Of course we need to support those 3,000 Syrian children looking for a home. We helped put them there

by Rob Marchant

There are some times when Labour and the Tories divide on party lines, not because merely they are whipped differently – or that they have dark and evil hearts, see Uncuts passim – but simply because they have fundamentally different ways of looking at the world.

What might seem a no-brainer to ordinary folk – the desperate plight of children alone in the world and bearing no responsibility whatsoever for their fate – becomes a point of immovable principle to a pig-headed Tory party caught in a moment of blind, anti-immigration frenzy. And it is sadly difficult to think this is unconnected to the current turbulence within the party over its perennial, navel-gazing obsession, the EU. Along with Labour MPs, a few noble souls defied the Tory whip, but mostly the vote was a shabby affair on the part of the governing party; the parliamentary equivalent of a mumbled excuse.

No, if you need an example of why this country needs a Labour government, it was given to you on Monday night without too much fuss.

The Parliamentary Labour Party, having suffered a rather difficult few months, largely paralysed over how to respond to its politically disastrous new leadership, finally showed what it was made of and supported Lord Alf Dubs’* amendment. An amendment requiring the government to accept the 3,000 homeless, stateless and unaccompanied Syrian children into the country.

Bravo, PLP. Bravo. It was a good thing you did on Monday night, even if it ended in honourable defeat. We should, however, just remember one, painfully ironic thing.

A similar night in Parliament, 29 August 2013, when a vote for intervention in Syria – a fairly uncontroversial no-fly zone – was scuppered by then party leader Ed Miliband, who waffled contentedly about stopping the “rush to war” and high-fived in Pyrrhic triumph as he exited the chamber. A vote the Economist rightly described as “the vote of shame”.

Long-time party members resigned in disgust. It was the nadir of Miliband’s already-undistinguished leadership and it is worth quoting the Economist’s cutting conclusion: “Britain’s failure to stand by its allies and stand up to tyranny has diminished it in the eyes of the world”. Quite.

It has now failed again, this time on a purely humanitarian level, to help even a small number of the weakest and most defenceless Syrians.

But it did not end there. That vote, in turn – in reality probably the only important political intervention that Miliband made as leader outside his own party – had “ripple effects”. In short, it helped stymie Barack Obama’s own attempts to get intervention through Congress (if you doubt this, you should read this piece).

As a result of the failure of the West to intervene as it promised it would in the event of chemical weapons use, Bashar Assad continued to slaughter his own people with impunity, including undisputed use on civilians of the chemical weapons of sarin and chlorine. The death toll rose into the hundreds of thousands, prompting the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Islamic State, with its unerring instinct for being able to smell trouble and feed off the disaffection of others, piled into Syria’s power vacuum to compound its misery and further complicate the case for intervention.

There have been many other factors, of course, in the story of Syria’s tragedy. It was not just us. And there are mitigating factors for Labour too: the PLP roll call now is not the same as it was in 2013; some MPs have retired and some new ones have arrived. There is also a short but honourable list of MPs who rebelled against Miliband’s whip in the 2013 vote and took the consequences.

But we, Labour, really did not help. Those MPs who walked through the Noes lobby that night might just recognise – as some, in moments of brutal self-reflection surely do – that a part of the reason that those children were knocking on Britain’s door in the first place was the action of the PLP on that day.

Learning point: perhaps we might think about internationalism, and the law of unintended consequences, the next time a desperate country cries out for help.

A stitch, as they say, in time.

* We will for the moment gloss over Dubs’ unfortunate history as a member of the politically toxic Palestine Solidarity Campaign and supporter of hate-preachers such as Raed Salah.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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12 Responses to “Of course we need to support those 3,000 Syrian children looking for a home. We helped put them there”

  1. When the latest Dubs Amendment comes back to the Commons, then will the Government dare to vote it down? There are a lot of bad things that could be said about Yvette Cooper. But she is spot on this time.

    Of course it is not a criticism of our neighbours that their relevant institutions and resources are simply overwhelmed by all these unaccompanied children. As Britain’s would be. Britain would seek to share the load, and they are doing nothing other than the same.

    We had the means and the will to bomb these children’s countries. Supported by Yvette Cooper; see, I told you. Therefore, we can find the means and the will to take them in, proportionally, in co-operation and co-ordination with our neighbours. We can. We must. And we may now dare to hope that we will.

  2. Anything says:

    The problem is you morons only see little kids, what I see is people from a backward culture that shouldn’t be anywhere near ours. If you don’t agree maybe ill start taking women as sex slaves and behead my daughter if she dishonours me by not marrying a guy I says she will marry. Because after all that’s clearly acceptable in your eyes right? Muslims are filth the faster you recognise that the better. The only thing on this planet worse than Muslims are politicians,bankers and anyone who benefits from human suffering the whole lot need to be slaughtered if we ever want true peace.

  3. Tafia says:

    We should take them on two pre-conditions :-

    1. These children must not under any circumstances overtake children already in the care system. They should join the queue for fostering, be placed in children’s homes and wait their turn.

    2. Should their family ever come forward, the child is to be returned to them, not them brought to this country.

  4. anosrep says:

    Every time I think Rob Marchant can’t possibly outdo himself in writing delusional rubbish, he manages it yet again.

    Do you seriously think, Marchant, that the reason these refugees had to flee Syria is because we didn’t bomb them in 2013? Anyone with the slightest bit of sense or the tiniest shred of ability to learn from (really quite recent) history will realise that if we had indulged the sick fetish for killing that you share with those “long-time party members [who] resigned in disgust” (i.e. Dan Hodges and…er…that’s it), the number of refugees fleeing Syria now would be far, far higher.

  5. Disenfranchised says:

    I’m afraid Mr Marchant is continuing the long discredited policy of “progressive intervention” – whereby we improve other countries’ democratic well being by invading them.

    It is no coincidence that his view of history stops short of 2013, and ignores the crusades of one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair before that date.

    Roll on Chilcott – we can then consign Blair, and acolytes like Marchant, to ignominious history.

  6. Henrik says:

    @anosrep: point of information. The refugees are generally not fleeing bombing, they’re, you know, escaping from ground combat operations happening in their streets and back gardens, involving any of a huge variety of armed factions. There is an argument that a robust air campaign might have closed down many of these ground combat operations – as, indeed, the Russian support to Assad’s forces seems to have achieved.

    Let’s not forget, either, that the UK is already spending a load of money, both on amelioriating the conditions in the camps in which most refugees find themselves (it’s the minority who make it, or even try to make it, to Europe) in the Lebanese, Jordanian and Turkish borderlands – and will be taking under-age and unaccompanied refugees from the camps.

  7. Henrik says:

    @Tafia: will there be a requirement for the refugee children to be fostered in ‘matching’ households, do you know? Have we established that there are sufficient Arabic-speaking Muslim households willing to take them in, if that’s the case?

  8. Rallan says:

    What is the definition of a child? Anyone who claims to be under 18? How will you verity age and origin? What priority will these children be given over British children already in the care system? What rights will you later grant the families of the children?

  9. ad says:

    Why these 3000 rather than 3000 from refugee camps in Turkey?

  10. Tafia says:

    These ‘children’ are already in safe countries (ie in the EU). Therefore this is a nonsense – moving 3000 from one safe EU country to another safe EU country is not going to have one bit of impact on the refugee crisis in the camps and across the Middle East in the slightest. It’s a stunning example of deckchair shuffling. No wonder Cameron is having none of it – he’s got more sense.

  11. Mike Homfray says:

    The assumption that intervention would have halted the flight of refugees is nonsense and there is precisely no evidence to back it up

  12. Tafia says:

    on other matters after being told by our politicians it couldn’t be done, the Financial Times reports that Germany intends to introduce benefit restrictions banning all immigrants – both EU and non-EU, from claiming both in and out of work benefits for a period of 5 years from date of entry and don’t need the EU’s permission to do it.

    So how come the Germans can do this.

    Apparently Merkel sees it as a method of reducing the pressure from other parties.

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