‘Free vote’ on air strikes plan suggests Corbyn is playing a long game

The reasonable face of British politics: Jeremy Corbyn.

The reasonable face of British politics: Jeremy Corbyn.


This Blog has just learned that Jeremy Corbyn is to offer a free vote to Labour MPs on Tory PM David Cameron’s proposals for the UK to bomb Syria – but will make clear that Labour party policy is to oppose airstrikes.

His decision averts the threat of a mass shadow cabinet walkout while making it clear that his own firmly-held opposition to airstrikes is official Labour party policy, backed by the membership.

He will also call on Cameron to delay the vote until after he has addressed Labour Party concerns over his justification for the bombing – and has already written to the prime minister calling for a full, two-day debate.

This suggests Corbyn is playing what some people describe as a “long game”.

If Cameron agrees to delay a vote until after he has made another attempt to justify himself, this will give the Labour leadership time for a full assessment of responses to Mr Corbyn’s emailed consultation of party members.

MPs will be able to see precisely how members in their own constituencies have responded and what arguments they have put forward.

This means those who have expressed support for bombings may find themselves at odds with their own constituency membership. What will that mean for their own future, if they go ahead with support for a Conservative motion?

It seems to This Writer that Labour MPs who still plan to support the Tories are courting deselection before the next election, to be replaced by candidates who more accurately reflect party policy (which is to block air strikes, let’s not forget).

Cameron will face a dilemma over his plan to demand a vote this week, as undecided Labour MPs are more likely to support party policy in the absence of full information from the consultation or any further justification from Cameron.

Prior to the announcement This Writer would have preferred Corbyn to have whipped his members to vote against air strikes.

But this move is, potentially, a stroke of genius.

It hamstrings Cameron and the rebels, provides time for heated emotions to calm, and creates openings for the Labour Party’s future.

Of course, some commentators haven’t seen it like that.

Ed Balls’ former head of policy, Karim Palant, has tweeted: “This is the right decision in the circumstances. But poor handling has hurt leader’s standing with his supporters.” Oh, really?

It seems to me that any “poor handling” was carried out by the Blairites who briefed against Corbyn in the Tory rags. They misinformed the media and created a stir that was altogether unnecessary.

Corbyn stands unblemished as a result of all this; he has demonstrated – as well as it is possible to do so – that his view is supported by the majority of the party, and it is his opponents who are on the wrong side of the argument.

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30 thoughts on “‘Free vote’ on air strikes plan suggests Corbyn is playing a long game

  1. NMac

    Like you Mike, I would have preferred him to have “whipped” the rebel MPs, but it may be that this is a much more subtle way to achieve the result he wants. It will certainly highlight to those rebel MPs just how out of touch with the membership they are.

  2. chriskitcher

    Well it certainly shows that Corbyn is as good as his word in that consultation with the membership has certainly got the Bliarites concerned with the thumping majority against bombing.

  3. AndyH

    I’d sooner have MPs listen to their constituents rather than the whips. Any MP in a marginal seat will have to think very carefully. Anti-war activists are known for tenacity and long-term memories – any MP thinking of backing it, can’t assume their voters will have forgotten about it by 2020.

  4. Ian Mc

    I thought Labour party policy on this was to back air strikes only if 4 conditions were met, these were set out at conference. I am not sure now whether Mr Corbyn is reiterating that position or changing to a different policy.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Party policy remains the same. By making it a vote of conscience, Corbyn is asking Labour MPs to make a statement about whether they support party policy or not. If they don’t, then the question for the constituencies is, why allow these people to continue being Labour MPs if they don’t support party policy?

      1. Ian Mc

        Party policy is not to “block air strikes” it is to not support them unless 4 conditions are met (as set out at conference) are met. Maybe some Labour MPs feel the conditions have been met? Maybe they have been met?

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        If you want to argue semantics, go ahead; some of us have better things to do with our time.
        Labour Party policy is as I’ve stated here and in previous articles: No air strikes unless the conditions have been met.
        It is enshrined in a motion that was put to Conference by a colleague in my own Constituency Labour Party, who is also a personal friend.
        He is satisfied that the four conditions have not been met – and he should know.

      3. Ian Mc

        I don’t think it was semantics, I thought it was a very relevant and missing from your this blog. It is a matter of opinion whether the 4 conditions have been met. Corbyn quite cleverly has allowed his MPs to decide whether the conditions have been met and hence the free vote.

      4. Mike Sivier Post author

        No, it’s a matter of opinion whether one of the four conditions has been met, and even then there are strong arguments that it hasn’t.

  5. Ros Curwood

    Your article cheered me no end. I had just read comments by that snake Woodcock and was really worried that the Blairites had won. But if they vote for they will be shown as warmongers and especially when we find what we all expect, that airstrikes will do dreadful damage and no good at all, and play right into the hands of IS, they will also be seen to have very bad judgement, and will not be popular all round. I do really hope that you are right, and that all those against will do the Momentum petition to let their MPs know what they think.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I have conflicting opinions about Momentum. I’m not ready to object to it, but it does seem to be separate from the Labour Party (including other people as members) so I’m not happy to support it as a pressure group on Labour either.

      I certainly hope party members will be able to take action, whether via Momentum, independently, or both – if they find it is necessary.

    2. Older Persons Forum! John Cooper

      There sounds the voice of reason being ignored in the rush to War!
      All labour MPs should remember it’s the people they represent and should take into account their voice of reason?
      Remember Mr Cameron people who live in glass houses should not throw stones?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      He doesn’t have to. It has been official party policy since the Party Conference in September.

  6. Maggie J

    Unfortunately not “unblemished”. The members’ poll was very flawed – many members were not contacted; many uninvited contributions were made by non-members (there was no security on the response form which was widely available on FB & elsewhere). I have been on the phone to Labour headquarters most of the day about this. They tried to be helpful but in the end they acknowledged that they were not administering the poll, and I needed to contact Corbyn’s office directly. Corbyn’s people did not answer the phone 🙁

    If he had used such a dodgy poll to enforce his opinion, all hell would have broken loose! Sensible decision in the end.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Labour made a distinction between responses from members and non-members.

      Regarding those who went uncontacted, perhaps you mean members who have not provided an email address? It was a snap consultation – not a poll – made to get a representative response in before the shadow cabinet meeting.

      I think he was wise not to use it to enforce anything. It offers the remaining Labour members a chance to get their opinions in, during the gap between today’s decisions and the vote. Opposing air strikes remains party policy though – it has been since the unanimously-approved Party Conference motion in September.

    2. Charlotte

      Yep, I’m a member and I did not receive the email (nor in junk mail as I checked) neither did a friend who is a councillor! They have my email address as I get other emails including the weekly PM questions one … just not this. I did see on twitter someone suggesting that it was only sent out to those with a sitting Labour MP. Mine is tory, so that could explain it.

      1. Mike Sivier Post author

        No – I had it and my MP is a Tory.
        I won’t speculate on why you didn’t get it, though.

  7. Ian

    Genuine question: Why doesn’t Chuka Umunna and the likes just cross the floor? They agree with the Tories on more issues than they do their own party and they cannot claim the Conservatives are the bunch of bigots of old so that can’t be holding them back. Is it just not the done thing in ‘liberal’ circles? Does Labour provide a better chance of a safe seat and post Parliament career? Or do they think that not being a racist/sexist/homophobic git is enough to qualify them as left wing and therefore not Tory?

    This has been puzzling me for ages now.

  8. mohandeer

    According to one blog I have read over the weekend some (but only a few) Labour Constituent Leaders are asking their members for guidance on this issue. It is a shame that so many LP polits are claiming they will vote on the issue supposedly representing the views of their constituents, when quite obviously, few have made the commitment to find out what those views are. Ergo, they are voting according to their own agenda and hang the views of their constituents.

  9. John

    Looks like Cameron is calling for a vote on Wednesday, and Tom Watson has also written to Cameron, but PM has called for discussion & vote on Wednesday, so looks like might not all go entirely to Corbyn’s plan?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Maybe. Maybe not. By refusing to provide any further information prior to the debate/vote, Cameron is denying a request by Labour MPs. They won’t take that lightly. Also, by refusing Corbyn’s request for a full, two-day debate and instead shoehorning it into Wednesday’s schedule, Cameron is expressing his contempt for members’ desire to speak and be heard.

      1. John

        TBH I find Cameron to be quite an arrogant man, and am not particularly keen on most of the front bench either. Before the election, he seemed quite laid back and sure of himself (right up until nearer the time, when he came out as “all pumped up”, and then won due to what some say is an unfair voting system. Since Corbyn got in (regardless of whether you like him or not), the conservative back benches have just jeered/shouted at him quite often (which I just think is disgraceful), and Cameron and his mates seem to have shown their utter contempt for the public (PMQs questions from the public). And don’t even get me start with IDS!!

  10. hayfords

    The Huffington Post is quoting a Labour source that there will be 90 or more Labour MPs voting with the government. That is 43% of the party.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      This is according to the now-famous “unnamed Shadow Cabinet member”, who seems to be a friend to everybody but whose name escapes them all.
      I’ve told some of these reporters that if they can’t name this person, we’ll have to assume he/she doesn’t exist.
      My belief is that, if they did name the source, we’d all know the information was baloney.

  11. Neil Suchak

    corbyn has played a absolute blinder, the rebels are cornered, camoron is left wondering if he will win the vote. I have just heard that camoron is going for it on Wednesday.

  12. Jane Smith

    well said! The other angle is that Cameron looks weak if he whips his members to a yes vote, proving Labour to be a party of adults who can make their own minds up on a free vote.
    This could prove disastrous for Cameron if only we can make enough noise
    about the sad little people who need too be told what to do by the Whips instead of their constituents.

  13. gordon vassell

    It seems to me that corbyn has forced those labour MPs who go against labour party policy the prospect of facing quite rightly deselection, not the best motive for opposing the war mongering tories, but it’ll have the desired outcome.

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