Nick Clegg prior to giving a television interview during a visit to Hughes Safety Showers on May 21, 2014 in Stockport, England. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Clegg should tell the rebels to "put up or shut up"

The Lib Dem leader should seek a renewed mandate from his party.

"I intend to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire" is a famous quote much loved by all Lib Dems from one of our most revered leaders, Jo Grimond. Right now, the gunfire is not coming from the right or left or ahead of the party leader. It’s small, but it’s none the less significant. And it’s coming from behind him. And so the question is, what should Nick do about it?

Can I suggest Nick considers whether the best course of action is to march towards the sound of gunfire, and if he should be saying "put up or shut up". The received wisdom is that this is naïve politics at best, a suicide mission at worst (and folk in Great George Street are already yelling, "you’re an idiot", as they read this no doubt).Why on earth would a party leader do this when he doesn't "need" to?  Certainly, it seems unlikely that any of the party’s constitutional triggers for an election are going to be met. But never the less, that drip drip drip of poison is going to keep seeping away at Nick’s leadership.

But, if he called for an election - what then? We’re a one member one vote party, with the election decided by STV. So there’s no possibility of a stalking horse candidate coming forward, eliminating Nick in some first round before bowing out gracefully. No – there’s just one round of voting, so it really is put up or shut up. And I don’t think anyone will put up.

And then it’s done. There’ll either be no other candidate – and Nick goes forward with clear mandate. Or there is – and there’s a contest over the summer and we come back with a leader who the whole party has had a chance to (re)elect – which I suspect will still be Nick Clegg. And the boil is lanced.

There are many in the party who say that latter scenario is the nightmare one, where the party spends several months fighting itself. That’s probably true. So, a bit like...well, right now really. But I don’t think the summer of infighing will take place. Because I don’t think anyone will stand against Nick. So Nick – may I recommend another military quote to you: "My centre is giving way, my right is retreating, situation excellent, I am attacking."

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

I'll vote against bombing Isis - but my conscience is far from clear

Chi Onwurah lays out why she'll be voting against British airstrikes in Syria.

I have spent much of the weekend considering how I will vote on the question of whether the UK should extend airstrikes against Daesh/Isis from Iraq to Syria, seeking out and weighing the evidence and the risks.

My constituents have written, emailed, tweeted, facebooked or stopped me in the street to share their thoughts. Most recognised what a difficult and complex decision it is. When I was selected to be the Labour candidate for Newcastle Central I was asked what I thought would be the hardest part of being an MP.

I said it would be this.

I am not a pacifist, I believe our country is worth defending and our values worth fighting for. But the decision to send British Armed Forces into action is, rightly, a heavy responsibility.

For me it comes down to two key questions. The security of British citizens, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. These are separate operational and moral questions but they are linked in that it is civilian casualties which help fuel the Daesh ideology that we cannot respect and value the lives of those who do not believe as we do. There is also the important question of solidarity with the French in the wake of their grievous and devastating loss; I shall come to that later.

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he set out the case for airstrikes on Thursday and I share his view that Daesh represents a real threat to UK citizens. However he did not convince me that UK airstrikes at this time would materially reduce that threat. The Prime Minister was clear that Daesh cannot be defeated from the air. The situation in Syria is complex and factionalised, with many state and non-state actors who may be enemies of our enemy and yet not our friend. The Prime Minister claimed there were 70,000 ground troops in the moderate Free Syrian Army but many experts dispute that number and the evidence does not convince me that they are in a position to lead an effective ground campaign. Bombs alone will not prevent Daesh obtaining money, arms and more recruits or launching attacks on the UK. The Prime Minister did not set out how we would do that, his was not a plan for security and peace in Syria with airstrikes a necessary support to it, but a plan to bomb Syria, with peace and security cited in support of it. That is not good enough for me.

Daesh are using civilian population as human shields. Syrians in exile speak of the impossibility of targeting the terrorists without hitting innocent bystanders. I fear that bombing Raqqa to eliminate Daesh may be like bombing Gaza to eliminate Hamas – hugely costly in terms of the civilian population and ultimately ineffectual.

Yet the evil that Daesh perpetrate demands a response. President Hollande has called on us to join with French forces. I lived in Paris for three years, I spent time in just about every location that was attacked two weeks ago, I have many friends living in Paris now, I believe the French are our friends and allies and we should stand and act in solidarity with them, and all those who have suffered in Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and around the world.

But there are other ways to act as well as airstrikes. Britain is the only G7 country to meet its international development commitments, we are already one of the biggest humanitarian contributors to stemming the Syrian crisis, we can do more not only in terms of supporting refugees but helping those still in Syria, whether living in fear of Daesh or Assad. We can show the world that our response is to build rather than bomb. The Prime Minister argues that without taking part in the bombing we will not have a place at the table for the reconstruction. I would think our allies would be reluctant to overlook our financial commitment.

We can also do more to cut off Daesh funding, targeting their oil wells, their revenues, their customers and their suppliers. This may not be as immediately satisfying as bombing the terrorists but it is a more effective means of strangling them.

The vast majority of the constituents who contacted me were against airstrikes. I agree with them for the reasons I set out above. I should say that I have had no experience of bullying or attempts at intimidation in reaching this decision, Newcastle Central is too friendly, frank, comradely and Geordie a constituency for that. But some have suggested that I should vote against airstrikes to ensure a “clear conscience” ’. This is not the case. There will be more killings and innocent deaths whether there are UK airstrikes or not, and we will all bear a portion of responsibility for them.

A version of this article was originally sent to Chi Onwurah's constituents, and can be read here