When Parliament is at its very finest

The question of air strikes on Syria prompted some honest and open debate in the Commons.
The question of air strikes on Syria prompted some honest and open debate in the Commons.
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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes

In politics it’s all too easy to lambast one’s opponents; after all, the House of Commons chamber is designed to be adversarial – with opposing parties facing another as if to demand a confrontation. This polarisation is not in itself a bad thing - the frank exchange of strongly held views is the lifeblood of democratic debate. However, some matters transcend the partisan divide, and indeed agreement about many things makes disagreement about others more vivid and meaningful.

During the recent Parliamentary debate on whether to extend the UK’s existing campaign of air strikes against ISIL to Syria opinions differed not between parties, but across them. I supported the Government’s decision because it is both sensible (as any semblance of a border between the countries has long ceased to exist) and necessary - as Britain plays its part in the international coalition which seeks to destroy this evil terrorist organisation.

During the lengthy Parliamentary scrutiny ahead of the vote I heard one of the finest speeches of my time in the House of Commons. It was delivered by Hilary Benn, son of the late stalwart of the post-war Labour Party Anthony Wedgwood Benn.

As Hilary Benn, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, argued, we cannot stand aside refusing to act in self-defence against terrorists who pose a direct threat to our national security. The calculated brutality of these genocidal jihadists against innocent people trapped living under their rule is mirrored only by the bloodshed they wreaked on the streets of Paris and on the beaches of Tunisia. We cannot labour under the pretence that they will leave us alone if we ignore them, and neither can we negotiate with people whose aim is to destroy all we are.

Along with the US, France and our other allies, the UK has been launching air strikes against ISIL in Iraq since September 2014; the result being that our enemy has lost 30% of the territory it seized there. Air strikes have helped local forces to recapture the town of Sinjar, forced ISIL to withdraw from Kobane, and prevented the fall of Baghdad. The strikes are working, and we must step them up.

It is vital too that we eliminate ISIL’s sources of funding, and so the first RAF strikes in Syria successfully targeted the Omar oilfields from which the terrorists derive significant income. However, with much of their revenue coming from extortion (taxes imposed upon the people forced to live under their terror) the only long-term solution is the recapture of territory. That must be our goal; it won’t be easy, and could take a very long time, but it is the right thing to do.

Parliament is at its finest when politicians come together in the national interest; the people’s representatives taking tough decisions to protect our country’s security. We have a moral responsibility to defeat this evil. History has taught us that appeasing fascists is simply not an option; as Hilary Benn put it in his speech, “we never have and we never should walk by on the other side of the road.”