Air Strikes Signal a New Challenge for Labour

In the aftermath of the first air strikes against Syria, Vicki Lincoln explores the implications for the Labour party. 

The run up to the Commons vote on Air Strikes in Syria has exposed some ugly, bitter and deep divides in the Labour Party.  The vote on Wednesday has been tarred by turmoil as the Labour Party struggles to consolidate all parts of its political organisation.  This vote is not about whether Air Strikes are wrong or not it has become about whether Corbyn is a viable leader for the Labour Party. It is undeniable that after Labour’s defeat in May it left it needing reform and a refresh, yet this episode has set back Labour’s chances of clawing back support from the electorate.  The challenges awaiting Labour in the aftermath are varied and will be difficult to reconcile. The most obvious conflicts are the loss of faith in Corbyn, the unruly behaviour of the shadow cabinet and MPs, and the ability for the Labour Party to represent its electorate as an opposition party.

This is the biggest crisis in Leadership for the Labour Party in recent history, with rumours of Corbyn being ‘shouted down’ and losing the support of many of his MPs.  Jeremy Corbyn back tracked on whipping his MPs into voting in opposition to the strikes because of the backlash from not only his backbenchers but his shadow cabinet.  The free vote has revealed Corbyn’s weakness as a leader because it has exposed his lack of respect within the Labour ranks. Although Corbyn has allowed a free vote he insists that Labour Party policy is that of opposition.  The free vote came about in a 24 hour U-turn. Corbyn’s last minute and swift change to a free vote looks like desperation not to be embarrassed by a rebelling Labour Party.  The government motion was passed 397 to 223 after a 10-hour debate in the House of Commons of which 66 Labour MPs rebelled. Corbyn’s insistence on diplomacy have undermined the public’s opinion of him. Forming a credible government in Syria is highly optimistic and utopian even from a diehard lefty like Corbyn. It is clear he is not Prime Minister Material and furthermore is barely scrapping by as an Opposition leader.

One of the largest challenges that faces Labour is the lack of unification within the shadow cabinet. The shadow cabinet is vital in leading and shaping the Labour Party and recent fractions have shown the Labour party to be weak and divided.  Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn voted in favour undermining Corbyn completely. Shadow Cabinet meetings have been rumoured to be marred with child-like dissolution such as ministers refusing to leave unless Corbyn backed down.  High profile rebellion and threats of resignation undermine the legitimacy of The Labour Party as an opposition party. There have also been claims that Corbyn has banned Shadow Ministers from voicing views other than his own.  Moreover, there are claims the MPs who voted in favour will be deselected as candidates in the future. This breaks down the view that he champions democracy and free speech. This has shaken his core identity as a leader.  The public will have to reconsider Corbyn’s priorities and values as a leader. Moreover, this period has damaged the idea of ‘government in waiting’ and brought back debates as to why the Labour Party had such a humiliating defeat in May.  If the Labour Party remains divided and as some see it radical in its views it continues to damage its chances of re-election in 5 years’ time.

A Labour Party coup against Jeremy Corbyn is becoming an ever closer reality. This chaotic episode for the Labour Party has reaffirmed that Corbyn does not hold political views or values that encompass the majority of the Labour Party and their electorate.  There will undoubtedly be consequences for Labour because the negative impact seeps much deeper than revealing uneasiness in the Labour Party. It has undermined the principle of a competent opposition party because a Labour party with this level of internal dissent cannot govern.

By Vicki Lincoln 


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