Isabel Hardman

Tory whips woo Labour MPs ahead of Syria vote

Tory whips woo Labour MPs ahead of Syria vote
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As David Cameron confirmed in his statement to the Commons today, he will set out his strategy on attacking Islamic State in Syria on Thursday. MPs will then get the weekend to consider their positions, with a vote expected next week.

A number of odd things are happening in preparation for this vote. One is that the Tory whips are being incredibly nice to people they normally ignore: Labour MPs. I understand that there is a briefing scheduled for Wednesday for Labour MPs at the Ministry of Defence, with a similar one for Tory MPs at a separate time. As I said this morning, it looks as though Labour MPs will help Cameron get the ‘biggest possible majority’ that he told the Commons he was after.

Cameron did also say that he didn’t want to rush people into a decision, but that ‘ee shouldn't take too long over it: every day that we spend is a day that we're not getting to grips with the ISIL menace.’ He also doesn’t want to give Labour MPs too long to consider how to vote because the more time they are given, the more contact they may have with their constituency parties. This is another odd thing: normally consulting the local members is something MPs boast about doing. But for many Labour MPs at the moment contact with the local party means aggressive lobbying to vote against action. They are worried about the impact that Corbynite organisation Momentum will have at a grassroots level: some have joined this new group in their constituencies to find out what on earth it is up to, while others plan to use tonight’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting to complain about its campaigning activities which seem suspiciously allied to Stop the War.

A third odd thing is that Shadow Cabinet members are not just thinking about what the vote on Syria means for Syria, but for their own position. They have been stung in recent days by criticism from backbench Labour MPs that they aren’t doing enough to hold the mainstream PLP line against the Corbynites, and some of them see this vote as an opportunity to lay down the law to their leader, demanding that they get a free vote, or else voting with the government and out of line with the Labour whip, and daring the serial rebel who now leads their party to sack them. Either way, Corbyn has got a serious test of his character and authority ahead.