STEPHEN HEPBURN: Air strikes on Syria are not the answer

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I want to tell you why I voted against Britain bombing Syria and becoming sucked into a bloody, unpredictable civil war.

Risking the lives of the armed forces in more military action in the Middle East is hugely controversial and before the decision in Parliament I received many representations by letter, e-mail and in person at my advice surgery about this important issue.

And the majority, I can assure you, were from voters fiercely opposed to Britain getting involved in the brutal conflict.

David Cameron’s smearing of people who don’t want to join his latest war as “terrorist sympathisers” was the sneering intolerance of a Tory Prime Minister who should hang his head in shame.

The decent men and women of Tyneside will never forget nor forgive Cameron’s insult and if the PM was a bigger man he’d apologise publicly for his outrageous comments.

I voted against air strikes in Syria because I’m unconvinced they would defeat the Islamic State death cult and could backfire on Britain if we are made a bigger target for terrorists.

What there isn’t a shortage of in Syria is warplanes dropping bombs when US jets regularly return to base without finding targets.

Indeed, influential senior American politicians have already brought into question Cameron’s case for military involvement, saying that the UK was offering only token aircraft, adding that they would make no significant difference.

Token aircraft is how the Americans see our contribution. Cameron didn’t sell it that way, of course. The PM wants to be a big player on the world stage.

So this intervention is a dangerous gesture when Cameron’s unable to tell us what it will achieve or how Britain will get out of it after air strikes started.

The Islamic State are depraved murderers and the sooner Syria, and for that matter Iraq, are free of these malevolent killers the better, yet the answer will be found in the region – not imposed by European nations such as Britain.

Ending the four-year-old Syrian civil war, stemming the tide of refugees lapping Europe and triggering the collapse of IS, will take precious time and considerable diplomatic skill but it remains the best hope.

Over 12 years ago I felt going to war in Iraq was a terrible idea and voted against an invasion which was Tony Blair’s gravest mistake.

I voted in 2003 against that war. You may be unsurprised to learn that David Cameron voted for it.

And all these years later I fear history may repeat itself.

In the days and weeks ahead we must continue to hold this Government to account on Syria. It won the vote last week but lost the argument.

The cost is a major issue too though I notice the Conservatives who claim there’s no money for families and public services always find cash for wars.

Labour’s successful defence of tax credits keeps £9 billion in the pay packets of workers over the next five years after we humiliated the Tory Chancellor into a spectacular U-turn.

The Tory dirty plan remains, however, to shrink wage packets with the Universal Credit benefit scheme.

Labour fought off Tory police cuts yet other services, including transport and councils, are being hammered by a Chancellor who plays Santa but remains Scrooge as Christmas approaches.

Cameron wants to fight in Syria, or at least send the sons and daughters of others to do his fighting.

I’m determined to fight for better wages, higher living standards, more jobs, fresh opportunities, improved schools, healthier hospitals, decent care, new homes to buy and rent, help for the disabled, respect for the elderly, safer communities and national security.

The Tories will never stand up for low and middle earners, workers in private firms as well as the public sector, the self-employed and owners of small businesses, and the unemployed as much as the retired, because the Conservatives represent a privileged elite.

I seethe at what the Tories are doing to our country.

Ordinary hard working people doing a hard day’s graft shouldn’t be left struggling to make ends meet.

Cameron’s war mustn’t divert us from the battles at home.