Finger-jabbing at HQ over the party's handling of the Rennard allegations isn't right. Photo: Getty
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Blaming Lib Dem HQ over the Rennard allegations is wrong; party members must step up

In a party that prides itself on the power its members have over procedure, perhaps it's they who should be blamed for the handling of the Rennard case.

The men in grey sandals (as I saw my Westminster betters in the Lib Dem party memorably described this morning) are getting it in the neck again.

What’s sparked the party’s ire is the news that Susan Gaszczak has resigned, together with her entire family (including her father Brian, a councillor for 24 years up until May and one of my own local representatives), over the party's handling of the Rennard allegations.

Dedicated, passionate, liberal to the core, Susan is exactly the sort of grassroots activist who has built the party up into a party of government. Without the thousands of members knocking on doors, shoving leaflets through doors and manning stalls on wet high streets in November championing the Lib Dem cause, we are nothing. There is a strong sense of irony that the person most folk in the party credit with building that local community machine has been the catalyst for Susan’s resignation. There are no winners here.

And there seems little doubt that whatever the rights and wrongs of the issues that have led us to this unhappy place, the due process and disciplinary machinery of the Lib Dems has once again been shown to be lacking. Any complaints process in which progress can be measured in years rather than days, weeks or months would seem questionable in the extreme.

But I don’t think on this occasion, finger-jabbing at HQ is the right answer here. I’m not sure it’s the Westminster elite is where we should be apportioning blame.

I think it might be my fault.

You see, we’re meant to be the party of the members. The party where the local activists decide what goes. The party where it's meant to be impossible for the Westminster folk to "win" policy debates or decide what goes in the manifesto, because the members will decide that at conference, thank you very much. Or where, if enough folk feel we lack credible leadership, a mechanism exists to trigger a leadership election, without volunteers having to run a seat-of-the-pants totalizer to see what the mood of the party is.

And if those things don’t happen, or if we put up with MPs and peers defying party policy when they vote in parliament and we don’t do anything about it, or if we see that seven years after a complaint is first made against a senior member of the party, the procedure for dealing with that complaint is still running… well then the people who make policy, who shape procedure and who have the power to do something about it who should take the blame.

And that’s me. And the other 40,000 plus members of the party.

I suspect it may be time for the men (and women) in grey Doc Martens to step up to the plate. Because if we don’t sort this stuff out, no one else is going to do it for us.

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

Photo: Getty Images
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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