Comment: Cameron ‘terrorist sympathisers’ remark bodes poorly for his security approach

The comments are troubling in the light of the government's new surveillance powers


David Cameron’s comments about those who stand against British airstrikes in Syria, and his reluctance to apologise for the remarks, epitomise concerns about the Conservatives’ ability to deal reasonably and wisely with the threat of terrorism.

The prime minister reportedly referred to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other opponents of the proposal as ‘terrorist sympathisers‘ on the eve of the Syria debate.

During the early stages of the debate on the following day, whilst tellingly not attempting a denial, Cameron repeatedly refused to apologise for his comment.

Are we now expected to trust that this government will be reasonable, sensible, balanced and accurate in its actions at a difficult time for the UK, when its leader musters such an unreasonable, ludicrous, unbalanced and inaccurate reaction to a basic democratic challenge to his stance?

The UK, along with many other states, faces a dangerous and tumultuous period, with fears over the threat of terror attacks having increased dramatically in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Whilst prudence and resoluteness are obviously crucial, proportionality and consideration are equally essential in the fight to maintain the liberal-democratic way of life that forms the foundation of our society.

This duality of vigilance and restraint, and attempts to find balance therein, is at the heart of current debates over the wisdom and implications of amending the government’s investigatory powers. It also has a huge role to play in precisely how the UK and its armed forces reacts internationally to the threat and power of ISIL.

Included in the concerns of opponents to mass data collection and analysis is the assertion that fundamental privacy rights, cornerstones of Western-liberal ideology, are unacceptably compromised (or shattered) in the interests of security.

Meanwhile, sceptics of the moral and practical justifications for air assaults in Syria worry that strikes cannot be sufficiently surgical to target only the chief enemy or to avoid intangible negative consequences on the ground.

Supporters of both point to, of course, the priority of preventing terrorists’ attacks and limiting, or even destroying, the fanatics’ ability to grow and develop as an organisation. However, fewer of those backers would remain in place were the maintenance of security to come at the cost of suffering a desperately over-suspicious and invasive state, or in the event of airstrikes proving to be highly destructive to non-combatant, innocent people.

Unfortunately, though, for both detractors and supporters of the Conservative Party’s recent moves, it has just become significantly more difficult to trust that the government is capable of showing the appropriate restraint required in such trying times.

David Cameron has implied that he now sees anybody who disagrees with him on this issue as a security threat. The possibility of the government using sensitive digital information in a responsible manner that minimises  collateral damage now looks slimmer than ever. 

Cameron could not find within himself enough precision to avoid telling an influential committee that its members ‘should not be walking through the lobbies with … a bunch of terrorist sympathisers’. He also could not muster the decency to apologise for his mistake. 

This does not inspire much hope that his government will exercise proportionality and accountability during this difficult period.

David Maher is a journalist and member of the Green party

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10 Responses to “Comment: Cameron ‘terrorist sympathisers’ remark bodes poorly for his security approach”

  1. Sid

    Given the Labour leadership team’s well documented support for a range of terrorist groups, the comment seems quite justified.

  2. Richard MacKinnon

    Those that voted no to bombing are not as a consequence supporters of ISIS. The idea is ridiculous and shines a light on the superficiality of David Cameron’s argument and on the man himself. He new he had overstepped with the remark but did not have it in him to withdraw it.
    Cameron’s conflation of non intervention and ISIS sympathy I predict is going to come back and haunt him. It may well be his achilles heal in the months and years ahead and Jeremy Corbyn should exploit it. Corbyn could now refuse to be briefed (as is the custom with the leader of the opposition) on security matters; because ‘he is a terrorist sympathiser’. Angus Robertson leader of the SNP at Westminster should do the same. Westminster prefers consensus on matters such as going to war and Cameron has broken that consensus.
    We all want to see an end to ISIS the issue is how do we achieve the goal.


    Greens are just fringe opportunists. Cameron got it right. Corbyn could not agree with Cameron publicly but
    must surely be anti fascist. I mean Corbyn must be against decapitation and Islamic Fascism surely. Well done Mr Benn.

  4. Wobbly chops

    He is a terrorist lover. It’s on record. Don’t see what the fuss is about , call me Dave was just stating facts.

  5. Derek Lambada

    Dodgy Dave may be, but he didn’t say that those who voted against were supporting ISIS this is a total straw man fallacy.
    He said that they shouldn’t walk through the lobby WITH terrorist sympathisers not that they WERE terrorist sympathisers.
    I don’t see how it is Cameron that broke the consensus either and saying that we are ‘going to war’ is not helpful. We are helping to contain (and hopefully defeat) a clearly terrorist insurgency.
    It is the Corbynites who are being irresponsible with their talk of ‘bombing’ Syria as though we are going to be carpet bombing Raqqa with no thought for civilian lives. If there is increased radicalisation from this they will not be blameless for it.
    What we are really doing is providing air support to more moderate opposition like the Kurds to prevent genocide, enslavement and all the other things IS do. Many of those who claim to be radicalised have said it was because of Western INACTION against Assad rather than Western action.

    Of course Corbyn was against providing the support that the Iraqi government requested. I wonder what would have happened if the world had followed his advice?
    IS would have taken Baghdad, obliterated the Kurds and massacred millions, gaining ever increasing support and resources to bring the fight to us.
    I’m sure we’d all feel much safer and could bask in the moral certainty that we didn’t cause any collateral damage.

    I like to think that we all want to end IS. Letting them overwhelm all their opposition with the tanks they took from the fleeing Iraqi army might not have been the best idea to that end. They don’t have tanks now and the Kurds can stand up to them. Because we destroyed the tanks with air power.

  6. Richard MacKinnon

    I think you make the point for me Mr. Lambada; if you walk through the door with someone, which is Westminsterspeak for voting with them, do you not support them?

  7. Derek Lambada

    No, you support the position, not the person.

    People would have had many different reasons for voting the way they did.
    Corbyn could have countered with something like ‘do you want to walk through the lobby with the people who caused chaos in Libya’. He wouldn’t be accusing people of supporting causing chaos in Libya, he would just be having a dig about the chaos in Libya while trying to get people to examine the positions of the people who agree on the issue.
    I doubt anyone would expect him to apologise for the comment either. Nobody would be jumping up and down saying that they were accused of supporting chaos in Libya.

    It was foolish from Cameron, but he didn’t accuse all the no voters of supporting terrorism at all.
    I’m sure people don’t like being reminded about the current leaderships questionable views about terrorists but if he apologises it would seem that he was agreeing that the likes of Corbyn, Mcdonnell and Livingstone are not terrorist sympathisers.
    Maybe he should clarify, maybe if Corbyn had offered to give way for a clarification rather than an apology he would have stood up.

  8. Derek Lambada

    ‘Do you want to walk through the lobby with the people who caused chaos in Libya’?

    That’s pretty good! He should have thought of it.
    Could do worse than hiring me as a researcher/speechwriter!

  9. Richard MacKinnon

    Derek Im going to leave here. I am afraid I cannot follow your logic. I’m sure you do. Good luck with the the new job.

  10. Derek Lambada

    Come now, you are not trying hard enough. To use a worn out cliche, I’m sure Corbyn would have agreed with Hitler about a small number of things. That doesn’t mean that voting with him on something means that you support the holocaust.

    Maybe another example would help.
    If Cameron had something against Scottish people (who knows?) and told people that they shouldn’t be walking through the lobby with ‘those scots’ he wouldn’t be accusing them of being Scottish would he? That’s absurd.

    Saying that someone is siding with terrorist sympathisers on a particular issue is not saying that they are terrorist sympathisers.

    I’m not saying Cameron was right to say it. It was unhelpful and he could have made this dig another time.
    It would have been hard to apologise for the remark without absolving Corbyn and his team of some highly questionable positions though.

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