aug '13 - 11:53pm

    The TeamTweeters to the Right are dismayed. Those also dismayed by the vote tonight: Al Qaeda and Hamas. They therefore find themselves in a strange virtual lobby.

    This vote was not solely a legacy of Iraq. It was an acceptance that the end point of any military intervention could not be predicted with sufficient certainty. In all likelihood the action would have led to an escalation of worrying significance and even greater atrocities within and around Syria

    This was not appeasement. Nor a dereliction of our responsibility. It was plain sense.

    We should not forget that those campaigning against approval for military action over the last three days included the leading military strategists free to voice their views – such as Lords West and Dannatt, and that well known dove, Max Hastings.

  • The Party President voted against the leader in a vote that should call into doubt his confidence in Clegg

    Was this a whipped vote, if it was then I would suggest there are some people’s positions which are no longer tenable.

    It is not Suez or Norway, but surely this is as close to vote of confidence as you can get – it is about war, the most serious decision for a Government to take.

  • Peter Chegwyn 30th Aug '13 - 12:16am

    Stunning… dramatic… unexpected and unprecedented.

    A good night for Parliament and parliamentary democracy.

    But an embarrassing night for Cameron & Clegg… again.

    Both misjudged the mood of their own party and the mood of the country… again.

    If this vote means the UK is no longer the obedient military lapdog of the USA, then good!

    As Sesenco said earlier: “A Parliament that can defy the United States of America might just be a Parliament worth the name.”

  • nuclear cockroach 30th Aug '13 - 12:18am

    I dipped in and out of the debate at various points throughout the day. For once, Parliament put its best foot forward, with a detailed examination of the government’s proposals. Unfortunately, the proposals were incongruent. The basic problem is that President Obama is rather lukewarm about involvement in the Syrian crisis – and it doesn’t make much sense to make lukewarm war.

  • The complaint that not going to war means “standing by and doing nothing” seems to be misplaced. In any crisis (real or apparent) there are a great many possible things that *can* be done, yet not all of those things are helpful to the people they are intended to help, and many of them are positively harmful. A rush to “take action” before the facts are in could end up costing far more than any advantage it might provide.

    Admittedly, Syria (chemical weapons or no) is in a dreadful state right now, in the throes of a multi-cornered civil war with no obvious outcome. But intervention without a clear and evident reason could, and probably would, make things even worse. If the régime were not toppled, it could set the stage for drastic reprisals, and open the door to aid from Assad’s powerful friends. We have seen the result of Great Power proxy wars in many corners of the globe. It has not been shown that they have been of great help to the people they were intended to “save.”

    Conversely, if the régime were overthrown, we have no certainty as to the outcome; a stable, democratic, human-rights respecting Syria seems among the least probable outcomes, however. More likely the civil war would rage on, only between new sets of combatants, to whom Assad’s weapons stockpiles would now be available.

    Or we might have a full occupation by certain forces. This is, as we have seen, a great burden and a great expense, which could spark a long-running war against the occupiers by members of all factions.

    Neither the UK nor the US nor any other power can control the outcome of such intervention. Is it a good idea, then, for them to take responsibility for it?

    Under such circumstances, it seems wise to step back and ponder consequences. An appeal to raw emotion, admirable as the sentiments behind it may be, could, without sufficient thought, lead to results even more tragic than anything we have seen.

  • This was a good result for Democratic values and the voice of the people who were overwhelmingly against intervention (ie: death and destruction) in Syria. If anything, the timing of the comments from Blair helped to focus minds on the lead up to the Iraq debacle – with all the dodgy intelligence and flat-out false claims.

    Two important aspects of today’s votes should be noted. 1) This is the first instance of the UK breaking with the US lead on foreign policy since the 1950’s. 2) This sets the precedent that Parliament must be consulted on British armed forces being ordered into action.

    It really isn’t good enough for Clegg to always be on the wrong side of the public interest on every issue of Liberalism or Democracy. Surely he should have been the one arguing against intervention and not allow Labour to claim that moral high ground?

    Now if only Parliament can find the ethical chutzpah to address the NSA / GCHQ scandal with the same level of informed debate, we may start to reclaim a British Democracy.

    ‘roo

  • A Social Liberal 30th Aug '13 - 12:26am

    And whilst we procrastinate children get napalmed.

  • Richard Dean 30th Aug '13 - 12:29am
  • A victory for parliamentary democracy.

    It’s in all the standard management textbooks. Put a group of people together to argue, and the best speeches will be by individuals. The consensus communique will look pedestrian by comparison. But – In the long term, the consensus judgment will most often stand the test of time. Those brilliant individual points of view will sometimes hit the nail, but more often they will fall short, because the brilliant individual has missed something.

    Consensus works in mysterious ways. There go Labour, second raters, floundering around, seeking a line that seems credible. The idea that Cameron is rushing his fences pops up. So they use it. And hey presto, that’s because it is actually the strongest argument. It deserves to be listened to. It was.

    So now, Mr Obama! You have a small band of friends (remember sofa government?) who help you make decisions. You seem to have switched quickly from inaction to urgent bellicosity, but you haven’t had to explain why. Do you really believe that you have a decision-making process which is as robust as we in the UK do? If not, why not improve it?

  • I am very dissapointed by this decision & the way it was arrived at. I can see that there were sincere feelings on both sides but it looks to me like The Labour Leadership were partly playing games with this.

  • Richard Dean 30th Aug '13 - 1:04am

    I agree with paul barker. I would further suggest that a democracy that cannot stand up for the human rights of others is perhaps not a democracy that is worth much at all.

  • The assumption being made by the pro-war voices is that it is not to be questioned that Bashar Assad is guilty of the deliberate use of chemical weapons in the civil war. This is obviously belied by the fact that hard and incontrovertible evidence has not been presented, and that in the aftermath of the Iraq débacle it is more than reasonable to demand such evidence.

    However, let us suppose that it is true that Bashar Assad has, in fact, committed this war crime, and “gotten away with it.” What then? It seems that two courses of action are open to him. On the one hand, he might decide that the “West” will do nothing in the face of atrocities, and that therefore he has a free hand to do as he pleases. In which case, it will not be long before there will be truly incontrovertible news of chemical attacks and like monstrosities, Ed Miliband will be shamed, and David Cameron will have a free hand to do as *he* pleases.

    Or he may feel that he has had a very narrow shave in avoiding Western intervention, and he’d better avoid the use of such weapons in future. In which case, one might say, the point will have been made — unless the real point is not, in fact, about “the children” or “human rights,” but about finding excuses for dropping bombs.

    Or it may be that the weapons in question were due to the action of some other faction altogether, with nothing to do with Assad. If the UK were to strike based on false intelligence, what would be the long-term price of such a mistake? And if it were shown that the responsibility lay at the door of an anti-Assad faction, would certain voices advocate going to war against *it* with such eagerness? Perhaps, but I do not see either Mr Cameron or Mr Clegg agreeing.

  • Simon Bamonte 30th Aug '13 - 1:44am

    @paul barker:
    “The Labour Leadership were partly playing games with this.”

    I didn’t think it would take long for someone to come along and accuse Labour of something or other while saying nothing about the rush-to-war polemics by Clegg and his good friend Cameron. For all we know, this vote could have averted WWIII, as Russia has made it clear they may not sit idly by if the West attacks Syria. I’m no Labour supporter, but they have been right on this issue and many of their MPs seem to have learned from mistakes made with regards to Iraq.

  • Richard Dean 30th Aug '13 - 1:54am

    This vote will not have averted WW III. We are nothing like as important as that any more. This vote has begun to free the Assad regime to continue its barbaric acts.

  • Iain Coleman 30th Aug '13 - 3:02am

    @A Social Liberal:
    “Because allowing such mass murder is disgraceful”

    As if we were in a position to allow or not allow actions in other countries. What puffed-up arrogance. What self-regarding hubris.

    If the Government had been able to persuade Parliament that military action would reduce suffering in Syria, they would have won the vote. They didn’t because they couldn’t, because it won’t.

  • Seeing Caron Lindsay’s ranting on twitter about the vote makes me hope she ha d a good nights sleep an d also makes me hope she has a long hard reflection about cleggs performance over the last few days and in the Commons last night.

  • rogerbillins 30th Aug '13 - 6:45am

    I have been a loyal supporter of the Coaliition and Clegg but he has allowed himself to be dragged into Cameron’s mess on this and,, by all accounts, performed badly in the Commons last night. Time to go Nick.

  • You forgot to list Sir Andrew Stunnell, who bravely voted against the Syria motion: thank God for him, Julian Huppert and Sarah Teather and the other LIberal Democrats who voted against the government. And you incorrectly listed Farron as voting “No”. Hansard shows he voted FOR the Government motion. I am aghast at the fact that so few Liberal Democrats voted against this government motion, and that Labour are now being given credit for staying the government’s hand. Whatever happened to our Iraq spirit, when we occupied the moral high ground? I am beginning to bend my membership card nervously………….

  • ray cobbett 30th Aug '13 - 7:28am

    Clegg’s ended up looking weaker than ever. Heartfelt thanks to all the guys who put principles before their careers.

  • I apologise profusely to Tim Farron: on checking, he seems to have abstained on the main vote.

  • David Lowrence 30th Aug '13 - 7:57am

    Ian – But a tragic shame that our leadership missed the chance to come out early against military action and avoid ceding the lead to Miliband?

    It really is about time that Clegg realised this is not a Tory party – and that being in a coalition is not about always agreeing with Cameron’s line in public. I don’t care if there is “Cabinet Responsibility”, siding with the likes of the boy Gove is no way to lead this party. It will be hard enough to get over the press attacks at the next election, let alone the worrying habit of this man throwing away every opportunity to take some high ground in standing up for the values of our members. (They come first not his meaningless title of “Deputy PM”. I have been a member of the Liberal Party and then the Lib Dems for 43 years. This man is making me reconsider what I am doing in a “Tory Party Light” There are some considerable names in the *unconfirmed list* of Lib Dem MPs thought to have abstained or voted against the Government. Well done to them for having the courage of their convictions.

  • A victory for democracy and reasoning.

    The rush to aggression failed for two reasons:
    (a) a lack of evidence about who sanctioned the use of chemical weapons
    (b) a complete lack of an objective for the military action

    The second of these reasons was the elephant in the room. What were we going to bomb and how could it possibly prevent another attack or resolve the conflict? Nobody answered that question.

    I find it shameful that so many Lib Dem MPs voted for the motion. If it wasn’t for the Tory rebels then the vote would have gone through, so where is the substance for the argument that the Lib Dems are doing a good job of moderating the Tories? We now have two lame duck leaders.

  • Bill le Breton 30th Aug '13 - 8:02am

    OK, I know it’s the Sun and this is behind a Murdoch pay wall: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/5105023/vince-cable-lib-dem-leader-bid-scuppered-by-economic-recovery.html

    But it would seem that, whilst Parliament was showing its muscle in restraining party leaders (and that includes Milliband), cronies and paid staff in the Leader’s offices were briefing against his own colleague and Secretary of State for Business about the content of a private meeting of the Parly Party.

    Foul politics worthy of a tin-pot dictatorship.

    Can we expect denials or disassociation from the Leader and/or sackings?

  • “And whilst we procrastinate children get napalmed.”

    I wish someone would explain how launching a few hundred cruise missiles at military targets in Syria and then returning to a state of inaction could have protected Syrian civilians. If anything, weakening Assad’s overall military position against the rebels would surely make it more, not less, likely that he would resort to further use of chemical weapons.

  • @Chris
    “I wish someone would explain how launching a few hundred cruise missiles at military targets in Syria and then returning to a state of inaction could have protected Syrian civilians.”

    I’ve been waiting for someone to answer that question for the last couple days. The fact that nobody has answered it demonstrates why the government lost the vote.

  • Simon Hebditch 30th Aug '13 - 9:28am

    Last night’s decision in Parliament was undoubtedly right. So why am I so completely depressed this morning? Of course, the case for intervention was inconclusive and there was no way of assessing whether intervention would leave matters in an even worse state within Syria. But I think there is also an underlying desire to withdraw from any involvement in this maelstrom – we want nothing more to do with it.

    The Guardian editorial today even has the temerity to call for international “rules” on chemical warfare to be “enforced” whilst welcoming last night’s decision. Who is going to enforce it and how? In essence, I think we have taken the decision to sit on our hands – and that may be right in these circumstances. We will still be assailed by continuous coverage of events in Syria – effects of chemical attacks, incendiary bombs, the impact of heavy armaments etc. Well, we should not hold up our hands in horror – it is no longer our concern. For me, I will now stop watching the news and reading articles and news reports about Syria. There in no point.

  • Peter Chivall 30th Aug '13 - 11:51am

    Thank God for that result! Perhaps now someone will take the Russians seriously and try to make them part of the solution and not just part of the problem. I’ve no illusions about about Putin and the basically corrupt political system he heads. But just as a Soviet(Russian)-controlled Afghanistan would have been more prosperous and peaceful and not ended up with a US-founded Taliban giving safe haven to a Saudi-originated Al-Quai’da, so the Russians should be persuaded that Assad’s murderous tribalism and his murderous militias are the real cause of the carnage in Syria.
    If a Pax Russiana can be allowed in Syria, what would benefit it’s people more, an end to killing of the innocent, with Russia reigning in Assad , or a continuation of the current Gulf-financed war, with Al-Quai’da affiliates gaining strength and matching Assad atrocity by atrocity.

  • David White 30th Aug '13 - 2:41pm

    Oh, so many wonderful comments which expose the ConDem inner cabal for what it is: a gang of Tories and pseudo-Tories who wold rather bomb Arabs than blitz British, home-grown (by Them) poverty.

    As ‘Call Me Dave’ and ‘Cleggover’ and ‘don’t call me Jeffrey’ Osborne have so much money to spend (waste) on neo-colonial military adventures, perhaps they could spare a few millions of their mega-bombing-bucks on the British poor people who they are committed to making even poorer.

  • A bad result in my opinion as the devil was in the detail. The text of the motion I read made it clear that any decision for the UK to actually take military action would be subject to a separate vote…so this was not about whether or not the UK should participate in immediate military action. There was insufficient evidence presented to justify immediate military action but I agreed with the motion presented, i.e. that the use of chemical weapons was unacceptable and that the UK should not preclude military action sanctioned by the UN and that use of UK military forces would be subject to another vote. One issue I had was with the lack of evidence identifying the perpetrators – I would have supported action that prevented the further use of chemical weapons in the region but opposed token gestures to ‘send a message to Asad’. Turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons puts the UK in a dubious ethical position; as JFK said “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis maintain their neutrality”. Unfortunately the media seem to have dumbed down the coverage of the parliamentary vote to a simple yes/no vote for immediate invasion.

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