Sir Gerald Kaufman – 2015 Speech on Syrian Air Strikes

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir Gerald Kaufman in the House of Commons on 2 December 2015.

There is of course absolutely no doubt that Daesh/IS is a vile, loathsome, murderous organisation, and the attack in Paris—the murder of 130 innocent people—could just as well have been in London. The choice of Paris was a retaliation against French activity in its region, but that does not justify our taking action unless it were appropriate, relevant and, above all, successful. These people claim to call themselves Islamic, and the Prime Minister talked about reclaiming Islam from them—they do not own Islam. Hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world are appalled by their murders, their beheadings, their kidnappings—all the abominable things they do. But our loathing of IS and our wish to get rid of it, to defeat it, to stop it is not the issue here today. The issue here is: what action could be taken to stop IS and get rid of it? I have to say that I do not see such an action.

The Prime Minister spoke about getting a transitional Government in Syria and about the situation in Syria. I have been to Syria many times. I did so with some distaste as shadow Foreign Secretary, as I met leading officials in the Syrian Administration—I knew they were murderers. They murder their own people. They murdered 10,000 people in Hama alone. I would be delighted to see them got rid of, but they are not going to go. There is talk about negotiations in Vienna, but the assumption that somehow or other they are going to result in getting rid of Assad and the Administration is a delusion. Putin, one of the most detestable leaders of any state in the world, will make sure that because they are his allies and they suit him, action against them is not going to be successful.

What is the issue today? It is not about changing the regime in Syria, which would make me very happy indeed. It is not about getting rid of Daesh, which would also make me very happy indeed. It is about what practical action can result in some way in damaging Daesh, stopping its atrocities, stopping the flood of people who are fleeing from it and stopping the people who are flocking to it, including, sadly, a small number of people from this country. If what the Government were proposing today would in any way not simply or totally get rid of Daesh but weaken it significantly so that it would not go on behaving in this abominable fashion, I would not have any difficulty in voting for this motion. But there is absolutely no evidence of any kind that bombing Daesh—bombing Raqqa—will result in an upsurge of other people in the region to get rid of Daesh. It might cause some damage, but it will not undermine them. What it will undoubtedly do, despite the Prime Minister’s assurance, which I am sure he gave in good faith, is kill innocent civilians. I am not going to be a party to killing innocent civilians for what will simply be a gesture.

I am not interested in gesture politics and I am not interested in gesture military activity; I am interested in effective military activity, and if that is brought before this House, I vote for it. When the previous Conservative Government came to us asking for our support to get rid of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, I, as shadow Foreign Secretary, formulated the policy that led Labour Members of Parliament into the Lobby to vote for that. I am not interested in gestures; I am interested in effective activity. This Government’s motion and the activity that will follow, including military action from the air, will not change the situation on the ground. I am not interested in making a show. I am not interested in Members of this House putting their hands up for something that in their own hearts they know will not work, and for that reason I shall vote against the Government motion this evening.