As published in The Independent:
The ‘Isis trap’: David Davis warns of risks in joining ‘limitless’ war and falling into Isis trap;
Veteran Conservative reveals he came close to joining the six Tory MPs who voted against action
Britain is in danger of committing itself to an “open-ended limitless war” in northern Iraq that is doomed to failure, a veteran Conservative warned on Monday night.
David Davis, who was speaking at the Independent/i fringe meeting, warned that the West is at risk of falling into the trap laid by the Islamic State which wanted to provoke all-out conflict.
The former shadow Home Secretary revealed he came close to joining the six Tory MPs who voted against the action in last Friday’s emergency debate on military action, before abstaining.
“We have got this wrong three or four times in the past – why do we think we’ve got it right this time?” he asked.
Mr Davis said it was “very plain first that half a dozen very old Tornados aren’t going to turn the situation in Iraq” and referred to the senior American military figures who are warning President Barack Obama that his strategy would not succeed without “boots on the ground”.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” he told the meeting. “Innocent people will be killed. We are going to hit oil refineries. Ordinary oil workers who are not members of Isis will be killed, there will be targets missed. They are trying to provoke us to do this.”
He said Isis fighters were placing themselves in schools and hospitals in the hope that strikes on those targets would fuel their propaganda.
Dominic Raab, the MP for Esher and Walton, told the meeting he had voted for the action with a “very heavy heart”.
He added: “Without the bringing-together of different factions, there is no chance of peace in Iraq. We’ve spent a decade learning that.”
Mr Davis said the two defections by Conservative MPs to Ukip this month were “quite significant” and could not be brushed aside. He said: “There is a debate going on in this conference, and in the Tory party over how to bring back the voters of the wider Tory family. It would be foolish to ignore that.”
He said he feared the by-election in the Kent constituency of Rochester and Strood triggered by the defection of Mark Reckless could result in a Labour victory.
He said that outcome would crystallise the problem of ex-Tories voting for Ukip and leading to the election of a Labour MP.
Both MPs firmly ruled out any sort of election pact with Nigel Farage’s party. Mr Raab said: “Pacts always strike me as taking the electorate for granted.”
Mr Davis said the party leadership had made a serious mistake by promoting the “calumny” that the Tories were a “nasty party” that needed to be reformed. He said: “We were trying to fix something that is not wrong.”
He said David Cameron’s determination to bring in same-sex marriage had “looked like a distraction” and had led to an exodus of members from the party.
“Politically it was a disaster. I had lunch with a loyal Cabinet minister who said he had lost 24 members in a week.”
Mr Davis admitted the party suffered an image problem and called for “more ordinary-looking people out there” – such as Esther McVey, Sajid Javid and Mike Penning – to get across the Tory message.
That would help combat Ed Miliband’s tactic of characterising the Tory leadership as a small elite, he explained.