NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Sunday 29th November 2015
The brutal attacks on Paris and the persistent threat from ISIL jihadists have ensured that national and international security remain at the forefront of all our minds. Few would argue that we can turn a blind eye to the continued menace of this brutal death cult any longer.
British Members of Parliament will in all likelihood be asked later this week to decide on whether our existing RAF air strikes on ISIL in Iraq should be allowed to extend over the border into ISIL safe haven terrain in Syrian territory.
So this weekend, as I make up my mind on how to vote, I am keen to look at the detailed evidence and listen to your views – and I am grateful to the many people who have already written to me already expressing their thoughts, both for and against targeted air strikes against ISIL’s headquarters. Nobody wants to deploy military force unless absolutely required. So I need to judge if targeted air strikes are indeed ‘absolutely required’. There are so many questions to weigh up here, and my thoughts on some of these questions – so far – are as follows:
Is ISIL an immediate threat which should be degraded and contained – or can we leave things for a while longer in hope for a more perfect strategy? It appears to me that the balance of risk suggests urgency is required.
Do we have a sufficiency of international consensus and authority from the United Nations to tackle the ISIL safe haven located in what were the borders of the Syrian state? Not only have the UN unanimously allowed ‘all necessary measures’ to be taken in resolution 2249, but they are actively calling on all members states to take such steps.
Is there a legal basis for extending the existing action in Iraq over the border into Syria? The British airstrikes on targets inside Iraqi territory have been conducted under international law at the request of the Iraqi government in support of their self-defence, and undoubtedly many of Iraq’s assailants are conducting operations from areas that used to be Syrian Government territory now occupied by ISIL.
Is there a direct risk from ISIL to us here in Britain? I am seeking further detailed briefings from the security authorities on this point over the coming days, but the Prime Minister reports that seven terrorist attacks by ISIL on the UK have, fortunately, be thwarted this year. Sadly the attacks on so many British citizens in Tunisia could not be prevented.
Is there an imperative to come to the aid of the French in their self-defence following the atrocities in Paris – or should we decline to assist? The request from the French President to each British Member of Parliament for solidarity with their approach is something I find difficult to ignore.
Could negotiations be a better means of addressing the ISIL threat? I would only agree to air strikes if I am convinced that every other realistic prospect of diplomacy has been exhausted.
Is there a credible alternative strategy that can eliminate ISIL’s safe haven in the near future? I want to see an international dialogue conducted in parallel with any intervention and addressing issues of funding and armament supplies for ISIL far more effectively – but this process on its own does not seem sufficient to tackle the immediate threat posed.
Would air strikes against ISIL in Syria ‘inflame’ the situation more than our current air strikes in Iraq? There is always a risk of further retaliation but I think ISIL already hate and despise us as much as is humanly possible. We should not infantilise those engaged in such heinous acts as they are adults capable of making their own minds up and shaping their own behaviour. The beheadings, mass murders, rapes, abuse of minorities, unspeakable atrocities towards Yazidi women and children, these are all active choices of grown men who are not doing so in ‘reaction’ to us.
Are we paying attention to lessons learned from past interventions? I have been publicly pressing the Prime Minister – twice this week – to listen to concerns about a stronger humanitarian component safeguarding refugees in any package of measures, and also a serious commitment to post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation. These are reassurances I have been seeking. Some British interventions in the past have not succeeded, but others have. I am not sure that the argument “everything is bound to fail so never take military action” is borne out by history.
If airstrikes are extended against ISIL in Syria, is there a guarantee that this will lead to a comprehensive solution to the problem? No, I don’t think we can be totally certain of this, given the competing objectives of some the countries who have nevertheless come together with a common goal of eradicating ISIL. There is much work to be done to develop the long-term plan and I expect there will be setbacks and diplomatic wrangles. Yet stepping away from the immediate international focus on ISIL could make that comprehensive solution less, rather than more likely. British involvement should depend on a push for that consensus on the ISIL targeted focus. But the need to degrade ISIL’s capabilities remains urgent and I worry that postponing any efforts here could cause them to be stronger over that long-term period.
There are other questions besides these – and I hope that whether you agree or disagree when I eventually cast my vote, by now you know I am committed to a regular ongoing dialogue (my apologies for going on at such length again!) as I try to keep an open-mind to the evidence, the arguments and alternative points of view. All I can do is try my best to be guided by what I judge to be in the best interests of all my constituents, our country and the wider international community as I come to a conclusion.
If you want to see the latest exchange between the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Government, a link to these detailed papers is here
- Nottingham Hospitals Charity supports the work that takes place at our city’s hospitals, and donations are used to improve patient care, enable medical research, purchase specialist equipment and provide staff development programmes. Nottingham Hospitals Charity are this year launching their ‘Get Your Socks On’ Christmas campaign. On Wednesday 9th December, they are encouraging people to wear a pair of festive socks to school or work, and donate £1. If you are interested in registering your school or workplace to participate, full details are on the Nottingham Hospitals Charity website here: http://nottinghamhospitalscharity.org.uk/news/get-your-socks-on/
- Those of you who have visited the city centre this week will have noticed that the ‘Winter Wonderland’ is open in Old Market Square. The ‘Winter Wonderland’ features a number of food and drink stalls, as well as gift stalls and an ice rink, and is open until 3rd Christmas lights are also being switched on in high streets across the constituency. Lights were switched on in Sherwood and Sneinton this week, and events are taking place in St Ann’s on 2nd December (4-8pm), Hyson Green on 3rd December (3.30-5pm) and Dales on 10th December (12-2pm and 6-8pm). Full details of the events are available on the City Council website here: http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/article/30468/Whats-on-in-Neighbourhoods-this-Christmas
- Nottingham City Council have pledged to double the access to free Wi-Fi in the city centre before the end of the year. As many people now use smartphones to access the internet, I welcome this development as it will benefit residents when they are visiting the city centre.
- On Saturday 5th December, the charity Nottingham Women for Change will be holding a Swap Shop event at Tennyson Street Playcentre, 34 Tennyson Street, NG7 4FU. The event is an opportunity for families reuse and recycle by swapping books, clothes and toys they no longer want or need. The event is free to attend, and there is no obligation to bring items or indeed take anything if you just want to donate some unused items. There will be children’s arts and crafts and food available on the day, and the event runs from 10am to 1pm.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- I hope that people will not be distracted from the fact that in Wednesday’s Spending Review, George Osborne announced another £28bn of tax rises that will hit working people, families and businesses around Britain. As is so often the case, the Chancellor had a series of bold claims which began to unravel as soon as we saw the details in the Office for Budget Responsibility’s blue book. Of course, he claimed to have changed his mind on tax credits. But in reality when Universal Credit is introduced, notwithstanding its shambolic roll-out, many of these cuts will still hit working people hard. The independent OBR has made it quite clear that “the cost of the tax credit reversal is more than offset by cuts to a variety of other benefits”. On social security spending, the Chancellor’s couldn’t even pretend he had a story to tell of sound management. He was forced to admit that he will breach his self-imposed welfare cap – not just for one year, but for three successive years. The Conservatives illustrate how a crude ideological approach, rather than patient and careful reform, is failing to root out the massive costs of fraud and error.
Meanwhile the Resolution Foundation has found that working households on Universal Credit, the replacement for tax credits, will lose an average of £1,200 in 2020, and £1,300 for those with children.
George Osborne has now carried out two Budgets and a Spending Review this year and we have had a different plan on each occasion. As he hastily rewrote his plans over the last few weeks his political allies have tried to hide the chaos by claiming he was in “listening mode” – but after Wednesday there will be many more problems to which the Chancellor will have to pay attention. Look at the detail of his announcements. With that extra £28bn of taxes and an additional £18bn of borrowing, he has veered wildly off the course he set himself.
After being forced to back down on some of his cuts to the police, George Osborne is still hacking away at public services, such as the budget for transport which shrinks by 37%.
By imposing major cuts on business development he will hold back, rather than help boost our economic prosperity. And local authorities have been hit for six with a combination of massive grant cuts and enforced council tax rises which will be harder to shoulder especially in less well-off communities.
The Chancellor’s announcements have already caused the OBR to downgrade disposable income by end of this Parliament, with the productivity rate revised down for three years from 2016 and average earnings also falling from 2016 onwards.
Together these changes show George Osborne has no long-term vision for sustainable growth in output and living standards. Add to this his now depressingly traditional practice of selling off more of the taxpayer’s assets on the cheap – with the Land Registry the latest public body under threat from a cut-price privatisation – and the picture emerges of a Chancellor who will do anything to try to achieve his fiscal targets at the beginning of the Parliament in order to boost his chances of being prime minister by the end of it.
In politics, changing your mind can sometimes be a sign of a strength. In the Spending Review on Wednesday, however, all we saw was short-termism from a man who might claim to be a modern conservative but delivered a very old-fashioned mixture of attacks on working families, spending cuts and typical Tory tax rises.
- On Monday the Prime Minister made a statement in the House of Commons launching the Government’s National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). I pay tribute to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, and the defence of our country and protection of its citizens is the first duty of any Government. Britain needs a strong, modern military and security forces to keep us safe, and I support the increased expenditure to strengthen our security services. There are serious questions about the Government’s approach and I am glad that many Labour colleagues pressed on specific details. On Tuesday there was an Opposition Day debate on Trident, called by the SNP. The future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is a matter of huge importance for our country, affecting our defence and security strategy for decades to come, as well as our global standing. I am very proud of the huge progress made under the previous Labour Government in nuclear disarmament through international frameworks. Indeed, the number of operationally available warheads almost halved, and the number of deployed warheads on each submarine was reduced. These efforts also resulted in the UK becoming the only recognised nuclear-armed Non-Proliferation Treaty country to possess just one nuclear system. I appreciate and respect that there are strongly held views on both sides of this crucial debate. The Opposition’s position, as stated in the manifesto I stood on at the last election, is to maintain a minimum, credible, independent nuclear deterrent, delivered through a continuous at-sea deterrent – and as such I opposed the SNP motion. I continue to believe that, in an unpredictable world, it is important for our NATO allies that the UK sends a message to those who threaten us that we will be resolute and trustworthy.
- On Wednesday the House of Commons debated the Childcare Bill, which proposes to extend free childcare to 30 hours per week for working families with 3 and 4 year olds. I welcome the extending of free childcare, which builds on the pledge in the manifesto I stood on at the last election. However, over the last five years the Government has made it harder for parents to find the childcare hours they need – there are over 40,000 fewer childcare places since 2010 and six in ten councils do not have enough childcare available for working families. Families are now spending £1,533 more on childcare than they did in 2010, an increase of a third, and the Government’s flagship tax free childcare scheme has been delayed costing families thousands of pounds. I am also concerned that there might be a shortfall in Government funding that must be investigated further. I hope that the Government’s rhetoric on childcare will match reality as I do not want to see more broken promises for families with this scheme.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
At the beginning of this email I asked, as I did in last week’s ‘MP Update’, for your further views on the proposal to extend airstrikes targeted at ISIL’s headquarters in Syrian territory, and clearly this is the central issue of the week ahead. But while this has been an incredibly busy week in Parliament – I don’t think it would be right to lose sight of the other crucial domestic issues. In particular, it would be a travesty if George Osborne’s Spending Review decisions went by unscrutinised. So if you have any views on the announcements the Chancellor made on Wednesday I’d be keen to know – because I remain determined to press him on his cuts to services, the tax rises he announced, and the threat to poorer households now looming when Universal Credit comes along.