24 Nov 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: media training and Syria rebellion

I hear that Jeremy Corbyn was, on the advice of his media team, booked in for professional media training last Friday. The session was booked for 10.30 till noon at his local party headquarters. This would be the turning of the tide, the mastering of camera, autocue, and delivery.


The senior team were all gathered there including newly appointed former Guardian columnist Seamus Milne. The only absentee was Mr Corbyn himself. He eventually turned up, cycle helmet in hand, an hour late.

A planned lengthy session with a professional coach was much abbreviated and left some members of the team a little exasperated. Mr Corbyn told aides he’d simply forgotten the appointment.

On more important matters, discontent amongst Labour MPs grows in the build-up to a critical rebellion on Syria.

Today there  were only 14 Labour MPs defying the Labour leadership and voting for Trident in the Commons vote when the leader had said he wanted MPs simply to stay away from the SNP opposition day debate.

The government expects a lot more Labour MPs to be on their side next week when they expect to put plans to launch RAF attacks on Isil in Syria to a Commons vote.

Senior Tories talk of getting anywhere between 30 and 50 Labour MPs on to their side on top of the DUP and maybe some Lib Dems too. That, they argue, could easily out-number the 15 to 20 Tory rebels they predict.

All of this, of course, is before anyone’s heard the arguments or seen the PM’s answer to the questions posed by the Tory-dominated cross-party foreign affairs select committee.

But it’s a sign of how confident the government is that it is pencilling in a vote, something No. 10 has made clear it will only contemplate when it is confident it will win. The plan at the moment is that it happens on Tuesday next week. MPs will also have debated Syria the day before in a backbench vote. In private, at 1pm, the Defence Secretary will brief Labour MPs on Monday on the Isil threat.

Today’s shadow cabinet decided that it would “come to a view” on what to do about the Syria vote, which means it has, as of this moment, decided nothing. Jeremy Corbyn did urge shadow cabinet members to listen to the views of their local party members, which could make for some feisty lobbying by Corbyn-supporting grassroots. The shadow cabinet will meet again on Thursday after the PM’s spoken to the Commons and again on Monday ahead of a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I mentioned yesterday that some shadow cabinet members who want military action want to have a vote amongst the front bench team on whether they support military action over Syria. They think they could win that vote and effectively either force their own leader to toe the line and back action he instinctively opposes or make him into a rebel in the party he leads. We’ll see whether they push it that far.

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