Farron on Syria strikes: A decision I can respect, but there is a lot of work to be done

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I have read through (twice) Tim Farron’s email to members and his longer rationale for supporting UK air strikes in Syria.

It is not a decision I agree with currently; but I look forward to seeing a lot of work done by Tim and the team in the coming months. I look forward to robust campaigning to ensure the “five tests” really are put into practice. – That there really is a plan for the peace and a plan to fill any political vacuums that are created by bombing.

This is a brave decision reached, I trust, in a principled way.

There have been a number of tactical errors. When momentous decisions such as this are made, there can be chaos in the heat of the moment, and there was.

I’ll be frank.

Tim’s decision to set out the five tests in the way he did, in the absence of any supporting commentary which telegraphed a possible pro-strikes decision, was a complete mistake. I’m reminded of the words of General Colin Powell, paraphrased as: Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It!

Don’t get me wrong. Setting out the five tests was right. But it was done with a total lack of any accompanying public commentary that gave Tim a potential escape route to supporting air strikes. I still don’t see how the five tests have been passed. I respect Tim’s judgment call that they have. But the starkness of the five tests and what seems like the totally contrasting decision to go for airstrikes, is so stark that it is just breathtaking. It feels like a total U-turn, but I will be in listening mode over the next few months to understand it all, and Tim’s email is a good start to explaining his decision. I can also accept that there has been a lot of movement in, and revelation of, the government’s position over the last 72 hours.

All this was not helped by confusing semi-official messages as to what the hell was going on in the party’s decision-making process over the last few days. I lost count of the unclear and contradictory messages about when and how a decision was being made. The final straw in this chaos was Nick Clegg coming out on Sky News on Tuesday evening and announcing the decision, before Tim did. If this was an independent action by Nick then he needs to spend the next six months wearing a hessian shirt, in hermit-like contemplation of his foolish error. If it was an announcement planned and sanctioned by Tim (which I doubt), then Tim needs his head examined.