Lib Dem members on intervention against ISIS: 59% back air strikes, 49% support sending troops

by Stephen Tall on September 29, 2014

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 735 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Support for British intervention in Iraq and in Syria to stop ISIS

MPs voted on Friday for limited British intervention in Iraq to combat the threat posed by the terrorist group Islamic State/ISIS. According to our survey of party members, that action has the backing of most Lib Dems. By a more than 2:1 majority – 59% to 27% – Lib Dem members approve of the RAF taking part in air strike operations.

Members are also prepared to consider going further than the House of Commons did last week: by 48% to 37% Lib Dem members would back air strikes against Islamic State/ISIS in Syria (even though that would almost certainly be without UN authority). Almost exactly the same margin – 49% to 37% – would also support Britain sending troops to Iraq to help train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight Islamic State/ISIS. There is clear opposition to cooperation with the Assad regime in Syria in fighting Islamic State/ISIS – 57% would disapprove and just 22% approve of an alliance of convenience with the Assad regime.

The most popular option – backed by 66% to 23% – is Britain supplying arms to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State/ISIS.

Though this broad sympathy for British military intervention in Iraq and Syria might seem surprising, given the Lib Dems were the only major party to oppose the war in Iraq in 2003, there was overwhelming support for military action in Libya in 2011 – and of course Paddy Ashdown promoted intervention in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Would you approve or disapprove of…

The RAF taking part in air strike operations against Islamic State/ISIS?

    59% – Approve
    27% – Disapprove
    14% – Don’t know

US air strikes on Islamic State/ISIS forces and bases in Syria?

    56% – Approve
    25% – Disapprove
    20% – Don’t know

The RAF taking part in air strike operations against Islamic State/ISIS in Syria?

    48% – Approve
    35% – Disapprove
    17% – Don’t know

Britain and America co-operating with the Assad regime in Syria to fight Islamic State/ISIS?

    22% – Approve
    57% – Disapprove
    21% – Don’t know

Britain supplying arms to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State/ISIS?

    66% – Approve
    23% – Disapprove
    12% – Don’t know

Britain sending troops to Iraq to help train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to fight Islamic State/ISIS?

    49% – Approve
    37% – Disapprove
    15% – Don’t know

Support also for action to prevent British citizens from travelling to Iraq or Syria to fight…

Do you think the government should or should not take action to prevent British citizens from travelling to Iraq or Syria to fight by, for example, confiscating the passports of those suspected of trying to go there?

    52% – Should attempt to stop British citizens going to Syria or Iraq to fight
    36% – Should not attempt to stop British citizens going to Syria or Iraq to fight
    12% – Don’t know

Here’s a liberal dilemma and a half – when is it legitimate for the state to prevent the freedom of movement of its citizens? According to a majority of the Lib Dem members in our survey, when they’re leaving the country for Iraq or Syria to fight on behalf of Islamic State/ISIS. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• We have to tread very carefully. This would need to be proportionate and intelligence based.
• Plus maximum effort to engage constructively with young Muslims at a very early age so that young idealism is channeled into less violent routes
• … but not by confiscating their passports!
• Not unless we start preventing British people going to fight for the IDF too. Allowing one but not the other is racism, pure and simple.
• Critical word here is ‘attempt’. not stop but they must be in no doubt that there may be consequences.
• Yes we should try to do what we can. But I don’t like your “for example” – we would need more than suspicion.
• Only because it would prove to be too difficult to enforce legally.
• If we have failed as a society to convince people that this is the wrong path to take, we should not seek to remedy this through state control. Furthermore, if they do, we should not seek to absolve ourselves of the responsibility we have to the international community to deal with both the people themselves, and their actions following our failure.
• Their actiosn cannot be held to be illegal before they have happened
• Should only stop where there is evidence which is compelling, eg. with a court order or warrant.
• People went to help both sides in the Spanish civil War. If people want to go abroad to fight, there is no law against it.
• I hate the idea of removing passports but if it’s clear they are going to threaten the nation by their actions, they should be deterred from doing so.
• Restrictions of movement on grounds of belief and intent, however misguided are a dangerous precedent to set.
• If it stops them waging jihadist war here…
• Travel bans on jihadis please.
• Deal with them when they have done something wrong.
• …and let them come back too. There’s nothing like talking to an old solider to put a young man off war.
• However these attempts should not be at the expense of liberal values – incentives, not barriers, should be implemented.
• But we shouldn’t let them back if they do go!
• How would we decide what someone was going to do, prior to them travelling?
• The question does nor specify who they would fight FOR, so is too wide.
• It is not realistic to stop people travelling.
• How could officials know what people’s intentions in travelling were?
• We should ‘recognise’ ISIS (without doing anything more of course) then deem that anyone who goes has rescinded their UK citizenship.
• If the fools wish to go, let them but we should be clear about keeping them watched should they return
• You cannot stop British citizens from going to fight if they wish to. But you CAN stop them from coming back again. British citizens who choose to fight in this conflict should relinquish their passports and right of re-entry if they do.

But opposition to bringing back control orders

Until 2011 the government could impose “control orders” on terrorist suspects. These were similar to the “Tpims” that replaced them, but had more extensive powers, including the ability to relocate suspects to a different part of the country, and greater powers to ban internet or phone use and who suspects could communicate with. Do you believe the government should reintroduce control orders?

    17% – Should
    67% – Should not
    15% – Don’t know

A majority might support restrictions on freedom of movement for Islamic State/ISIS recruits from the UK, but there’s significant opposition to curtailing the civil liberties of citizens who stay lawfully within the country – two-thirds of Lib Dems in our survey oppose the re-introduction of control orders. One refrain among the comments was simple enough: “they don’t work”. Here’s a sample of your comments…

• Control orders are completely illiberal. If you have evidence of wrongdoing, take the person to court.
• We cannot foster liberal values by illiberal means.
• Charge people or leave them alone.
• A much more carefully thought out system needs to be introduced. You cannot make British Citizens stateless under any circumstances. If we have allowed our citizens to do terrible things, it is our responsibility to hold them to account not dump them nowhere
• relocation of suspects just mean that suspects are likely to commit terrorist offences in different areas rather than nearer to their own home.
• Would it not be better to try and address the cause (western imperialism) rather than the symptom?
• Not a happy choice but I fear we little option
• But the security services should be instructed to reorient themselves primarily towards the effort to gather evidence with a view to prosecution of such people, and issue sentencing guidelines making very clear the dangers posed by those who have had military training inspired by values antipathetic to the UK, EU.
• in special circumstances
• I’m not convinced that relocation has to be part of the control orders package: limits on movement should be enough
• They didn’t work.
• If the government has evidence that citizens are a breaking the law they should be prosecuted. If not not.
• Its never been clear why these people could not be prosecuted in the normal way.
• “Love you enemies, treat them well and make them your friends” – Tsun Zu, The Art of War.
• We are fighting for their hearts and minds, do not force them to be our enemies.
• We need a positive way to engage with returning jihadis and local agitators.
• There is no evidence that existing powers are inadequate to deal with the present situation
• Police state.
• Control orders did not work. Tpims with greater powers to relocate to a new area and ban use of the internet would be a good thing if a judge had to agree their use.
• The key word is “suspects”
• We should either put these people on trial and try and convict them of a crime or leave them alone and at most monitor their activities.

  • 1,500+ Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with 735 completed the latest survey, which was conducted between 12th and 16th September.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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