Opinion: Syria survey shows surprising consensus in complex situation

Yesterday afternoon I emailed about 1000 voters in Oxford West and Abingdon asking them for their views on Syria.

What is interesting is that despite the complexity of the situation, there has been broad consensus in their views. Many start by saying things like ‘I am no expert’ and ‘I am torn’ but when they explain their reasoning the convergence is clear.

I summarise the responses received so far in the hope that a) it has a cathartic effect on those who haven’t expressed their views as I suspect many people feel the same and b) to ask if this is the same across the country. I should add that the list comprised sympathetic voters and given the small sample size (about 50 returns) this can at best be described as a straw poll.

Not yet

I did not have a single positive response for military intervention at the present time. People were very reticent in their replies and recognised the atrocity in front of us. However the question ‘what if we make it worse?’ was most closely tied with this view. It is clear people need more information.

The majority of these people said they would only military intervention only if the proof of use of chemical weapons by Assad is irrefutable. Furthermore, we have to have UN backing and broad international consensus. This response was linked to Iraq and Nick Clegg is right in that if there is a case for going in, the Government would have to prove beyond doubt that we will not be repeating the mistakes of the past.

Many were exasperated that we are yet again America’s lapdog and pretending to be an Imperialist power or words to that effect. If we are trying to achieve consensus behind the scenes we need to show it. In particular people were keen to link to our EU partners and key players in the area such as the Arab League and Turkey.

A few said they are questioning their membership which is indicative of the depth of feeling expressed by almost all responses.

What we can do now?

One suggestion was to step-up the funding of humanitarian aid. With over a million children displaced I have much sympathy for this view. We are told by charities they are facing a funding crisis which suggests more could be done.

Others said they wanted a visible strengthening of diplomatic relations with surrounding Arab countries to try to stabilise the region. This fear, encapsulated by one response by ‘this has a 1914 feeling about it’, was that this conflict could so easily spiral out of control.

If we go in

Of those who had said they would consider going in given the right circumstances, they also said that If we do go in, we need a clear aim and endgame. The feeling of uncertainty of outcome seems to be a more compelling argument even in the face of the potential for war crimes.

So overall, a very sceptical, cautious response which overwhelmingly against intervention without much more proof of cause, aim and consequence.

Editor’s note: you can compare Layla’s results to the Liberal Democrat Voice Members’ survey results published earlier today.

* Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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  • Tony Greaves 29th Aug '13 - 8:58pm

    The House of Lords debate is still taking place, with an astonishing amount of agreement that the government has at the least not made the case yet for an attack on Syria and possibly never will. Still about two hours still to go. As I type Alan Watson (Lord Watson of Richmond) is the latest deep sceptic speaking.


  • David Pollard 29th Aug '13 - 10:18pm

    I agree with Tony Greaves.

  • Layla great initiative. I am broadly in line with the views expressed – having earlier in the week been more hawkish, driven by a deep commitment to R2P (as an aside,I would have voted for the government motion). Being from the neighbouring Banbury constituency I only wish we were more organized and had 1,000 committed voters in our database!

  • Layla

    This is a pretty well written article and conveys the concerns of many others. I’m glad you wrote it.

    There is a particular unease with any form of military action even if its firing a few missiles off a sub rather than invasion and the consensus of real unpredictability appears to be prescient even before the case can be made for evidence the regime is using chemical weapons stored in its depots. I noted it was difficult for all sides to concede that a measure can be contained and effective.

    The government neither made the case that the assad regime committed a war crime. It is optimÍstic that few are convinced by an argument that only the regime have the capacity to commit this act and therefore they did it. I think this is understandable when you do not wish to reveal the real sources (which themselves need verification) behind your suspicions.

    However, the government did make the point that the evidence was there for people to see for themselves that atrocities were being committed eg “openly available sources”. However, this justifies putting chemical weapons beyond use in the area and I noted the Government’s argument was not to do this but to deter the use of chemical weapons. What it means and is shown in your survey, is that the government just failed to make the case as the objectives were unclear. It didn’t ease or reassure.

    After the un inspectors report, you may find opinion changing but I believe the scepticism widely felt will continue irrespective of how hard the findings may be because the case for intervention isn’t being properly made. I was struck by Lord Ashdown’s point that not acting may just have more tantamount consequences as it raises the threshold by which chemical weapons can be used in warfare even further. There is a question of leadership during this time and it just hasn’t been shown in either House so far.

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