Socialist Worker

Jeremy Corbyn is in retreat as the Labour right goes to war

Letting MPs follow their ‘conscience’ needlessly hands the warmongers a victory at the expense of Syria—and of Jeremy Corbyn, writes Nick Clark

Issue No. 2482

Thousands protested against bombing Syria in London last Saturday - but Jeremy Corbyn wasnt one of them

Thousands protested against bombing Syria in London last Saturday - but Jeremy Corbyn wasn't one of them (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Labour MPs were set to have a free vote in parliament on Wednesday of this week on whether or not to bomb Syria. And it is not official Labour Party policy to oppose airstrikes in Syria.

That was the outcome of a Labour shadow cabinet meeting on Monday of this week.

Tory leader David Cameron had held off from calling a vote on bombing Syria until he was certain he could get a majority in favour. Labour’s decision allowed him to schedule the vote.

It is possible Cameron might have backed away if Labour MPs were whipped to vote against the war.

The shadow cabinet decision is the result of a climbdown followed by a significant defeat for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

He had hoped to allow a free vote, but to insist that official policy was against bombing. This was a fudge aimed at maintaining party unity.

But members of the shadow cabinet, led by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, were clearly unwilling to accept even this.

Corbyn abandoned his demand for Labour’s official policy to oppose bombing.

This resulted in the bizarre situation where Corbyn was to speak against bombing—but shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn would speak for.

Corbyn has come under constant attack from Labour MPs to his right since he was overwhelmingly elected Labour leader in September. Many of those in his shadow cabinet have joined the attacks.


Shadow cabinet ministers effectively challenged Corbyn to whip them and face mass resignations or sackings.

In the end he allowed a free vote to keep Labour together. But the price of this is that it effectively allows the bombing to go ahead.

Corbyn had started to make some moves against his opponents in Labour last weekend.

A consultation of Labour members strengthened his hand. The majority of members are to the left of Labour MPs—and the survey showed some 75 percent were against bombing.

West London Labour Party member Raj Gill is one of them.

He told Socialist Worker, “There is a deep rooted concern among Labour Party members in Ealing about being dragged into another vote to bomb Syria.

“If the Parliamentary Labour Party doesn’t support the leader it will lead to a lot of discontent.”

The shadow cabinet used Corbyn’s compromise to force a further humiliation. The message to Corbyn was clear—you’re not in charge.

Corbyn’s compromise began last Saturday when he stayed away from the Stop the War protest in central London. Corbyn was chair of the Stop the War Coalition until recently.

Thousands of people joined that protest.

And tens of thousands of people joined Labour over the summer partly because of Corbyn’s clear opposition to war.

The pressure to keep the Labour Party together is taking Corbyn away from that base of support—and giving a boost to the warmongers.

Oldham by-election battle is a no-win situation for Corbyn

The Labour Party faces its first electoral test after Jeremy Corbyn became leader with the Oldham West by-election on Thursday of this week.

The result will be seen as an indicator of Corbyn’s popularity. It is likely to be used as a stick to beat the leadership with—whatever the outcome.

Oldham West has long been a Labour stronghold. Now many Labour figures and media commentators are predicting a close result between Labour and the racist Ukip.

They say that Corbyn has alienated many traditional Labour voters. They claim the candidate, right wing Oldham council leader Jim McMahon, is more in touch with the “white working class.”

What they mean is they think working class people are right wing and a bit racist. So racist and right wing ideas have to be pandered to.

Many of those same journalists and Labour figures have spent weeks arguing that Corbyn is dangerous and has made Labour unelectable.

Now they have found voters on the doorstep who think Corbyn is dangerous and has made Labour unelectable.

So if Labour loses, it will be spun as Corbyn’s fault. But if Labour wins it will be in spite of him.

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