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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Labour MPs to give Corbyn a taste of his own medicine

One of the more compelling arguments made against Jeremy Corbyn by his opponents in the Labour leadership contest was that a serial rebel such as himself could not expect the Parliamentary Party to fall into line behind him on crucial, but controversial votes.

Essentially, the discipline expected of an opposition party would dissipate and give Cameron and the Tories a free reign in the House of Commons. And so it is proving.

Today's Observer reports that at least 50 Labour MPs are prepared to defy Jeremy Corbyn by backing military action to protect civilians in Syria:

In a clear challenge to the Labour leader’s authority, a group of MPs and peers is ready to work with Conservative colleagues to promote a three-pronged strategy in which military intervention by UK forces would complement fresh humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives.

In a sign of increasing cross-party cooperation over Syria, Tory MP and former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, and Labour MP Jo Cox, a former head of policy at Oxfam, have joined forces in support of the plan in an article for the Observer. Corbyn has consistently made it clear he is opposed to British military involvement in Syria.

As the paper says, although the shadow chancellor John McDonnell has suggested Labour MPs could be given a free vote in the Commons, it would be a huge blow to the leader’s authority if a vote was passed with the backing of a sizable number of Labour MPs, especially as that number may include members of the shadow cabinet.

Corbyn is under attack on other fronts too, including challenges over austerity and immigration:

Senior Labour MPs have privately called on him to support the immigration bill, which includes measures to prevent immigrants undercutting British workers. However, shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has insisted that the party will oppose the “kneejerk” bill.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon is attacking Corbyn’s support for the fiscal charter, which will commit the government to delivering an overall surplus by 2019-20 and to running an overall budget surplus in “normal times”.

She told the Observer: “This week is a key test of Labour’s credentials under Jeremy Corbyn – and it is a test they dare not fail if they are to be taken remotely seriously as an opposition.

“If Labour do not vote against the Tories’ spending proposals, all of their anti-austerity rhetoric will be exposed as empty bluster and will confirm the SNP as the only serious party of opposition in the Commons.

“Jeremy Corbyn has been overruled by his senior colleagues on Trident, and he cannot allow that to happen on austerity too.”

On these issues as on others it is difficult not to conclude that he is struggling to control a Parliamentary Party who did not want him as leader in the first place.
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