The Syria Vote and Beyond – Radical Ideas for Difficult Problems

This Saturday, there is a day conference for Liberal Democrat members on the Syrian issue, sponsored by Lib Dem Lawyers association, Liberal International, and the Lib Dem Christian Forum.

It looks excellent.

To quote from the organisers, the event is to “discuss/disagree/learn from others in a respectful way to promote better understanding”.

It won’t be for recriminations over the vote in parliament or looking backwards; but rather an event where we can all learn a lot, and share forward-looking ideas.

In the Lib Dems, we’ve a wide range of opinions over Syria. There certainly are in the Social Democrat Group. I suspect, we all have a lot to learn, I certainly do. But, by and large, we want the same outcomes and there may be more agreement than we realise.

Syria is possibly the most complex foreign affairs issue for fifty years. The organisers have provided some links for background reading, and it’s clear from these that this will be a very thoughtful and serious event.

Congratulations to Graham Colley for organising it.

I’m going, and I’m looking forward to a fascinating and productive day.

The Syria Vote and Beyond – Radical Ideas for Difficult Problems
9.30 to 17.00, this Saturday, 9th Jan,
Bermondsey Village Hall, Kirby Grove, London SE1 3TD
Pre-register here (before Thursday, £25, £10 for concessions)

* George Kendall is the acting chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

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This entry was posted in Events and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jan '16 - 3:57pm

    This is good, but let’s also rediscover a big picture view on foreign policy. We are acting like foreign policy begins in Europe and stops in the Middle East. Anything further away is seen to be about economics and nothing else, which it isn’t, and Cameron and Osborne are partly to blame for this.

    We need to take a similar approach to the United States post WW2. Support democracy and human rights, but don’t chuck troops into quagmires like Vietnam.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jan '16 - 4:31pm

    Yes I agree George with working closely with allies. UK can be pushed around much more easily than the US, so we need to work closely with them, Europe and I would add Japan too. A big foreign power we hardly talk about.

  • Graham Evans 5th Jan '16 - 6:53pm

    @Eddie Sammon The reality is that the UK can be pushed around by the USA, China, Russia, and even Saudi Arabia.”Working closely with them” in practice therefore means dancing to one or other of their tunes, simply because the balance of power is so far in their favour. On the other hand, in our dealings with the EU we are major player, on a par if we so wish with France and Germany, and when the EU acts together it has the capacity to stand up for our interests, as well as fellow EU members states. The tragedy of the EU and the UK is that we have never recognized both the strength and weakness of our position in the world.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jan '16 - 7:38pm

    Hi Graham, if people struggle to push Turkey around then they should struggle to push the UK around too. We don’t need to go burning relationships, but we should be able to criticise who we like. If they want to try to bully us by trying to burn relations with them then so be it. We can win over the hearts and minds of their citizens by standing up for their people’s rights.

  • Jonathan Brown 6th Jan '16 - 12:17am

    I’d argue that we haven’t seen much responsibility or leadership from the US on Syria, although I think you’re right that the US is critical to any solution.

    I’m looking forward to Saturday – it should be interesting. It’s certainly well overdue!

  • Really glad this event is happening, but sorry that I cxan not make it.

    @George Kendall. Yes, I agree that we are only a medium power, but will become much less if we should insanely leave the EU, and far less should the UK break up as a result. Actually, our key allies are the rest of the EU, and the leverage therein … a great sadness is that the Cameron government has already squandered much of the foreign policy leadership that the UK once enjoyed in the EU. The USA looks to Germany first on Eastern Europe and Russia, to France on the Mediterranean basin. Our relationship with the USA will be sorely strained should, God forbid, Trump ever become President.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jan ’16 – 3:57pm…………We need to take a similar approach to the United States post WW2. Support democracy and human rights, but don’t chuck troops into quagmires like Vietnam………..

    Eddie,the idea that, post WW2, the US ‘supported democracy and human rights’ is laughable…The US supported any regime who, in their view,opposed ‘Communism’ and actively helped remove those who were seen as ‘Leftish’, by the US definition of left…(1954 Guatemalan coup d’état, the 1964 Brazilian coup d’état, the 1973 Chilean coup d’état and the support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua)…

    Our ‘Special Relationship’ is the equivalent of ‘being in a Big Boy’s gang’…To quote Marriott Edgar,”we can do what we like, So long as we do what we’re told.”…… The 1956 Suez fiasco should show how much ‘independent’ action we can take on the world stage and the 1983 US invasion of Grenada should show how the relationship works……

    I am not anti-American ( having lived and worked for over 10 years in the US) but i believe that, to put it mildly, the Iraq, Libya and Syria interventions were not in their, or our, best interests..

  • @ expats. Completely agree. Those of us who remember the 60’s and 70’s recall that the US has a lot to answer for – particularly in South America and Vietnam. One of the best things Harold Wilson did was to keep us out of Vietnam.

    It always struck me as ironic that 100 years ago the US was hostile to the imperialism of the British Empire – but then post WW2 took over that very role themselves.

    Again, like you, expats, agree that there is also a liberal strand in parts of the US polity.

  • Personally. I take the view that our best interests are not served by involvement with the various schisms in the Middle East and we could simplify the complexities by taking path of minimal interference. There appears to be no pig appetite in Britain deeper military engagement, whilst increasingly our European partners are closing their boarders. In short we should follow the examples of Canada and Australia. To me one of the big problems facing Liberalism is a failure to listen to the electorate and a tendency to put too much weight behind international bodies. Maybe, we should spend more time championing liberal causes at home rather than trying to shape international events we have little control over. The Lib Dems have 8 MP’s mostly elected on strong local campaigns and we have very little influence on the world stage.

  • Sorry for the typos, couldn’t find my glasses.

  • George Kendall 6th Jan ’16 – 4:05pm………Thanks for the comments, guys…expats..I read Eddie as referring to the USA policy immediately after WW2, prior to the start of the cold war. That was a time of great success for democracy, in particular in West Germany and Japan…….

    Sorry George but the ‘cold war’ started even before the end of WW2…It started on April 23, 1945 with President Trueman, who was a long time hater of communism, determined to stamp his authority on all future relations with the USSR….The ‘meeting’ ended with Molotov walking out. Truman was so delighted with his own performance that he boasted that he gave the Soviet official “the straight one-two to the jaw.” …In 1947 the Truman Doctrine, promising to contain Communism, became the blueprint for American foreign policy….

    BTW….The USSR had the same ambitions to spread Communism but, although we accept their excesses as ‘bad’, the US ‘excesses’ are so often forgotten/forgiven…

  • Excellent George , as is his usual form ! Have to say very disappointed with choice of venue re meeting . How s any one in London to get there let alone from outside ! The whole point of Liberal International being at the National Liberal Club is accessibility as it s in central London ! Bermondsey ?!

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Jan '16 - 5:14pm

    Hi people, what I meant by copying the US after WW2 is to have a strong foreign policy, but not going back to the days of supporting empire. As far as I am aware the US was strongly anti colonialist during this period in order to maintain the moral high ground in the fight against communism.

  • Jonathan Brown 7th Jan '16 - 1:39am

    @George Kendall – I quite agree that lack of action from the US is not a reason or an excuse to do nothing. I don’t hold out much hope for the chances of the Vienna talks however. We have only bad options, but by continually refusing to choose one, the range just keeps getting worse.

  • Jonathan Brown 7th Jan '16 - 1:43am

    @Lorenzo – a few minutes’ walk from London Bridge is hardly the edge of the world, even for a ‘north of the river’ Londoner!

    I suspect Bermondsey Village Hall was somewhat cheaper to hire than the NLC…

  • Jonathan , I am south of the river born and bred and live in recent years in Nottingham , I think anyone who feels on a Saturday , they can navigate to such places by 9. am on London transport and pay good money for it is worthy of an award ! The National Liberal club should not , if they do , charge much , what was the point of ridding themselves of their hotel accommodation if not to gain financially ! Mid day onwards on a Saturday , at a location in centre of any city is civilised human behaviour !

  • George Kendall 7th Jan '16 - 3:46pm

    @lozenzo, from the web page, I think it’s really 930 for 10. But, from personal experience, these things are really tough to organise. Any schedule and location will be horrible for some people, and if you choose an expensive location, you exclude some local people by making the registration price too high.

    I’m just grateful to the organisers for their initiative and work.

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