Category Archives: Work and Pensions
I thought I would share a piece I have written for the New Statesman today on the situation in Syria.
You can read the piece below:
We can’t rush to war in Syria without a plan for peace
As shock of the Paris lifts and the fightback starts, all eyes are now the prime minister and, at last, the ‘full spectrum response’ we were promised months ago.
But what’s needed now is not just another plan to bomb the ground – but a plan to hold the ground we win. Four days in Northern Iraq has made me deeply sceptical about air strikes alone. It’s convinced me that after the mistakes of Iraq and Libya, we cannot have yet another effort to win the battle and lose the war. Without politics and aid, projectiles and air-raids will fail. It’s as simple as that.
After the horror of Paris it’s easy to ignore that in Iraq and Syria, Isil is now in retreat. That’s why these animals are lashing out with such barbarism abroad. In the ground war, Kurdistan’s fighters in particular, known as the Peshmerga – or ‘those who face death’ – have now shattered the myth of Isil’s invincibility.
A fortnight ago, I travelled through Northern Iraq with a group of MP’s arriving on the day the key town of Sinjar was stormed, cutting the umbilical cord – route 47 – between Isil’s spiritual home of Mosul in Iraq and Isil HQ in Raqqa. And on the frontline in Kirkuk in north west Iraq, two miles from Isil territory, Commander Wasta Rasul briefed us on a similar success.
On the great earthwork defences here on the middle of a vast brown plain with the flares of the oil pumps on the horizon, you can see through binoculars, Isil’s black flags. It was here, with RAF support, that Isil was driven out of the key oil-fields last summer. That’s why air cover can work. And despite their best efforts – including a suicide attack with three Humvees loaded with explosives – Isil’s fight back failed. Along a 1,000 km battle-front, Isil is now in retreat and their capitals aren’t far from chaos.
But, here’s the first challenge. The military advance is now at risk from economic collapse. Every political leader I met in Iraq was blunt: Kurdistan’s economy is in crisis. Some 70% of workers are on the public payroll. Electricity is free. Fuel is subsidised. In other words, the Government’s bills are big.
But taxes are non-existent. The banks don’t work. Inward investment is ensnared in red tape. And when the oil price collapsed last year, the Government’s budget fell through the floor.
Now, in a bust up with Baghdad, cash has been slashed to Kurdistan, just as a wave of 250,000 refugees arrived, along with over a million internally displaced people fleeing Da’esh and Shiite militias in the south. Nearly 6,000 development projects are stalled and people – including the Peshmerga – haven’t been paid for months.
We have brave allies in the fight against Isil – but bravery doesn’t buy them bullets. As we gear up the battle against Isil, it’s now vital we help boost the Kurd’s economic strength – or their sinews of war will weaken. There’s an old Kurdish saying; ‘the mountains are our only friends’. It’s an expression born of years of let-down. In the fight against Da’esh, it’s a mistake we can’t afford to repeat today.
Second, everyone I met in Iraq was clear that unless the Sunni community can find alternative leadership to Isil then any ground we win may soon be lost, if not to Isil, then “Isil II”. Let’s remember Isil didn’t just ’emerge’. It grew from a tradition of political Islam decades old and mutated like a Frankenstein monster first by Al-Qaeda, then Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then the Al-Nusra front and now Isil.
Crucial to this warped perversion has been the total breakdown of trust between Iraq’s Sunni residents – and the Shi’ite dominated government in Baghdad. In Mosul, for instance, when the Iraqi security forces left, they were stoned in their Humvees by local residents who felt completely humiliated. In refugee camps, it’s not hard to find people who didn’t flee Da’esh but Shi’ite militia groups.
Now, tracking surveys in Mosul report tension is rising. The Isil regime is sickening people with an obsessive micro-management of the way everyone lives and prays – down to how men must style their beards – with brutal punishment for anyone stepping out of line. Mobile phone coverage is cut. Food prices are rising. Electricity supplies are sporadic. Residents are getting restless. But, the challenge of gaining – and then holding a city of 3 million people will quite simply prove impossible without alternative Sunni leaders: but who are they? Where will they come from? The truth is peace will take politics.
There’s one final piece of the puzzle, the PM needs to reflect on. And that’s how we project a new unity of purpose. We desperately need to make the case that our cause is for both western and Islamic freedom.
I serve the biggest Muslim community in Britain – and amongst my constituents, especially young people, there’s a profound sense that the conduct of this debate is making them feel like the enemy within. Yet my constituents hate Isil’s violence as much as anyone else.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, I heard first-hand the extraordinary unity of purpose to destroy Isil with total clarity: “Your fight,” said the Kurdistan prime minister to us “is our fight.” In the refugee camps at Ashti and Bakhara, you can see why. Over a million people have been displaced in Kurdistan – grandparents, parents, children – fleeing to save their children – and losing everything on the way. “Da’esh,” said one very senior Kurdistan official ‘aren’t fighting to live. They’re fighting to die. They’re not battling a country or a system. They’re battling humanity”.
Here in Europe, we are hardwired to the fortunes of Central Asia, by trade, energy needs, investment and immigration. It’s a vast region home to the seminal struggles of Israel/Palestine, Sunni/Shia and India/ Pakistan. Yet it’s a land with which we share traditions of Abrahamic prophets, Greek philosophy and Arabic science. We need both victory and security. So surely we can’t try once again to win a war without a plan for winning a peace. It’s time for the prime minister to produce one.
This article was originally published on the New Statesman’s website here
I recently joined a cross-party delegation on an All-Party Parliamentary Group trip to Kurdistan.
You can see what I found out during this visit by watching the videos below:
Report from Iraq’s Ashti refugee camp
Report from frontline with ISIL – just outside Kirkuk, with Commander Wasta Rasul
Report from Baharka IDP camp just outside Erbil
I’d love to hear what you think of the points I raise in these videos on my Facebook page.
All the best,
Yesterday I delivered a speech to Policy Network on entrepreneurial socialism, tackling inequality and the case for a #NewClause4. You can read the speech here.
You can also see below my speech in six infographics:
1) Britain 2015: More Super Rich. More Super Poor.
2) Firms just aren’t investing:
3) Workers are producing more but getting less:
4) Britain’s Knowledge Economy since 2010:
5) Let’s rewrite the rules for our economy:
6) It’s time for the Labour Party to adopt a #NewClause4 which explicitly states our purpose is to fight inequality:
I was very happy to lend my support this week to a cross-party campaign led by Rehman Chishti MP to put pressure on the BBC and the government to make it official policy to refer to the so-called “Islamic State” as “Daesh”.
The use of the term “Islamic State” gives legitimacy to a terrorist group that is not Islamic nor recognised as a state. This is a terrorist group which the vast majority of Muslims find abhorrent.
“Daesh” is an Arabic acronym for the group’s name and refers to “one who sows discord”.
It’s time we started calling this evil organisation what it really is rather than allowing it to become synonymous with a peaceful religion.
I am sure you will have seen some of the coverage of the increasingly desparate refugee crisis growing across Europe.
Yvette Cooper, who I am backing to be the next Labour Leader, made a speech earlier in the week lamenting Britain’s current position – Germany has given more sanctuary to Syrians in a month than we have in the last year – and calling for the Government and communities across our country to do more.
Yvette has called on the Government to convene an urgent national conference to work with councils and communities to see how many places we can offer to refugees from Syria and the Mediterranean.
“If every city took 10 refugee families, if every London borough took 10 families, if every county council took 10 families, if Scotland, Wales and every English region played their part, then in a month we’d have nearly 10,000 more places for vulnerable refugees fleeing danger, seeking safety.”
You can read the full text of Yvette’s excellent speech here.
In her speech Yvette mentions the leading work of the City of Sanctuary movement which is working with cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield to make them places of welcome and safety for those seeking sanctuary. You can find about more about this work here. is doing on through the City of Sanctuary
I would also encourage you to take action and sign two petitions. The first calls on Parliament to debate the issue of the European refugee crisis when it returns next week – sign here. The second urges David Cameron to work with other European Union countries to set and welcome a quota of refugees – sign here.
If you would like to help out or get involved in a more practical way then the Independent Newspaper has put together a helpful list of suggestions which you can find here.
With all best wishes
I wanted to share with you the report of my visit to Palestine earlier this year. Click on the image below to see it full size.
With all best wishes
Today in the chamber I pressed the Prime Minister on what he and the Government are doing to stop the deaths of civilians in Gaza. You can see my question and his response below:
Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): Everyone in this House condemns the rocket attacks, but the Israeli defence force is firing the most dangerous of weapons in the most dense of communities, and it is very clear that Secretary Kerry and Ban Ki-moon think that not enough is being done to minimise civilian casualties. Does the Prime Minister accept that analysis? What we really want to know in this House is what he will do today, tomorrow and through the week in the Security Council to stop the slaughter of the innocents in Gaza and beyond.
The Prime Minister: I could not have been clearer that I think there needs to be restraint and the avoidance of civilian casualties, and the Israelis need to find a way to bring this to an end. I have made all those points repeatedly.
To this I add my further call, that at the UN Security Council, Britain leads a process of peace and de-escalation, just as we did when David Miliband was Foreign Secretary, particularly to recommit to the importance of UN Security Council resolution 1860 which demands not only a cease-fire but restoration of borders, and crucially the lifting of the embargos around Gaza.
You can see further details on my position, including my letter to the Foreign Secretary, here.
Please find below a letter to all those constituents who have contacted me about the terrible scenes unfolding in Gaza
Below this you can see the letter I have written today to the Foreign Secretary William Hague.
11 July 2014
34 organizations call for a ceasefire and sustained solution towards peace
Military actions by all parties must stop. Since 2009, history has shown that military operations have failed to bring peace and security for people in Gaza and in Israel. Over the years we have repeatedly called for ceasefires and for all sides to protect civilians from harm.
Sadly, these ceasefires have not lasted and we have had to revert back to life-saving relief and emergency programs, aiding innocent people to cope with the trauma, and rebuilding Gaza time and time again.
With civilians in Gaza killed by Israeli airstrikes and homes, schools, and water facilities damaged and destroyed and as rockets continue to be fired from Gaza towards Israel, we now call again for a ceasefire.
But, we cannot accept a simple return to the status quo. Structural changes must be made so that people caught in the hostilities are protected from violence and that their rights and needs are respected and fulfilled.
Such changes must result in assurances of security for both sides, Palestinian sovereignty, and respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
We the undersigned humanitarian, development, faith, and rights based organizations call on the International Community to immediately start this process by redoubling efforts to work effectively with the parties to agree to durable solutions that contribute to a just peace for all in the region, ending the blockade in Gaza, and systematically addressing and ensuring accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
1. Action Against Hunger (ACF)
3. American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
5. Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
7. DanChurchAid (DCA)
9. Global Communities
10. Gruppo di Volontariato Civile (GVC)
11. Help Age International
14. International Learning Centers (ILC) 15. Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC)
16. Medical Aid For Palestinians – MAP UK
17. medico international
18. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)
19. Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)
20. Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)
21. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
23. Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH)
24. Premiere Urgence Aide Medicale Internationale (PU-AMI)
25. Save the Children 26. Solidaridad Internacional- Alianza por la Solidaridad ( SI- APS)
27. Terres des Hommes Italy (TdH Italia)
28. Terres des Hommes Lausanne
29. The Carter Center
30. The Lutheran World Federation
31. The Swedish Organization for Individual Relief (SOIR)
32. Volontariato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo (VIS)
33. War Child
34. World Vision Jerusalem – West Bank- Gaza
The organizations signing this statement are all members of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA),
a coordinating body of more than 70 INGOs working in Palestine