Intervention in Syria must be aimed at toppling Assad - or there's no point

Token engagement would be equally damaging to both the west and to Syria. We should consider the costs of leaving the regime in the place.

David Cameron has recalled Parliament in order to have a vote on whether or not the UK should take military action against Syria. I applaud this move; it is one I have long argued for. But the early signs are not encouraging. The suggestion seems to be that we will make a limited response to the use of chemical weapons. In other words, this is not about regime change but about making some sort of tit for tat, "let's show them who's the boss", strike. Such an effort would be completely pointless.

Some argue that we should not be choosing sides in Syria. But we already have. Our leaders decided long ago that they wanted Assad out and have said so on numerous occasions. As a result, we either get involved with the idea of making a real, positive difference in Syria or we stay clear of the whole thing. After the chemical weapons incident of the 21st, sitting on the sidelines seems almost impossible. If we don't respond to chemical weapons being used, we give carte blanche to every tin pot dictator to use them with impunity from here on. But token engagement would be equally damaging to both the west and to Syria. If we're going to take action that we know will cost lives, it needs to be done with the thought in mind that many more lives will be saved in the long-term through our efforts.

I was on Daybreak this morning before Diane Abbott, who has warned that she may resign from the Labour frontbench if Ed Miliband endorses military intervention in Syria. While we fundamentally disagree on the basics, I agree with Diane on one thing: if Britain gets involved in any way militarily we take some level of ownership over the whole thing. We cannot 'kind of' get involved - once we're in, whatever happens in Syria from then on becomes our business in a way that isn't true if we sit on our hands. All of which is fine so long as we aim to make our intervention count.

People have compared the current situation we face with Syria to that we faced over Iraq 10 years ago. While there are many differences between the two scenarios (there is a war going on in Syria that we should be trying to stop, whereas there was no war in Iraq before we invaded), the parallel with Iraq that no one has yet made is the 1991 Gulf War and the failure to depose Saddam. It was about Kuwait, it was said at the time, nothing more. How likely is it that 12 years from now we are going to have to send troops into Syria when the civil war is still raging and the number of people killed or displaced has entered the millions? I think we would be severely regretting not having taken the chance to end the conflict when we had the opportunity to do so.

William Hague arrives in Downing Street on August 28, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.