He’s forced to al­low free vote on Syria air strikes U- turn af­ter re­volt in shadow cabi­net Party is left with no pol­icy on tack­ling IS

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Ja­son Groves Deputy Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor and Ta­mara Co­hen Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent

JEREMY Cor­byn was hu­mil­i­ated by his shadow cabi­net yes­ter­day when he was forced to ditch plans to or­der his MPs to vote against air strikes in Syria.

In­stead – in a dra­matic U-turn – they will be of­fered a free vote on whether or not to back the at­tacks on Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists.

Dur­ing a stormy two-hour meet­ing, Labour’s top team lined up to crit­i­cise their leader for his sham­bolic han­dling of the is­sue.

They also forced him to aban­don an at­tempt to uni­lat­er­ally change Labour’s pol­icy to out­right op­po­si­tion to war – an ini­tia­tive which his aides had briefed to friendly news­pa­pers as the meet­ing be­gan. Mr Cor­byn had put his fal­ter­ing au­thor­ity on the line over the is­sue. He also came un­der fire later yes­ter­day at a meet­ing of the Par­lia­men­tary Labour Party (PLP) and was seen mak­ing a hasty exit look­ing ashen-faced.

Labour is left in the bizarre po­si­tion of hav­ing no po­si­tion on whether Bri­tain should use mil­i­tary force against ter­ror­ist fa­nat­ics plot­ting to carry out atroc­i­ties in this coun­try.

Mr Cor­byn will speak out against air strikes when he re­sponds to Mr Cameron’s pro­pos­als in the Com­mons – ex­pected to­mor­row – while shadow for­eign sec­re­tary Hilary Benn is ex­pected to use the de­bate to speak in favour. A Labour source de­nied the party’s po­si­tion was a sham­bles but ad­mit­ted it was un­usual for the front bench to make the case both for and against war.

A source said Mr Cor­byn still had ‘full con­fi­dence’ in Mr Benn, but added: ‘Jeremy will be speak­ing for ma­jor­ity Labour Party opin­ion, he will be speak­ing on the ba­sis of Party pol­icy and he will be speak­ing as the leader of the Labour Party elected with a land­slide.’ The row was the cul­mi­na­tion of a dra­matic 48 hours which had ini­tially seen the Labour leader at­tempt to strong-arm his party’s most se­nior fig­ures into back­ing his paci­fist stance.

Mr Cor­byn, former chair­man of the Stop the War coali­tion, hit the air­waves over the week­end and in­sisted that his view would pre­vail, adding: ‘It’s the leader who de­cides.’

His ally Diane Ab­bott stepped up the rhetoric yes­ter­day, say­ing that al­low­ing Labour MPs a free vote would ‘hand vic­tory to Cameron’.

She added: ‘ The truth is we now know the party as a whole, in the coun­try and even within the Par­lia­men­tary Labour Party, is op­posed to these bomb­ings and they are look­ing to Jeremy to show lead­er­ship.’

The leader’s of­fice then re­leased the re­sults of an un­sci­en­tific poll of party sup­port­ers, claim­ing it showed three-quar­ters were against the war. Labour claimed to have sam­pled 1,900 of al­most 108,000 re­sponses re­ceived by the party at the week­end, although it later emerged the fig­ure may have been closer to 100.

Mr Cor­byn’s con­tro­ver­sial com­mu­ni­ca­tions chief Seu­mas Milne briefed the Guardian news­pa­per that although Labour MPs would get a free vote, the party’s pol­icy would be

‘He wouldn’t say boo to a goose’

changed to make it clear that any­one vot­ing for war would be in breach of the party’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion.

In­fu­ri­ated mem­bers of the shadow cabi­net then staged a co-or­di­nated re­volt which forced Mr Cor­byn into to­tal ca­pit­u­la­tion.

Chief whip Rosie Win­ter­ton warned it would be im­pos­si­ble to whip the vote be­cause al­most 100 MPs, in­clud­ing mem­bers of her own of­fice, backed Mr Cameron on the need for mil­i­tary ac­tion against IS.

Sev­eral mem­bers of the shadow cabi­net warned they ‘would not leave the room’ un­til Mr Cor­byn had backed down. Mr Benn threat­ened to step down and make the case for strikes from the back­benches.

Shadow home sec­re­tary Andy Burn­ham, who is un­de­cided on the case for air strikes, crit­i­cised Mr Cor­byn’s ‘poor han­dling’ of the is­sue – and con­demned his at­tempt to mo­bilise party mem­bers against MPs. Another se­nior fig­ure ac­cused Mr Cor­byn of try­ing to or­gan­ise a ‘witch hunt’ against MPs who sup­port mil­i­tary ac­tion. One shadow cabi­net min­is­ter said Mr Cor­byn got a ‘ thor­ough kick­ing’ in the two hour-long meet­ing say­ing: ‘It was un­like any shadow cabi­net meet­ing we’ve had be­fore’.

Shadow Chan­cel­lor John McDon­nell, Mr Cor­byn’s clos­est ally, and Labour’s deputy leader Tom Wat­son both en­cour­aged him to al­low a free vote. Mr Cor­byn’s climb­down dis­mayed al­lies on the Left and pro­voked anger against mod­er­ate MPs.

Pete Wills­man, a mem­ber of Labour’s rul­ing Na­tional Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, said: ‘Jeremy is so soft he wouldn’t say boo to a goose, he’s so good-na­tured. I would be much tougher with these peo­ple.’

There was fur­ther hu­mil­i­a­tion when Labour MPs laid into Mr Cor­byn at a meet­ing of the PLP. One Labour grandee said later that there was a ‘fe­roc­ity’ about the meet­ing and that Mr Cor­byn ap­peared ‘crouched’.

Labour grandee Mar­garet Beck­ett con­fronted him over his ap­peal to mem­bers say­ing: ‘You can­not unite the party if the lead­ers’ of­fice is de­ter­mined to di­vide us.’ Jack Dromey said Labour could not ‘look mealy-mouthed on na­tional se­cu­rity’.

ALAS­TAIR Camp­bell him­self might have blushed to put out yes­ter­day’s state­ment from Labour, say­ing the Shadow Cabi­net had ‘agreed to back Jeremy Cor­byn’s rec­om­men­da­tion of a free vote’ on Syria.

In­deed, no amount of spin can dis­guise that this was a crush­ing hu­mil­i­a­tion for a life­long paci­fist who had wanted a firm party line against bomb­ing.

Thus, it seems in­creas­ingly likely that David Cameron will get his way to­mor­row, while the RAF may go in within days.

This pa­per has made no se­cret of our fear that, with­out boots on the ground or a clear vi­sion of the Syria we want to see af­ter the bomb­ing – and still less, a firm strat­egy to achieve it – we risk re­peat­ing the mis­takes of Iraq and Libya.

Of one thing we’re sure: this was the day that by aban­don­ing his con­vic­tions Mr Cor­byn lost his last, thread­bare claim to moral au­thor­ity.

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