30 Nov 2015

Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet debates Syria air strikes

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faces a showdown with his most senior colleagues over whether to back the government’s stance on air strikes against Islamic State in Syria.

Jeremy Corbyn (Getty)

With Labour split over the issue, Mr Corbyn has to decide if his MPs should be given a free vote, allowing them to do what they want, or will be expected to adopt his position and oppose the strikes in a three-line whip.

If he opts for the former, Labour will look divided when the vote is held. If he opts for the latter, he risks resignations from his shadow cabinet.

The shadow cabinet meets at lunchtime and meetings are being held beforehand to work out how Labour should proceed.

The government needs the support of a significant number of Labour MPs if it is to win the vote, which could be held on Wednesday.


Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon writes in his blog that one shadow cabinet member believes he “would get just over half the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) on his side in a vote”, while “over the last few days, the number of rebels thought ready to back the government seems to have dropped from close to 100 to closer to 60”.

He “would lose a chunk of his shadow cabinet if the tried to whip them against their pro-war inclinations”.

Corbyn decision moment looms. Read Gary Gibbon's blog 

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said most Labour members supported their leader (watch video below), while was echoed by Corbyn ally Diane Abbott.

The shadow international development secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a matter for the leader what the whipping will be, but we are a party of government and a party of government has to have a position on matters of peace and war.

‘Victory to Cameron’

“The problem about a free vote is it hands victory to Cameron of these air strikes, it hands victory to him on a plate. I don’t think that’s what party members want to see.

“Party members and, increasingly, the country, want to see us oppose these air strikes, which are not the solution, with every sinew of our being, and that would mean a three-line whip.”

Dozens of Labour MPs are thought to support air strikes, including a majority of the shadow cabinet.

Mr Corbyn is expected to publish the results from a survey of Labour activists’ opinions on Syria this morning before the shadow cabinet meets. There will be a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this evening.