Nick Clegg’s Letter from the Leader: Our Priority is Syria

Unsurprisngly, this week, Nick’s letter is about Syria. He highlighted his unprecedented Q and A session with members (embedded below if you missed it) and talked about the humanitarian aid that the UK is piling in to help the people of Syria and surrounding nations. 

libdem letter from nick clegg

This was a week in which we all grappled with a complex set of questions about Britain’s role in the world: our views on the scope of international law; on the place for humanitarian intervention; and on how to respond to war crimes committed on foreign soil.

My own views are well known: that there is a humanitarian case for the UK to be prepared to participate in multi-lateral, legal, targeted military action in Syria, aimed at deterring the use of chemical weapons. But there are no easy answers in this debate and I entirely understand and respect the misgivings that have led some colleagues and party members to oppose such action.

Last night, Parliament made its opposition to military action clear and of course, the Government will abide by that decision.

I held an online Q&A with members earlier today. If you weren’t able to join in, you can see it here.

I want to assure you that we will not turn our backs on the millions of innocent Syrian civilians caught up in this horrific war.

Our priority is humanitarian aid for the refugees now huddling on the Syrian borders. We have already pledged nearly £350m of aid, making the UK the second largest donor in this crisis. Food, water, shelter and medicines are the least we can provide to those people torn from their homes by this civil war.

But of course, only a political process will end this war and allow those millions to return safely home. So, although Russia and China are likely to continue to thwart efforts even to act politically through the UN, we will continue to work actively to build the diplomatic chances for peace.

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Don’t forget you can catch up with all Nick Clegg’s past Letters from the Leader on LibDemVoice by clicking on this link.

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  • “But of course, only a political process will end this war …”

    What a strange statement from someone who has been advocating a military response.

  • Tony Harwood 1st Sep '13 - 11:44am

    Thankfully, there was Lib Dem gold on show at yesterday’s London demonstration against Western military intervention in the sectarian chaos of the Syrian civil war (and for meaningful even handed drive for peace through the UN without regime change pre-conditions). There were also many Syrians with experiences of this civil war which the British establishment / BBC neglect to acknowledge as they re-double their efforts to undo Thursday night’s historic Parliamentary Syria vote, and seek once again to pour fuel onto the tragic Levantine conflagration to – advance wider regional aims.

    The struggle to re-set the UK default intervention on Middle Eastern crises of cruise missiles, bombs and depleted uranium munitions to constructive peace-building through the UN is still not won. Liberal Democrats must do everything in their power to break this tragic cycle of self-defeating neo-imperialist gun boat diplomacy in the region. Sadly, Paddy has become the self appointed figure-head of the war lobby and other Lib Dem opinions are being drowned-out (particularly on the characteristically strident pro-establishment BBC, which thankfully has a waning influence over public opinion – even with ironc images of Iraq purported to be Syria). Our more thoughtful senior party figures (particularly in the Lords) need to ensure that moderate and constructive Liberal Democrat voices are heard too.

  • Nick Clegg should resign. How on earth can we seriously go into a general election with him as leader? He is a national hate figure.

  • Tony Dawson 1st Sep '13 - 1:53pm


    “He is a national hate figure.”

    That is not so. The emotion is rather more ‘negative indifference’ than hate. The most recent figures from Sunday Times/YouGov are:

    Have the leaders shown strong leadership over Syria?

    Cameron Has 39, Hasn’t 41, Net – 2

    Miliband Has 28, Hasn’t 46, Net -18

    Clegg Has 10 , Hasn’t 53, Net -43

    Are they doing well/badly as party leader?

    Cameron 36-55 Net -19

    Miliband 24-59 Net -35

    Clegg 20-67 Net -47

  • ‘Last night, Parliament made its opposition to military action clear and of course, the Government will abide by that decision.’

    That is not at all true. 272 MPs voted for the governments motion. 220 (different) MP voted for a similar motion with some additional conditions. So an overwhelming majority (85%+) of parliament voted (in principle at least) for military action if conditions were met.

  • Nom de Plume 1st Sep '13 - 2:35pm


    Agreed. Nick Clegg does not always express himself well. A war is a political process.

  • A note on the polls: even large swings in public opinion take some time to show up in polling, and smaller ones tend to get lost in the normal static. I would not expect to see certain evidence of an effect on opinion until after another two weeks; and of course, there may be little or no effect at all.

  • As Clausewitz argued, war is politics by another means.

    I worry about what some in the party would fight for, if chemical weapons is not to them a redline.

  • “As Clausewitz argued, war is politics by another means.”

    Surely you’re not seriously suggesting Nick Clegg had anything like that in mind?

    In the very next sentence he explicitly refers to “diplomatic chances for peace”!

  • A member of the House of Commons’ Committees on Arms Export Controls, is writing to Vince Cable and ask why the Coalition allowed export licences for potassium fluoride & sodium fluoride to Syria. [Both can be used in manufacture of chemical weapons].

    Also he’s tabling questions for the House. The government have refused to identify the companies it was supplied to.

  • @David 3.09pm

    YouGov’s Antony Wells disagrees with your view.

    On his UK Polling website today he wrote ”it would be a bit of a freakish co-incidence if one of those outlying polls just happened to come along the day after a big defeat for the government, so I expect it is showing a genuine increase to Labour’s poll lead.”

  • @ ATF

    re’I worry about what some in the party would fight for, if chemical weapons is not to them a redline.’

    I personally take very little involvement in international affairs but am just a bit surprised by the idea ciculating that the sarin attack was ‘definitely not the work of the rebels’. I note that on the BBC Carla del Ponte was stating that the rebels has been using Sarin

    I also watched the video in this news article (now unavailable) showing sarin being used by rebels. It simply shows a large calor gas like cannister being fired from a mortar.

    (WND are apparently a right wing political news channel opposed to Obama)

    I would have thought that it would be worth finding out who the people in this video are before stating categorically that the sarin attack was the work of the Assad regime. There are obviously bigger issues at stake than the sarin attack which seems to be one of many. It could be that both sides or one only are involved or that the videos are fabricated or misleading.

    We should also understand that there could be reasons why the US want to help the SRA. I note the provision of russian military hardware.

    I would not normally not post on these issues but find the assault on logic a bit hard to bear in this case. As political activists we should avoid being credulous on either side of this debate.

    This seems to be one of those ‘Asch’ moments that occurs in international politics.

    Ed Joyce

  • Nick acknowledges that “only a political process will end this war”. Russia and China have to be involved with this process. There is now at least a possibility that something could begin to happen at the G20 meeting in Russia: had we and the Americans now been lobbing missiles at Syria there would have been no prospect of progress in the short term.

  • daft ha'p'orth 1st Sep '13 - 6:00pm

    Many are willing to ‘fight’ (or more accurately, authorise others to fight) and view chemical weapons as a ‘redline’, but would nonetheless like to take reasonable steps to check that they are authorising appropriate military action upon the correctly identified culprits. Also, that the action taken is not poorly thought through. Such as, to to take a not unpredictable scenario at random, picking the wrong target, inadvertently releasing large quantities of neurotoxin, and making things a good deal worse. Not particularly unreasonable.

    The media has been up to the gunwales in manipulative propaganda. As such the whole thing clearly needs careful scrutiny. On another thread it has been suggested that MPs voted as they did because they are underinformed. That may be true but if so, it is resolvable through collection and sharing of information, not through handing out white feathers in an attempt to shame politicians into giving up and switching their brains off for the duration of the upcoming war. We’ve all seen enough of that in the last decade or so, thanks.

  • Tony Dawson 1st Sep '13 - 7:41pm

    @tonyhill :

    “Nick acknowledges that “only a political process will end this war””

    It’s a great shame that something kin to that wasn’t the first line of the government motion last Thursday. Together with some proposals to try to achieve this. That is irrespective of the military (?token?) intervention issue.

  • @daft ha’p’orth

    “Many are willing to ‘fight’ (or more accurately, authorise others to fight) and view chemical weapons as a ‘redline’, but would nonetheless like to take reasonable steps to check that they are authorising appropriate military action upon the correctly identified culprits”.

    On this, I’m with you100%. Where our differences may lie is that I was angry, and still am, that Parliament voted to not even wait for the UN to report before making up our minds and that we seemingly decided that we wouldn’t act no matter what happens. Whilst some seem to think that is a hawkish view, I’d say it is just realistic diplomacy.

    To take the adage of to walk softly and carry a big stick, we have in effect broken our stick infront of the Syrian regime. As such, our diplomatic efforts to end the conflict will now be vastly harder because Russian, China and Syria now know we won’t use force. If Parliament had voted for the motion this week but had not supported the second vote on action itself, we would still have that military option and it would still be some form of threat. Instead, all we have done is make our diplomatic, and potentially humanitarian, effort more difficult.

    Whilst many see the vote a victory over the leadership and government, I’d coutner that if it was any kind of victory it was only a pyrrhic victory.


    Haha! Nope, certainly not saying that was not Nick had in mind. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about during this period. It is also one of those classic quotes that takes on a whole different meaning when viewed in full, original context.

    @Ed Joyce.

    There is much I agree with in what you say, as there are many elements within the Syrian opposition that are as bad (if that is not a wholy pathetic term to use when describing people using chemical weapons and Al-Qaeda) as the Syrian government. But my feeling is that if we could, without putting boots on the ground, play a role in stopping one side which, as far as the evidence we have been presented with, is using chemcial weapons then that is something that as a country we should have kept open as an option rather than shutting down the possibility of doing so.

    I’m in firm agreement with you though that, to put it midly, this is an issue of great complexity in which there are no easy answers.

  • Seriously, I find it hard to understand how Clegg can have gone so far wrong. Is he really representing ANY Liberal Democrats?

  • David White 3rd Sep '13 - 2:45pm

    Hmm… I suggest that if The Dear Leader wants to go war against Assad and henchpersons he should join Al Qaeda. Go for it, Nick!

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