Opinion: Syria vote – A step change in Britain’s relationship with the world

the_master_of_the_ordnance_500Yesterday’s Commons vote on intervention in Syria is a landmark. And a surprise.

All day I had been reading the pundits in the national press and listening to the BBC. No one expected the government to lose the vote. Least of all the government.

My view is that is one of the most significant votes in our recent history.

This perhaps – hopefully – is the moment when we stop believing we are a world power. At long last we, or at least our parliament, believe that we cannot bomb our way to peace. This could be the point where we believe our best interests, and those of the world, lie in using our financial and political resources to promote a world that works without war.

If only such an informed debate had taken place over Iraq. But then, yesterday’s debate could not have happened without our disastrous intervention in that country. Around 65 people died in Iraq two days ago. This death toll is not that unusual. But nobody much notices anymore and these deaths are rarely reported. We didn’t create peace in Iraq – yet the stated objectives of military actions the world over is to establish peace.

Last night’s Commons vote was an urge to find peaceful solutions in the face of violence and destruction. But, regrettably, it won’t change the world.

Already, the American press is reporting that Obama will go it alone with military action. That’s wrong. America is not the world’s policeman. Neither are we.

It’s time to stop thinking that bombing works. Killing innocents in an attempt to punish the guilty has not made the world a better place.

We should lead by example. It’s time to give peace a chance.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • We is we gave been giving a peace a chance for over 3 years. Has it worked?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 30th Aug '13 - 8:13am

    Violence begets violence! Thankfully a number of our MP’s voted with their conscience and helped defeat Cameron’s warmongering.

    I have no answer to the problems in Syria, but I believe that military intervention is not the answer.

  • “… international law dictates that we should act.”

    If international law says anything, it says you should try to protect the civilians. I haven’t yet seen any explanation of how a one-off bombardment of the Syrian military infrastructure, followed by a return to inaction, could do that. Certainly it’s all too believable that it could make matters worse in the medium to long term.

    Perhaps people should produce some reasoned arguments rather than banging on and on about “innocent children”. After all, tens of thousands of children have been killed by conventional means in Syria over the last two years.

  • Paddy Ashdown (depressed and embarrassed by his country) has just asked “rhetorically” why we still have armed forces. Of all the reputations that may have fallen during the last 24 hours this for me plunges Paddy further down than any. This has been an important decision in part because it changes the landscape, but the idea that no intervention will ever be possible again seems ridiculous.

  • Might be worth thanking Labour and a few Tories for this . The LibDems, now the only pro war party.

  • Ed – I suspect Paddy (and Stephen Tall) are reacting a little emotionally to their defeat, and more sensible comments will follow when a greater sense of perspective has settled in.
    Gary – 24 Lib Dems did not support the government!
    Jedi Beef Trix – Labour’s amendment was hardly a pacifist one, even if some opportunistic and/or secret pacifists supported it!
    Andy – original article – I admire your idealism, and genuinely hope you will be proved right in the long run. But parliament did not reject military force last night; it merely failed to agree sufficiently on HOW military force should be applied. The situation this morning is a bit of a dog’s breakfast, to be frank. But I do agree that last night was significant, since future government’s will probably need to consult parliament before any significant military action, and probably need to behave much more circumspectly than we have seen over past days in order to obtain it’s consent.
    What we need to guard against in the coming days is any suggestion (from hawks on all sides) that this debacle means that in future, prime ministers should avoid consulting parliament because it is too difficult. We have made a small but important step towards a more peaceful – and I think, more effective – foreign policy, and hopefully a more peaceful world, but we need to be realistic about what has been acheived, consolidate this hard-won ground, and guard against those who would have us backslide for whatever reason. And I can think of a fair few reasons why some very powerful people might privately want to do so, mostly to do with making money and preserving or creating lucrative business interests overseas or in the ‘defence’ industry. They will endeavour to tell us that last night was a disaster, that Britain is belittled, that the special relationship is damaged, that the sky itself might fall in. They will tell us that prime ministers must have the unassailable right to act in the national interest (i.e. in their interest, especially if they are funding his party!). They will exploit anti-pacifist sentiment, or the unreasonable sadness of Paddy Ashdown, and every other weapon they can think of. Let us not underestimate their power to persuade, but let us be strong in countering these arguments; in arguing the case for a new, more constructive policy abroad, building alliances with friends, respecting and developing the framework of international law, emphasising the importance of international institutions like the EU, the and the UN, for resolving differences and forging compromises in order that we might live together in peace on this small planet. We do not need to give up our right to defend ourselves and our friends against aggression, but neither should we be aggressive when it is unwise. We need to be assertive in face of threats to peace and liberty, but military action should be a last resort, not the default option, whenever a tyrant whom we happen to oppose does something terrible.

  • Tony Greaves 30th Aug '13 - 2:58pm

    “Might be worth thanking Labour and a few Tories for this . The LibDems, now the only pro war party.”

    All the party leaderships were pro-attack. Just differing a bit on the timing and conditions.

    With a majority of 13, the nine (or eleven) LD MPs who voted against the government motion made the difference. They are Liberal Heroes.


  • Richard Dean 30th Aug '13 - 6:29pm

    This is possibly the moment when the world realises we are no longer a world power, just a small nation with 1% of the world’s population. But real questions remain.

    How can we help the ordinary Syrian men, women, and children who are being bombed and shot and gassed and abused in so many ways?

    How can we do this in a timely fashion, before they are actually dead?

  • “This is possibly the moment when the world realises we are no longer a world power, just a small nation with 1% of the world’s population.”

    I never understand this argument. Surely making a principled stand and not going along with whatever the US tells us signals to the rest of the world that we are a big, mature country rather than a small lapdog.

  • Richard Dean 31st Aug '13 - 12:19am

    @Steve. You have addressed the irrelevant issue and ignored the relevant ones. What should I conclude?

  • “This perhaps – hopefully – is the moment when we stop believing we are a world power. ” We all know that we are not a world power – we are a middle ranking power with important alliances NATO, EU, the Commonwealth and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, with military forces envied by many in the world. Although we have made many mistakes as a nation, we can still be an important force for good in the world including in the difficult area of R2P (responsibility to protect). These are important assets and relationships to build upon and use wisely for the common good. I sincerely hope (and do not believe) that the historic vote on Thursday is a retreat to neo-isolationism for the UK; I do hope it sets in stone that we will never go to war in future without parliamentary approval. And yes, as a Christian, I do believe war … or any military intervention is a last resort . Syria is a truly challenging case for us all to get things right… I would say the most difficult that I have encountered in my life.

  • Charles Beaumont 31st Aug '13 - 9:32pm

    People announcing turning points are invariably wrong. France didn’t join the Iraq intervention and yet today is seen as “more” influential than UK (many wrote off France in 2003). All this proves is a continuation of Cameron’s disdain for party management and his typically old-Etonian assumption that people will just agree with him because he’s right. Meanwhile he ignored the very clear rumblings of dissent from his MPs.

    I’ve no doubt we’ll find ourselves in an overseas entanglement at some point fairly soon. We always do.

  • Nothing that has happened changes the fact that the United Kingdom has a distinctive and unique rôle to play on the world stage. That rôle is dictated, as usual, by geography. Because of its situation, the UK is in the remarkable position of being both a European power and an Atlantic power — and for both geographic and historical reasons, forming the cultural bridge between the Continent and North America. This is more than ample scope for the exercise of British power.

    What the UK is not is the centre of a world empire, for which every outbreak (or potential outbreak) of violence in the world becomes an occasion for extending Britannia’s power. That is all to the good. The Empire was a headache and a curse to both rulers and subjects, and the mantle of world leadership turns out to contain the poison of Nessus. The UK will find its influence increase rather than diminish if it acts within and through those institutions in which it plays (or should play) a leading rôle: NATO, the EU, and the UN.

    As for France, one may recall that she was the former colonial power in Syria, and wonder if her positions are really wholly disinterested.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarYusuf Osman 19th Oct - 6:59pm
    Thank you very much Paul for your fascinating articles and insights. You've given me a much needed reminder that I have a book about Rosa...
  • User AvatarAlex Sabine 19th Oct - 6:47pm
    @ Joe Burke "Capital instead is more often invested in rent-seeking activities such as residential property and interest bearing financial assets that siphon off economic...
  • User AvatarLiberalise 19th Oct - 6:42pm
    I partly agree with Simon McGrath, and i guess by extension Swinson: it should be the idea and language of fighting poverty on which we...
  • User AvatarJoeB 19th Oct - 5:49pm
    Vince makes a key point when he says: "Our current tax system, by focusing on income rather than wealth, facilitates the accumulation of unearned assets...
  • User AvatarNonconformistradical 19th Oct - 5:25pm
    I see Lewis Hamilton is thinking about it.. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/oct/19/kneel-lewis-hamilton-us-gp-f1
  • User AvatarMartin 19th Oct - 5:13pm
    Antony Hook lays bare (again) the utter incoherence of Brexit and that it is self evident that there can be no democratic consensus behind any...