THERE is little appetite among politicians to commit Britain’s armed forces to action in Iraq or Syria. For many MPs, this position may be heartfelt but some, at least, must be responding to public opposition to British involvement in another ground war.
So far, Britain has limited its involvement in the battle against the Islamic extremist group IS to participation from the air.
But the efforts of an international coalition have so far failed to stop the murderous activities of the organisation that proclaims its desire to establish a global caliphate.
To the list of humanitarian workers, kidnapped before their murders were filmed by IS terrorists, we must now add the name of Peter Kassig, a young American who had devoted his life to helping others.
As the group continues its campaign, it is becoming apparent that the West may have underestimated its size. Some reports have suggested there may be seven times as many militants involved as previously thought.
It is quite clear that there is no diplomatic route to the end of IS’s activities and, this being so, the global community must be prepared to consider and review its responses regularly.
Perhaps, for many, the involvement of ground forces may be a step too far, just now, but yesterday the former head of the army, General Lord Dannatt, suggested it may be time to “think the unthinkable”.
Lord Dannatt said it was essential to get all means available into the field to take on the militant group.
This meant, he said, that if air strikes and the actions of local forces were not enough, then western forces may have to be engaged on the ground.
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In making his remarks, Lord Dannatt recognised that there is little support, at this time, for British troops to return to Iraq, but he asked that the possibility, at least, be included in the debate on how IS might be tackled.
This is a reasonable request, in the circumstances.
Massive public opposition to Britain’s involvement in the last Iraq war – and ongoing rancour about its consequences – continues to be at the front of MPs’ minds when discussing a response to IS. This is understandable, but the perceived failings of that episode cannot be allowed to paralyse foreign policy.
IS has murdered a number of UK citizens and that demands a strong response. This may not necessarily involve ground action – and anyone with any compassion and good sense would want to avoid that if at all possible – but that doesn’t mean it’s an option that should not be explored.
With an election on the horizon, politicians will be doubly nervous about this debate. But Lord Dannatt is correct to say it’s one that must be had.
Labour won’t find voters on fringes
A CANDIDATE to become leader of Scottish Lab-our said yesterday that his party would benefit from a distinctive shift to the left. Neil Findlay MSP said that, under his leadership, Labour in Scotland could pursue a quite different policy agenda to the party south of the Border.
And Mr Findlay suggested examples of how the party might change its position, including supporting scrapping Trident, taking railways into public ownership, and ending private finance contracts in the NHS.
These ideas certainly speak to an “old Labour” audience, but he may find that a more mainstream message is productive.
The SNP may have won a reputation as a “radical” party, it may have claimed to represent the “social justice” that traditional Labour voters demand, but the SNP’s success in both 2007 and 2011 was not because of a radical left-wing agenda, but because of policies that appealed to “middle Scotland”.
Of course, Mr Findlay is to be applauded for standing by his principles on these issues. If he believes these policies are best for Scotland then he is right to promote them. He should not, however, assume that Scotland is ready to listen. The Labour Party has a serious credibility problem in Scotland right now while, under the new leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP flourishes. It would suit Ms Sturgeon very well indeed, ere Labour to pursue a distinctly left-wing agenda. She and her colleagues became the dominant force by taking over the centre ground.
If Mr Findlay wants to talk to the voters who’ll decide the outcome of the 2016 Holyrood election, that’s where he’ll find them.
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