Not in my name – I’m not resigned to this

Later today, Liberal Democrat MPs will vote to support the extension of airstrikes in Syria.

Many people will disagree with this decision, as some others, who I respect, agree. Others will be upset. Some may even be on the point of resigning their party membership.

I’m writing today to explain why I’m staying to fight for what I believe in, within the Liberal Democrats.

I resigned from the party once before, over a series of events and ultimately the decision by Nick Clegg on tuition fees. The betrayal of trust I felt, rather than the actual policy was my final straw, which caused me to leave.

It’s a lonely place outside the party. You’re still a liberal, with a small l, knowing what you believe in. You acquire a different perspective, seeing all the liberals in all the parties, and wishing they would work all together more often. You quickly realise that by far the greatest number are in the Lib Dems.

Elections become difficult. You research the candidates, looking for the most liberal ones that will help your area. You vote Lib Dem, more often than not, because they still chime with your views.

However, that sense of loneliness persists. You can join a pressure group, but by their nature, they focus on one particular issue. You search for that overarching view, but it’s missing.

Above all, you miss the real Lib Dems. People who respect your views when you disagree with them. People who want to create real change in our society, like changing our voting system.

On that basis, I chose to rejoin. Warning – be careful if Liz Lynne is a social event if you’ve lapsed – she’s very persuasive. 

It was one of my best decisions. I shall always remember being able to go to Liverpool conference last year, and speak in the mental health debate. As someone who has suffered from depression, I knew I was in the right place, speaking up and making a difference.

The Syria debate today and the Government would be very different, if we had proportional representation. We’d be in power, probably as the junior partner. The Commons might be in favour of airstrikes, it might be against. However, the debate would be more liberal in its tone, if over 100+ Lib Dem MPs were present.

Therefore, I choose to stay. Tim Farron, who I campaigned for in the leadership election, I believe is wrong on Syria. I can wield the most influence inside of the Lib Dems, campaigning for our Syrian policy to be changed with campaigns like this.

To anyone thinking of leaving, that is your right. My advice having done it would be to take your time. Stay until the New Year, and make a decision then, after some reflection over the holidays.

In the long run, I’d ask you to stay. We need your support. There’s another vote coming up – one on Europe. We need every Lib Dem to stay and fight for remaining in the EU. To keep our influence inside, where it counts.

Staying inside the party is like staying inside the EU, when you disagree with it. We are strongest as liberals when we stand together, as individuals with different viewpoint, but as in numbers, with a common ideology.

Those of you thinking of resigning, I hope you choose to stay. I’ll respect your decision either way.

* Simon Foster is a lecturer in Politics and Economics, and has published twenty-five books on Politics, PSHE and Citizenship.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Thomas Shakespeare 2nd Dec '15 - 4:06pm

    Quite right Simon. This is a very difficult decision for our 8 MPs and I’d be reluctant to leave the party on the basis og such a difficult decision, notwithstanding the fact that I am liberal at heart.

  • Rod Hopkins 2nd Dec '15 - 4:32pm

    As one of those described by Cameron as a terrorist sympathiser for disagreeing with him over Syria I wish to register my dismay that the parliamentary party did not consult the membership before deciding which way to vote. I suspect that a large number of members can be contacted by email so despite the short period of time a poll could have been carried out and members views taken into account on a matters of such importance to the country.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Dec '15 - 4:40pm

    I always felt the MPs would split on this; I am watching with interest to see if all 8 really do vote in favour. But I feel the arguments are close; I feel more sympathy with those Labour MPs eg David Winnick who are saying that they vote against regretfully, feeling that a solution is likely to involve a plan for ground troops which the motion rules out.

    I have to say TIm Farron’s speech almost made me change my mind; a good, clear, articulate speech. But to have ALL our MPs vote with the government would be weird, weird, weird.

    There _is_ a diversity of views in this party, and there must continue to be. Stay with us, war-sceptics of all colours.

  • Simon Foster 2nd Dec '15 - 5:15pm

    Thank you all for the comments so far.

    One thing I would add is some people have asked me what I would do instead of airstrikes.

    I’ve written an article, the link to which is below, which answers that question.

    Best wishes, Simon

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Dec '15 - 5:18pm

    I am sitting in my office listening to the Lords debate and wondering what on earth I can say that is new in over an hour’s time. And I am only half way through the debate! So far my overall impression is that no-one has much idea of what can be done and the debate is between people who say “here is something to do so we must do it” and people who say “it won’t make any difference but will cause harm”. Apart from some Generals with ludicrous claims of what can be done.

    Tony Greaves

  • Steve Comer 2nd Dec '15 - 5:19pm

    I think the problem with this type of decision is that MPs get easily bamboozled by all the ‘experts’ in the intelligence industry, and the military-industrial complex. Very easy to spin the line that “we know a secret and if you knew what we know you would vote for air strikes too,” At one time pleading national interest and security would wash – but no longer.

    The cynicism in the Tory Governments action was laid bare by Cameron’s disgraceful remarks about ‘terrorist sympathisers’, which he has refuse to retract or clarify. The Tories have form for going to war for parety advantrage, mwhich those of us old enough to remember the Falkwalnds War remember only too well.political

  • Steve Comer 2nd Dec '15 - 5:21pm

    OOps apologies for typos – message posted before I’d finished correcting it.

    Last sentence should have read ” The Tories have form for going to war for party political advantage, which those of us old enough to remember the Falklands War remember only too well.”

  • Bill le Breton 2nd Dec '15 - 5:31pm

    Tony, perhaps these words will help you: All there is on the ground in Syria is chaos, blood and anger. We would simply be throwing more bombs into a furnace.
    And in the skies we have an increasingly precarious, unpredictable situation as US and Russian fighter jets operate in close proximity with two very different strategic objectives.
    Where Britain can help the people of Syria is by piling on the diplomatic and political pressure to secure a lasting settlement — working with unlikely partners from Iran to Russia — providing humanitarian relief and playing our role in giving overt and covert advice and support to the Free Syrian Army and other moderate forces within Syria. Cameron said this a year ago. It was the right approach then and it remains so now.
    Recently, Tony Blair rightly said that we should ensure that any final peace agreement in Syria has our imprint on it, and not just Russia’s. But playing catch-up with other people’s bombing raids is hardly the most effective way of doing so.
    Dropping bombs on Syria is, in many ways, the easiest option: it gives the impression of doing something about the conflict, when in truth it will do little to alter the rhythm of war.
    The Government wants to reassert itself on the international stage. It hates standing idly by as others send their war planes into Syrian skies. The Prime Minister senses a change in the public mood because of the refugee crisis. And the Conservatives sense a political opportunity in the wake of Corbyn’s election as Labour leader. But none of those factors is a good enough reason for acts of war.
    Parliament should not be asked to pronounce on a pinprick bombing adventure that will do little to change the tragic circumstances on the ground. We should focus British efforts where they can really make a difference — and Parliament should push the Government to demonstrate it has a strategy to do just that.”

  • I need to work out whether I can convince people that they should vote Lib Dem.

    I can argue that coalition decisions – secret courts, tuition fees, welfare cuts – were part of plural politics, and were ultimately not Lib Dem policy. But this is what we’ve done on our own. Tim’s 5 tests were not met, and yet we’re still backing air strikes. That’s a quite a u-turn – and one that demands an answer to the question “how can you trust the Lib Dem position not to be quickly reversed when it matters most”. And if you can’t answer that question satisfactorily, it’s hard to argue to anyone that voting Lib Dem is the solution.

    I want an answer. I want to stay. But I can’t lie to myself. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror. I called Labour opponents of the Iraq War who did not resign hypocrites. What does that make me if I stay?

  • Rich Ingram 2nd Dec '15 - 6:01pm

    I think any party has a range of views and If everyone only joined a party that 100% matched their views we would have thousands if not millions of political parties. I am a member of the Libdems because it most closely matches my views but this is not to say that the match is 100% all the time. I know for some this may be a resigning issue but I would ask them to like across the range of views the Libdems have across many issues from Housing, human rights and the environment.

    I would also add those who don’t agree have not been called terrorist sympathisers and Cameron was crass as per usual he did not label all those who were against as such if you read his words . Lets not get drawn into petty party politics on such an important issue. Those watching todays debate will have thought it was about MP’s falsely hurt feelings and not a serious discussion over increasing the area we are already bombing.

  • Steve Comer 2nd Dec '15 - 6:02pm

    Well said William!

  • I believe that if we are to take action we need to fully commit to boots on the ground, the creation of safe areas where civilians are protected, tackling the funding of Daesh and its arms supply and finding an effective means to prevent radicalization of the young in Western societies

  • William – you may not have to persuade people to vote LibDem. Unlike the secret courts, tuition fees, welfare cuts etc which made the LibDems deeply unpopular, military action is – according to the polls – supported by most of the population. Off course it’s not the reason Tim decided to go down this path – and it could see a few members leave – but overall it’s likely to be a vote winner.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Dec '15 - 6:25pm

    ‘You can join a pressure group, but by their nature, they focus on one particular issue. ‘

    Well there you have it. Political parties are not pressure groups. If you join any political party expecting it to be a pressure group than you are likely in for a rude awakening. Political parties are not vehicles for our own world view; they do not exist to legislate for our whims and enact our prejudices. Politics and government are not the same thing and we do not live in a democracy, we live in a constitutional system. Democracy is not, ‘the outcome I want.’

    It is rare indeed that I have sympathy for our political classes, but on the Syria vote I’m coming close. MPs have had to grapple with a set of issues here that are formidable, contradictory and have no easy answers. They are acting by and large in good faith. . Frankly it’s us, the public at large who are letting the side down here. Granted, the comment has a certain, ‘it’s the internet,’ about it. However Syria seems to becoming everyone’s favourite grindstone and no axes are being left unground.

    It is notable that for all the talkboard fire and brimstone about not joining air-strikes there seem to be very, very few people talking about a credible alternative. Sadly Jeremy Corbyn has drawn a blank. Farron’s five tests were seductive perhaps but ran the risk of being an exercise in demanding everyone else comes up with answers whilst neatly side-stepping the need for him to say much. That risk looks more than theoretical.

    Look – for what it’s worth on balance if I had a vote I’d be casting it not to join the airstrikes. However I can not and will not go from that stance to a priori moral condemnation of anyone who disagrees. Almost everything is a balance, only the balances here are stark and divisive. Political parties have to reflect that if for no reason other than that politics is not a therapy session for our own frustrations.

  • @malc, that’s not the point, but thanks for replying. My point is how can I trust any position the parliamentary party take now, when they are prepared to u-turn and support airstrikes despite the 5 tests not being passed?

    If they do it on this issue, they could do it on any issue. And knowing that this renders what we say our positions are almost worthless, how can I ever ask anyone to vote Lib Dem again?

  • Simon Foster 2nd Dec '15 - 6:28pm


    In answer to your response, I can canvass. In fact, I’m doing some recruitment work for a local party right now, because the best thing in these situations is to go out and find some new member, IMHO.

    What I would say about Syria when recruiting:

    I disagree with the approach our MPs have taken today. The best thing about being a Liberal Democrat is that I can agree or disagree with our MPs, and our leader, and still influence events. Our conference in March in York will determine policy for the first time by one member, one vote. Ordinary party members like myself can speak and vote on policy, and may defeat the leadership. I shall be very surprised if Syria is not debated at a future conference.

    Bearing that in mind, would you like to join the Liberal Democrats, to help us fight for a more liberal Britain, at every level of society, and so that you get a vote in determining Lib Dem policy?

    I’d take a similar line when canvassing.

    Our party is not perfect, but we’re way ahead of the Tories and Labour on internal party democracy at political conferences.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Dec '15 - 6:29pm

    William – ‘I need to work out whether I can convince people that they should vote Lib Dem. ‘

    No. People can and should make that choice for themselves. People are adults with agency, capable of making good-faith value judgments. So much comment about Syria seems to be treating the public as dumb.

  • Jackie – Nearly every woman I’ve seen speak in the House of Commons – with the exception of the SNP ladies – has been a supporter of military action. I really don’t think it’s got anything to do with an MP’s sex.

  • John Roffey 2nd Dec '15 - 7:26pm

    According to Wikipedia ‘deaths resulting from the first four years of the Iraq War estimated that between 151,000 to over one million Iraqis died as a result of conflict during this time’.

    This is the root cause of the rise of ISIS – who are we to say what the reaction of those wrongly invaded should be? There certainly have not been a fraction of this number of citizens from the invading nations killed in response – and thank goodness there will not be.

    It seems a great pity that after the Party, led by Charles Kennedy – had opposed the invasion of Iraq – did not stick with that view with regard to meddling in the ME ever since.

    I had wondered after the Party’s MPs had decided to support the bombing of Syria – who was the individual or individuals who were so persuasive to be able to convince all of the MPs to support the bombing. Having watched Paddy Ashdown, a military man, interviewed on Sky – I believe my question was answered!

  • Harry Hayfield 2nd Dec '15 - 7:30pm

    This has been my Facebook status all day: “As I will be in Carmarthen for the whole of today (helping my grandparents with their craft event at the St. Peter’s Civic Hall) I will not be able to watch all of today’s debate on Syria. However, I would just like to ask those MP’s who I happen to know on Facebook to consider the following idea when voting in the lobbies, “Is your vote this evening going to a) ensure that Syria is able to transition from a state with a rebellion against the incumbent government to a state with a fully functioning, local, democracy? b) that it will (in the words of the President of the US) “degrade and destroy” Daesh and c) that following any successful conclusion to the above, there is a long term withdrawal scheme so that we have no military encampments there (as we have had in Iraq and Afghanistan) for longer than is required. If the answer to any of these questions is “NO” then I would ask you to either abstain or vote against”. Once the vote is held, I shall try and ask Mark Williams (Lib Dem, Ceredigion) to explain why he voted the way he did and I will probably make a decision based on that answer.

  • John Roffey 2nd Dec '15 - 7:48pm

    John Hemming 2nd Dec ’15 – 7:43pm

    “Our allies are asking for support. Why should we refuse?”

    Because they are wrong!

  • John Roffey 2nd Dec '15 - 7:57pm

    From what I know – it appeared that Paddy Ashdown was also responsible for ensuring that NC did not step down as leader after the EU elections – when it was clear that he should.

    Had a new leader been installed at that time – it is very likely that the Party would now have more than 30 MPs – and its view on the Syrian bombing might have been important.

  • Little Jackie Paper 2nd Dec '15 - 8:11pm

    John Hemming – Interesting point that. For all the fire and brimstone about the lack of democracy in the EU, what about the UN. No one ever seems to want to take a very hard-headed look at that. Given that a lot of people seem to think we should outsource decisions on war to the UN the lack of serious questioning of the UN seems all the more odd. I never understood why, over Iraq, everyone was so obsessed about a UN resolution. I’d have been opposed to action in Iraq even if the UN had said A-OK.

    At its bluntest why would war (‘killing people’ to use the talkboard parlance) somehow be more acceptable by dint of the UN’s say-so?

    A sceptical look at the UN is very, very long overdue.

    This is not to say that the geopolitical dimension to Syria is unimportant. It plainly is. But this is yet another example of everyone looking to the UN for reasons that aren’t obvious to me.

  • John Roffey 2nd Dec '15 - 8:30pm

    Joe Otten 2nd Dec ’15 – 8:24pm

    Joe – do you find that you can type as well with your tounge firmly stuck in you cheek?

  • John Barrett 2nd Dec '15 - 8:35pm

    Little Jackie Paper – It’s worth people who hold the UN and its Security Council in high regard remembering that the five permanent members of the Security Council (including the UK) are by and large the worlds largest arm producers and exporters.

    Why anyone regards that group as the right one to decide when a war is legal or not clearly does not believe that declaring an interest should mean that they should be excluded from key votes especially where they may have supplied the arms which are fueling the war they are discussing.

    The USA and UK were major suppliers of weapons to Iraq, They then used a UN Security Council resolution as the justification for invading it.

    Is it only me that finds all this completely mad?

  • Liberals fundamentally believe in freedom. Freedom is never free, you have to be prepared to stand up and fight for it. Particularly so, when those that have been robbed of it (i.e. those in areas now controlled by IS, refugees, etc.) are unable to do so themselves. Tim is absolutely right as is Cameron. Thank goodness Corbyn is not PM, long May that remain the case.

  • Simon Foster 2nd Dec '15 - 8:50pm

    Our parties view on the Syrian bombing is important I believe, John. Where I agree with you is that our MPs views could have been a lot more important, had there been more of them, as I alluded to in my article above.

    It’s one reason why David Cameron was talking to Tim Farron and others this week about this issue privately, in a way Cameron was not talking to the SNP or Corbyn, because the latter were always going to vote against.

  • Simon: I’ll see you for another haircut at Glee, then?

  • “It’s one reason why David Cameron was talking to Tim Farron and others this week about this issue privately,”

    I suspect that David is also missing the LibDem influence and assistance in keeping in check the extreme elements of his party as he probably doesn’t want to see a shift to the right that could cause the Conservatives to lose the middle ground…

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Dec '15 - 10:36pm

    Bill le Breton 2nd Dec ’15 – 5:31pm

    Well said Bill.

  • suzanne fletcher 2nd Dec '15 - 10:37pm

    resign from the party / split the party – ISIL will be delighted
    (from someone choked at the result and our party’s stance)

  • Simon Foster 3rd Dec '15 - 12:05am

    For those wondering, 6 of our MPs voted in favour of airstrikes. The two against were Mark in Ceredigion and Norman in North Norfolk who voted against. There were no abstentions in the Lib Dems.

  • Simon Foster 3rd Dec '15 - 12:38am

    Updated – the Thunderclap I’m running until 16th December for anyone against the airstrikes in Syria. Please tweet and share on facebook and other social media, as widely as possible:

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Dec '15 - 12:55am

    About this Thunderclap: there’s no way Cameron is pulling out of airstrikes for a while now. Best thing to do is to hold him to account on civilian casualties and anti-radicalisation, also refugees too.


  • Well said John Hemming. And on this talk of resignation – why on earth would someone be relaxed about what we are doing in Iraq but upset to the point of considering resignation about us doing so in Syria (where we can actually target the evil people in charge)? Bizarre. It just reflects a general “all military action must be terrible” tendency which is just as bad as being gung ho.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Dec '15 - 9:36am

    Stephen, thank you, but don’t congratulate me, ( for comment above Dec 2 at 5.31 pm) they were the words of Nick Clegg – 8th October 2015 here -

    Benn’s speech was interesting. One must look forward to how he proposes to fight the fascists of the Syrian regime, the Iranian regime and Putin’s Russia. He addressed step one on the chessboard, when the really difficult and resultant issues are steps two, three and four.

    Assad’s regime apparently killed 1,000 civilians last month. If at the end of this process, Putin does not have a military base and port facilities in Syria, we can expect ‘face saving’ incursions in more of the Ukraine and in Moldova. Which is not to forget the complexities of our NATO ally Turkey and the Kurds.

  • Typo at the top:
    [be careful if Liz Lynne is a social event]
    [be careful if Liz Lynne is AT a social event]

    please correct it and delete this post

  • David Evershed 3rd Dec '15 - 4:14pm

    Extending the war against ISIL across the Iraq borders into Syria is necessary but not sufficient to eliminate ISIL. Because it is a contribution to the defeat of ISIL, it should be supported.

    Logically those who argue against bombing should also argue against bombing ISIL in Iraq since that is also necessary but not sufficient to defeat ISIL.

    It is good to see Lib Dems and Conservatives on the same side again and opposed to the majority of the Labour party.

  • David Evershed. You think this is party politics then? The people of Syria should not be a pawn in that game.

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