A free vote on Syria


        I was delighted to learn this morning that Conservatives will be offered a free vote on any intervention in Syria. Many Conservative MPs are apprehensive about any plan to arm and train rebel fighters, or to contemplate western military action in this deeply damaging regional war.

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  1. lifelogic
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    A sensible more for a change.

    • Hope
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

      Lord David Owen’s speech/ article on Chilcot and the accusations he made about Blair and Cameron need exploring. It also raises an excellent point to this blog about what happens if a politician does not tell the truth in parliament and people lose their lives as a consequence? Of course No 10 and Blair deny the accusations but the papers will not be released for Chilcot, despite assurances of cooperation from the government and Cameron’s pledge to have the most open transparent government. Then we only have to see his refusal to comment what he is discussing and who he is seeing at the Bilderburg group tonight to know his pledge is worthless.

  2. Mike Wilson
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand politics. If I were an MP, I couldn’t give a stuff how someone told me to vote. If I thought arming the rebels was a bad idea, I’d vote against it. And vice versa.

    So, why be ‘delighted’ to have a free vote. Just vote using your conscience and intelligence. That’s what constituents rely on you to do – not to vote as someone else tells you to vote. What is the point of MPs and democracy if you all vote like automatons?

    Reply I have made clear my opposition to Syrian intervention, but I welcome a free vote because more Conservatives who might have taken the advice of the whips are now free to vote as they see fit.

    • Roy Grainger
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Agree that the whip system is somewhat undemocratic – it means a former notably Euro-sceptic MP like Greg Hands just has to vote for the government on every single occasion irrespective of whether he (or the majority of his constituents) agree or not.

    • Cliff. Wokingham
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Very well said Mike.
      We elect MPs to represent our views and interests, not those of a party or its leader.

      Our host, in some ways, has an advantage over other MPs: he is unlikely to go back into high office and therefore may not be quite so easily pursuaded or bribed by the whips.
      Many ambitious, younger MPs rely upon the benevolence of their leader for their career prospects and may be pursuaded to toe the party line.
      I suppose it all comes down to the integrity and morals of the MP and whether they put public service or their own career first.

      • Hope
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        I think the articles in the DT about the report from the IMF on Greece shows how treacherous the government is. JR, perhaps a question to Cameron and Osborne in the House about bold statements from Osborne on the UK not helping the Eurozone or Euro and what the UK actually contributed and happened through the IMF. Particularly as all involved were prepared to sacrifice Greece to save the EU and the Euro. Where is the conscience of MPs to vote against an in/out EU referendum last October? The comments from Farrage’s DT article need honest answers.

      • Jerry
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

        @Cliff. Wokingham: “We elect MPs to represent our views and interests, not those of a party or its leader.

        Then why don”t we elect more “Independents”, thus I fear that many people do vote for a party political dogma via the ‘official‘ candidate.

        • Mike Wilson
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          We don’t vote for more independents because the existing political parties have a stranglehold on the game.

          It’s a bit like saying ‘if you are a small builder, why not be like Wimpeys and build estates with 1000 homes?’

          The existing parties have members who do the leg work – the pamphlets, the canvassing, the door knocking etc. and, unfortunately, our democracy causes people to vote on the basis of who they don’t want, not who they do want.

          Look at the warnings being screamed by Tories now – ‘don’t vote UKIP or you’ll let Labour in’. For years both big parties have been saying ‘don’t vote Liberal, you’ll let the Tories in – or Labour in’.

          I would suggest the majority of people who vote Tory do so because they don’t want Labour – not because they think the Tories are particularly good at government or worthy of being in power. And likewise for Labour voters.

          Now, if we had a system of proportional representation, a lot more people would be inclined to vote for who they want, not for who they don’t want – and independents would have a much better chance.

          Our current political system is just about useless – look at the governments we have had since the war. One utterly useless bunch of fools after another. And, with varying and constant degrees of corruption.

          I’m just £500 for half a day, so that’s a £1000 for a day. Still, at least he has some skill at arithmetic.

          • Jerry
            Posted June 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

            @Mike Wilson: Funny how despite your suggestions independents have been elected in the past and as for your comment about small builders vs. the likes of Wimpy, as if Wimpy was born that big. Those who dare win, those who don’t just bleat.

            As for leg work, perhaps 20 years ago, even 10, but today I suspect the most effective ‘leg work’ is actually done via the same sort of electrons that we are using on this very blog, the internet (and socail media, in particular) is a great leveller.

    • matthu
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      If I thought arming the rebels was a bad idea, I’d vote against it. And vice versa.

      Vice versa?
      i.e. if i thought voting was a bad idea, I’d arm the rebels?

      • Mike Wilson
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        I would have thought a child of 5 would realise that the opposite of …

        If I thought arming the rebels was a bad idea, I would vote against it


        If I thought arming the rebels was a good idea, I would vote for it.

        You can vote for or against in parliament. I had assumed people of moderate intelligence followed this blog.

        • matthu
          Posted June 8, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink

          vice versa does not mean “the opposite”, it means “with the order reversed” or “the other way around”.

          Yes, I knew what you meant – but the literal meaning was a bit more humorous. To some.

    • Normandee
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      “taken the advice of the whips ”
      I think this is called sophistry isn’t it ?

      Reply No, Most MPs are elected on a party ticket, and their constituents expect them to vote most of the time for their party whip.

      • Dan
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        Didnt you tell me that you were elected on your own manifesto?

      • APL
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        JR: “No, Most MPs are elected on a party ticket, and their constituents expect them to vote most of the time for their party whip.”

        Then abolish the whips office and leave discipline to the MPs constituency organization.

        If an MP votes against the wishes of the local party, deselect him.

      • Dennis
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Voting as the whips ‘suggest’ – I call it corruption – I hope this is the next scandal.

      • Dan
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

        Didnt you tell me that you were elected in your own manifesto?

      • Trevor P
        Posted June 7, 2013 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

        That’s that sorted then. If the candidate representing your preferred party is a complete doughnut just vote for them anyway because ‘most of the time’ they will ignore your views (and their own) and do what they are told by the party. Sounds good.

        It is an individual choice as to when you just give up with the whole process.

  3. zorro
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    Good, this totally counterproductive proposed policy needs to be nipped in the bud…..


  4. julion peers
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    By not arming the freindly elements of the revolution. How can thay defend them selves and the good people of syria. All this talk about peace talks is in my veiw is a crafty stalling situation while assed is turning innocent men women and yes pregnant women to as well as children into cannon fodder. How longer big mouth obama going go to duck and dive and to western leaders to going to bury there heads in the blood soaked sand of syria. Show your mettle obama and co. The least you can do is give them the tools and let them get on with the job of freedom.Thank god for winston churchill. Now thats what icall a leader with mettle to every one else a statesman.

    • Gary
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Irrelevant. Syria is a sovereign country, we have no business there. Who are you or I to be judge , jury and executioner in the affairs of a sovereign country ? You obviously have no respect for the Treaties of Westphalia that were signed after decades of blood was shed. We have heard the same lies and excuses before Iraq and Libya ,and you obviously have not learned a thing from that. There is a pattern of external belligerence that is being repeated here that is completely obvious. If you have such a bleeding heart then go and volunteer for the front lines in the Congo, a humanitarian disaster which dwarfs Syria.

    • zorro
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your literate, well argued, coherent, and rational contribution to the debate. Do you perhaps work for the Foreign Office?


    • Jerry
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      @julion peers: I seem to remember that, at one time, the West thought a certain Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the “friendly elements of the revolution” – Ho-hum…

      Be very careful for what you wish for, sometimes, better the devils you know than those you don’t.

    • Richard1
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      The Syrian regime has certainly always been unpleasant. But no worse than other regimes in the region which get Western support. It was never a threat to the West – if it had started to be, eg through new weapons programmes, Israel would have contained it. We have no idea about these various opposition groups. Who knows what sort of maniacs could end up in control. If some sort of international policeman is needed there are other rich countries in the vicinity. We are no longer an imperial power like the US. Unless British interests or those of our allies are threatened we have no business being there. Its up to Conservative MPs to stop any adventure in Syria as there is a Conservative Prime Minister. Just as it should have been up to Labour MPs to stop Blair’s disastrous adventure in Iraq.

  5. Roger Farmer
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    The corollary to this free vote statement is that the Prime Minister and his cabinet could have got us involved in Syria without recourse to Parliament had he so decided. If getting us involved in a war is indicative of the power a Prime Minister can wield then there is no excuse for not offering the country a referendum on our relationship with the EU. A referendum is small beer in relation to involvement in warfare.

    • Gwen Tanner
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Couldn’t agree more, for a referendum on our relationship with the EU, that is. Why should we try and look after the rest of the world, when we have so many issues of our own, here at home. Terrorism, NHS crisis. immigration to name but a few. Of course, I do have a heart and I feel for the Syrian families and schoolchildren, but what would be worse if the so-called ‘good’ rebels that we might possibly support with arms, turned out to be ‘bad’ rebels. In truth, I do not believe there is any way of knowing 100% who is fighting who! It’s a nightmare scenario.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Are you sure? I can’t see any reference to this in the media.

  7. Max Dunbar
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    I have no confidence in the judgement of the current leadership. If our government arms the rebels don’t be surprised if some of these weapons come back to haunt us here. Leave it to the international arms dealers to supply weapons for a profit to the insurgents in Syria.

  8. Normandee
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    The prime minister must be questioned on his support for the UAF, a group becoming more and more involved in anti free speech demonstrations, particularly against UKIP, or is that part of the plan and why he is supporting them?
    Like giving arms to Syrians, it will come back and bite him.

  9. Gary
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    You would think that MPs who are so enthusiastic about voting for wars, would be the first to sign their children up for front line duty ? It almost never happens.

  10. Tad Davison
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    A free vote John, is that before or after we go in?

    Let us not forget a lesson from history, when as the Leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith, was given assurances at privy council level, that the evidence for a second invasion of Iraq was vital to our national interests. On the strength of that, IDS subsequently gathered his MPs behind the speaker’s chair to urge them to support the Blair government. Can we say absolutely, that the present government won’t find some spurious pretext for intervention too, in order to turn those who are presently against it?

    One doesn’t need to look very closely to see that the conflict in Syria could, and is beginning to spill over into neighbouring countries, and that it could be the catalyst for a much wider and potentially devastating conflict involving the super powers. I always thought it was the responsibility of the UN to mediate in circumstances such as these, and negotiate a cease-fire. Are we going to find some legal basis for involvement that circumvents the usual ways of doing things, as we have in the past?

    I really don’t trust the interventionists on this. They are playing with fire.

    Tad Davison



    Reply MPs have asked for a vote before any military commitment or arms supply commitment.

  11. MajorFrustration
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Good. I fail to see why we should offer them arms – what are the other members of the Arab world doing?

  12. English Pensioner
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    (Para left out ed)
    Whilst I would like the secular/moderate rebels to win in the conflict, this seems unlikely and under these circumstances providing any weapons to the rebels would be total madness.
    I am disappointed in Hague who always seemed to be a sensible bluff Yorkshireman who talked sense, but since he became Foreign Secretary he appears to have been seduced by the prestige and changed!

    • zorro
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      Appearances can be deceptive……


      • Bazman
        Posted June 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        I reckon he can drink that many pints.

  13. libertarian
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I’m staggered that in a democracy in the self proclaimed Mother of Parliaments there should even be such a thing as a “non free vote”

  14. Sue
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    These conflicts in the Middle East need to be sorted by their own people. These always involve “tribal” issues which, quite honestly, I don’t believe we understand at all.

    We have no business sticking our noses in and we certainly have absolutely no right lecturing on democracy when we are owned by a foreign power against our will.

  15. Roy Grainger
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I’m afraid this shows Cameron in a weak light – he should just show leadership and say we’re not going to arm the rebels, this way he is washing his hands of the decision so if it all goes wrong he has someone to blame. It would be more convincing if he offered a free vote on ALL measures – including those where he knows the outcome will be against his personal wishes.

  16. matthu
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Although there are different concepts of free vote, aren’t there.
    I guess it will only be free for backbenchers?

    Reply I expect so

  17. Sir Graphus
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    The free vote smacks of, “we don’t entirely know what to do, can you lead on this one”. Military intervention of any sort ought to be for clear reasons, and since there aren’t any in this case, and the govt clearly has no clear idea what to do, then best keep out.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think we have a dog in this fight.

    Reply I assume with a free vote it means there will be no military intervention, as I think Labour is against as are many Conservative MPs.

  18. zorro
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    It’s a shame that this legendary transparency can’t be applied to the Watford shindig taking place……I see that the PM is going for tiffin too…….What’s the refrain again?…..’If you’ve nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’…….So why so much secrecy and no minutes taken for this high powered meeting of politicians, business magnates, movers and shakers?


    Why are public officials undertaking these meetings without any records being taken…?……And if they are as described……’no detailed agenda, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued.’…….Why aren’t they paying the ridiculously over the top security costs?…….What is the point of this?


    Reply Don’t get so hot under the collar. If something does influence them at this meeting, then they have to come and propose it to Parliament and persuade the rest of us in the normal way. This is not a decision making body.

    • ian wragg
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Rubbish John as you well know.
      Cameroon will continue with his pro Eu, mass immigration and bailing out all and sundry and none of you in Parliament will be able to stop him.
      The only light for us is the fact that UKIP are shedding some light in dark places which will inevitably lead to the people having a say. Albeit after terrible damage has been done by the bunch of puffed up chancers.
      No doubt Cameroon and Gideon will be reminded that our place is being ruled from Brussels and the USA has spoken. Not for much longer.

    • zorro
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply – Just a bout of righteous indignation John 😉 …… It sounds fundamentally undemocratic, elitist, and secretive …….and paid for out of public funds….. Anyway Clarke, Mandelson, and Barroso are high profile attenders so I rest my case……


    • matthu
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      I am not as sanguine as you, John.

      Here you have some of the most powerful company leaders in the world, possibly agreeing to co-operate in ways that might be considered illegal if they were done in any other circumstances e.g. under competition law etc.

      They also own the most important search engines in the world.

      Let’s suppose they are persuaded to bias the output of search engines so as to make it difficult for people to find views that oppose government policy. (This already happens with climate change – were you aware?)

      This is like state censorship but on a massive scale.

      We have already seen how the EU is keen to be able to control web sites in the same way that they want to be able to control mainstream media. But if this were carried out surreptitiously, with no-one being aware.

      And if you think this hasn’t crossed their minds already …

      I strongly suspect that some of the really “big ideas” like how to get investors to invest in non-carbon technologies germinated in meetings such as this. Because you need to get all the banks and insurance companies on board at once, while also getting all of the mainstream media onside so that no-one challenges the “settled science”.

      And look where that got us. We have totally ruined our competitiveness for a generation or more. The costs is almost incalculable. Yes, it all went through parliament – but it came down from the EU. Parliament simply nodded it through.

      Well, if it doesn’t look like climate change is going to survive … what is the next scam going to be? How do we keep bankers and insurers in the manner to which they have become accustomed?

      I have no doubt the really “big ideas” of the future are being framed at these meetings – and no, John, they won’t have to persuade everyone in Parliament. I don’t trust MPs to have the independent will to apply proper scrutiny anymore.

    • matthu
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

      Come to think of it … can you think of s single Bilderberg attendee of recent years who is not also in favour of the UK staying in the EU? Perhaps it is a pre-condition of being invited …

      I sometimes wonder why so many CP politicians are anti-EU in opposition and switch to Europhile once they get into power. Ken Clarke of course is also a Bilderberg attendee … what are his claims for membership? Is he one of the richest or most influential people in the world?

      I sometimes wonder why all the really rich and influential businessmen are SO much in favour of the UK remaining in the EU while so many smaller businessmen (who typically are the engine of the economy) have different views.

      Of course, all the really contentious issues, like EU membership, climate change and so forth are also the issues over which governments are most keen to stifle debate. “Not the right moment”, “settle science” etc. which all leads one to suspect that there must be a pre-agreed but hidden agenda.

      Is it too much to wonder where exactly these ideas are being germinated?

      And if they are not being germinated in an entirely transparent manner, ought we not to be concerned?

      [Sorry to deviate so much from the topic of this thread here.]

    • Nash Point
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      “This is not a decision making body.” And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. Barroso and Lagarde are there. I’m beginning to believe Mr Redwood is part of the conspiracy.

  19. zorro
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink


    John, I’m sure the fact that the NSA can extensively access the content of Internet communications will warm the cockles of your heart…..apparently the companies know nothing about it…..


  20. uanime5
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Ultimately whether the UK has to act or not will be determined by how long the fighting continues. The longer it goes on the more likely the UK will become involved to provide some sort of stability.

  21. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    This would be one of those votes where personal responsibility and deep moral scrutiny takes priority. A voice and potential lever in more deaths….such responsibility.

  22. backofanenvelope
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    If Assad wins; the Sunni Arabs (could suffer-ed). If the Sunni win, the Aluwite Shia (could suffer ed). The Syrian Christians will have to flee, and probably the Druze as well. These people have been conducting this war for 1400 years; we should stand well back.

    • zorro
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      The Syrian Arab Army is a majority Sunni force. Don’t believe the propaganda. Syria was a multi ethnic country where people lived together peaceably……(Some ed)Extremist Sunni fanatics have rebelled against the Syrian government (with others -ed)and their religious bigotry (of some ed) has been demonstrated with the desecration of Christian and Shia sites……If the rebels won the Christians won’t come back, if Assad wins they will come back…..


    • APL
      Posted June 7, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      backofanenvelope: “The Syrian Christians will have to flee, and probably the Druze as well.”

      Just look a Lebanon, and Egypt.

  23. Dan
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    You’ll be voting for no military assistance nor intervention, Mr Redwood?
    Is that right?

    Reply Yes of course. Why do you ask- I have made my view crystal clear over many months, and have asked questions in the Commons accordingly.

    • Dan
      Posted June 8, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for that reply. I’ve no room for doubt with that answer.

  24. Dennis
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    If we intervene in Syria are we prepared for the inevitable influx of Syrian refugees/asylum seekers?

  25. Jon
    Posted June 7, 2013 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Thats good, credit where credit is due the PM is respecting Parliament on such an important issue.
    (Comments on Blair and Mandelson removed ed)

  26. Tony Houghton
    Posted June 9, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    We must not forget that we live in a ‘parliamentary democracy’ and therefore our MP, once elected is free to vote and make his own decisions without referring to his constituents, even though, as John and I know, he will say at times that he is a Public Servant and does what he is asked to do by his constituents.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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