Karen Buck MP

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

Karen Buck MP

Recent Activity


I am extremely conflicted on this difficult issue - though having listening to the Prime Minister’s statement, I have to say he has not yet convinced me of the effectiveness of a policy which seems to rest on a number of disputed assumptions about the ground capacity of anti-Assad moderate forces, such as the Free Syria Army (regarded as essential to defeat ISIL since airstrikes alone cannot) and the prospects for a wider settlement and end to the civil war.

It may be useful if I set out my thoughts fully.

I would rejoice at the destruction of ISIL/Daesh. They are an exceptionally vicious and dangerous organisation, inflicting hideous barbarity on Christian and Muslim communities within the Middle East, and sponsoring terrorism abroad. At the same time it is also true that the Assad regime has been conducting a murderous civil war against the Syrian people, and it is the terror and the brutality that the regime is inflicting which has contributed to a refugee crisis on a scale not seen since World War2.

Committing our country to military action is sometimes inevitable, in self-defence or in fulfilment of our ‘duty to protect’- and the choice NOT to act can also lead to terrible suffering and death (Bosnia, Rwanda). Hence I have supported military action in the past, and voted in favour of backing strikes against ISIL in Iraq when this came before Parliament last September.  I have opposed military action in the past too, including when the Prime Minister sought backing to take action against Assad in 2013 (with the very real risk that it would have provided even more scope for groups such as those which eventually become ISIL to gain ground), and voting for the rebel amendment against the invasion of Iraq.

When we voted to support the Iraqi government against ISIL last year, Labour said that we would extend that support to Syria if ministers could present a coherent plan that met a number of tests about its aims and legality. So I have been open to the argument, and the situation is, of course, changing almost daily. For example, the unanimous vote at the UN last weekend means that there is now a legal basis for action, and I can also accept the argument about our obligations to our allies.

On the other hand, defeating ISIL and ensuring it, or another group in its image, does not re-emerge, means we have to learn from the mistakes of the past and not rely on vague and wishful thinking. Extending our role in the bombing campaign against ISIL in Syria is almost the simplest part (which is not to say it is simple or risk/cost free). Contributing to a lasting solution to the crisis is far more challenging.

So these are the key issues as I see them:

I agree with my colleague Dan Jarvis when he says one test is that “we need clarity about the difference that extending Britain’s intervention will make to hastening ISIL’s defeat. Our role should not solely be justified by solidarity, but on how we can make a practical difference”. 

Today’s statement reinforced the inevitable need for ground troops to fight ISIL, since airstrikes are not sufficient to ensure victory. This raises important questions. Not only are there differences of view as to the size and capacity of “moderate” Syrian rebel forces, we are also effectively fighting alongside Russia against ISIL although Russia is simultaneously  bombing other rebel forces opposed to Assad, despite these potentially forming part of the solution we are putting forward. So the assumption that there are moderate Syrian forces we can all unite with and behind to defeat ISIL is an ambitious one.

Many of those concerned by an ‘ISIL first’ (Cameron’s words) approach want to be convinced both that there is a realistic prospect of securing a victory on the ground without Western troops being committed- bearing in mind the previously unpredicted scale of Western involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan that proved necessary over many years- and that defeating ISIL contributes towards an end to the civil war. There needs to be credible plan for a political agreement to end the conflict, beginning with a cease fire and with an emphasis on the establishment of safe havens for civilians, and this can only be secured by agreement with the other key partners now involved. It is surely impossible to see President Assad remaining in place as part of that process, given his regime’s role in atrocities which has substantially driven the mass exodus from the country, and which are responsible for more than 90% of the 200,000 deaths since 2011. In turn that means clarity on a political agreement which has the commitment of the key powers involved in the conflict, including Russia and Iran. The alternative- defeating ISIL whilst leaving Assad in a stronger position domestically, means no end to the suffering or to the outflow of refugees.

In the past, post-conflict reconstruction has proved far harder than anticipated following recent interventions, such as Iraq, whilst the experience of Libya shows that airstrikes may have an immediate impact but do not of themselves prevent the disintegration of the state. Lessons may have been learnt from Iraq regarding the risks of dismantling the apparatus of the state, but it is reasonable to want to know how Syria can be assisted given the very different interests within the anti-ISIL coalition.

In the short as well as the long term, we need to be looking at the economic, financial and ideological factors underpinning the conflict. How are ISIL being funded? Today’s government statement revealed that ISIL are generating an astonishing $1.5 million dollars daily from oil revenues- money which funds their terrorist as well as military capabilities. Where is the oil being pumped from within ISIL territory being sold to and why? How is money getting in and out of the territory it controls? How are funds from sympathisers being generated and transferred? And how do we bear down on the extremist theology being practiced and exported by countries in the region with which we are otherwise allied? As Paddy Ashdown said on the radio this week, there also has to be pressure on the Gulf States to stop the flow of Sunni jihadism.

The Paris atrocities demonstrate ISIL’s terror capacity- as was previously the case with Al-Queda, and as to varying degrees is the case with other groups, such as Jabbat Al-Busra; Boko Haram and Al-Shabbab.  Of course it is right that we want to deal with the terror threat, yet the journalist (and David Cameron’s former speechwriter) Ian Birrell, has written:

“blasting it to bits will not solve the issues that sparked its rise. We can destroy it, just as we defeated al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but similar groups will flare up again in a different guise. The militants feed on poverty and poor education, the alienation of minority groups, sectarianism inflamed by repression, colonial borders that fail to match realities on the ground, and cack-handed foreign interventions. And generations are growing up for whom conflict is normal as ethnic, political and religious divisions worsen. More than ever we need focus in foreign policy, yet it seems sorely missing amid endless talk of fighting”

Finally, both at home and abroad we must continue with, and constantly refine, an effective intelligence, community policing and counter-terrorism capability, complemented by a comprehensive strategy for working with the majority of Muslim opinion which rejects extremism.

I still do not absolutely rule out the possibility of a package of measures which would, together, include and justify further military involvement. Yet neither the Prime Minister's statement, measured in tone though it was, nor comments by the Defence Secretary earlier saying it would be for a “moderate Syrian government” to provide the necessary ground troops to support airstrikes, help defeat ISIL and maintain the peace, provided a sufficiently firm outline as to how to reach that desirable outcome  convince me. Our inability to find a coherent and internationally co-ordinated response to the refugee crisis doesn’t bode well, either, despite Britain’s undeniably important financial contribution.

So in conclusion: taking part in an extension of military action without an internationally agreed plan of what we want to achieve, how we would deal with the aftermath, how we might build a lasting peace and what an exit strategy would be, risks repeating recent history. I may still be convinced by the precise proposal put before us, or by new information or circumstances, but as of now I think it unlikely.


Karen Buck MP

My statement on intervention in Syria

I am extremely conflicted on this difficult issue - though having listening to the Prime Minister’s statement, I have to say he has not yet convinced me of the effectiveness...


Relaxing the rules on ‘holiday lets’

New rules permitting homes to be ‘short-let’ without notification or permission (effectively for up to half the year in some cases) are now in force. Westminster Council confirms my sense that this has led to a rise in short-lets with more residential properties being advertised on the main websites. I am supporting the Council’s plans to seek an exemption for some areas - an exemption that would mean owners still have to notify them when they do holiday lets, making it much easier to deal with enforcement issues when problems arise. I am aware that Westminster are prioritising the Edgware Road area as they draw up these plans and have stressed that in my view they should also be considering some or all of Bayswater and Lancaster Gate as well, since I have had a number of residents complaining about problems in these areas. Do please let me know if you are affected, or have views on the issue.

Policing faces a further squeeze

There has been a steady increase in the number of complaints I have received about crime and ASB issues locally, from begging to burglary.  A few weeks ago, police warned of a “small spate of street robberies” in parts of W2” and issued advice to people to take care using their mobiles on the street.  There certainly seems to have been a rise in burglaries over the year, including some business break-ins (although crime over the long term generally remains down across the city).  There have also been reports of a rise in begging in and around Queensway. Our Safer Neighbourhood teams continue to be very stretched, and there are concerns that the Spending Review settlement will leave the Met Police with another £800m or so to find in budget cuts. The Met Management Board has delayed a decision, originally due in October, to scrap all the remaining 1000 Police Community Support Officers.

Slow Broadband speeds let the local economy down

Small businesses make up two-thirds of the estimated 50,000 businesses in Westminster and many cannot afford premium-grade business services. Their development - and the wider economy - are being held back by “painfully slow” internet access, even though London is Europe’s leading ‘tech city’, according to the Council less than half the city, 47%, has access to super-fast broadband. I’ve taken this up with the Minister responsible and BT and will continue to do so on behalf of anyone who wants to contact me about it.

Westminster set to lose desperately needed social housing under new government plans

Government plans to extend the Right to Buy scheme to housing association tenants across the UK could force the sell-off of nearly 113,000 council homes, according to findings from the homelessness charity Shelter. In Westminster, three out of every four council homes- 9,213 -would be affected, with homes in areas such as Bayswater and Lancaster Gate most at risk. Not replacing properties sold to Housing Association tenants ( just one in five have been replaced) combined with the forced sales of council properties, means far fewer homes - in inner London especially - for people waiting in over-crowded or unsuitable homes, or expensive temporary accommodation.

In an even more recent announcement, the Government intends to allow developers to avoid building affordable homes to rent at all in favour of more ‘Starter Homes’, priced up to £450,000 in London. Locally, where 1-bed new builds sell for £500k or more, this will further reduce the availability of homes for lower and middle earners, with Shelter estimating that only those with incomes of £77,000 or more could afford them.

Supporting leaseholders

I held the third in my series of advice sessions for leaseholders in Bayswater in September- once again it was packed out with people- private and council leaseholders (including the Hallfield estate and Swanleys)  struggling with issues such as the cost and quality Major Works; Service Charges, transparency and access to information. The Major Works on the Hallfield are now into their sixth year- certainly the most protracted Major Works programme I have ever known. Sadly, this means that those residents whose lives are impacted by excess cold and condensation face another winter of misery and high heating bills, whilst the cost of building works is not exactly going down.

Basement excavations

I recently re-introduced my ‘private’ bill to give legal force to new council policy on restricting basement excavations, with cross party backing, including from MPs Mark Field and Victoria Borwick. Latest figures show that there have been 242 applications for residential basement excavations in the last two years alone, of which all but 38 were accepted. Whilst I welcome Westminster toughening up their policy (their new rules come into effect early 2016) there are still concerns that well-funded developers will be able to challenge them - as has now happened in Kensington.

It was a joy to be able to join the birthday parties organised by SEBRA this summer for two of the associations’ greatest champions: John Walton and John Zamit. It’s lovely that SEBRA is the sort of organisation to show appreciation for residents who put so much into their community without reward.  The amount of hard work involved in running an amenity society, organising events, submitting responses to planning applications and so forth is often under-appreciated. Yet is it vital to a healthy civic society. Both John Walton and John Zamit deserve our grateful thanks.

Talking of events, the summer party was again great fun and blessed by the weather, and I look forward to SEBRA AGM in November (where there is usually a surprise or two in store for the main guests).

Please do continue to keep me in touch with your concerns and interests- by e-mail (buckk@parliament.uk), phone (02089687999), letter (Karen Buck MP, House of Commons, London SW1AOAA, or Twitter (@KarenPBuckMP).

My article for the South East Bayswater Residents' Association newsletter

Relaxing the rules on ‘holiday lets’ New rules permitting homes to be ‘short-let’ without notification or permission (effectively for up to half the year in some cases) are now in...



Karen Buck MP

House of Commons


Cllr Heather Acton
Cabinet Member for Sustainability and Parking

Westminster City Council

29th October 2015





Exemption to the de-regulation of short-term letting in Westminster

The Deregulation Act 2015 allowed householders in London to rent out their properties on a short-term basis without the need for planning permission and it also provided powers for local planning authorities to direct that this should not apply to particular residential premises situated in a particular specified area. We are very grateful for your support on making the case for exemption for Westminster.

Westminster’s unique circumstances as a densely developed area at the heart of the world city means that short-term letting in the centre is quite different from other parts of London, is carried out on a commercial basis, and often has major impacts on the quality of life of neighbouring residents.

The Council therefore decided to submit a case to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for the exemption of Hyde Park and Bryanston & Dorset Square wards along with 16 residential blocks outside of these two wards where residents suffer an unacceptably high level of negative impacts upon their residential amenity as a result of short-term letting activity.

The exemption case, which is attached for your information, was submitted on 29th October 2015 and we await a response from the Secretary of State as to whether the Council will be permitted to exempt those areas identified from the relevant sections of the Deregulation Act.

WCC response to the de-regulation of short-term letting in Westminster

  Karen Buck MP House of Commons Westminster SW1A 0AA buck@parliament.uk Cllr Heather Acton Cabinet Member for Sustainability and Parking Westminster City Council 29th October 2015        ...

View More Activities

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better. Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.  To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.