Jeremy Corbyn seems to have left Shadow Cabinet meeting with a reasonable result, given the warfare in the Labour party over the past few days. It was what one frontbencher describes as ‘rather lively’ and others felt was ‘totally embarrassing’, but the agreed position is that there will be a free vote, a call for a two day debate and that official party policy will be that set out by the Labour party conference. This is the statement on the matter:
‘Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.
‘The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.
‘Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS.’
This last is important because it is not the same as Labour opposing strikes in Syria outright. It said the party should oppose strikes unless the following conditions were met: UN authorisation, an EU-wide plan for humanitarian assistance for refugees, bombing to be directed exclusively at military targets associated with Islamic State, and military action being a small part of the wider plan to bring the Syrian civil war to an end.
Shadow Cabinet members I’ve spoken to say that whether or not these conditions have been met is a matter of interpretation, which means that they can conform with party policy and support strikes. Corbyn will open the debate opposing strikes on the basis of the party policy, and Hilary Benn will close it with his own view, also based on the party policy. In essence, Labour will unite around a conference motion, with individual members deciding what it actually means.
It has been a confusing day for the Labour party. Rumours swept Westminster this evening that Shadow Chief Whip Rosie Winterton is about to resign over a loss of authority that results from there being a free vote on Syria, but those close to her assure me that this is not the case at all. She should probably be relieved that she doesn’t need to try to whip this vote: a number of sanguine members of Shadow Cabinet feel that what has been decided has taken the poison out, even if it hasn’t set Labour on an even keel.