Labour members 'overwhelmingly opposed' to bombing Syria ahead of decision from shadow cabinet

A consultation found around 75 per cent of members are opposed to bombing

Jon Stone
Monday 30 November 2015 12:25
Jeremy Corbyn believes air strikes on Syria could make the situation there worse
Jeremy Corbyn believes air strikes on Syria could make the situation there worse

Labour members who responded to a party consultation on extending British airstrikes to Syria are “overwhelmingly against” military action, according to reports.

BBC News says that the leadership team around Jeremy Corbyn believes that the mood in the party is shifting towards their point of view opposing strikes.

Over 70,000 people are said to have responded to the email consultation, issued last week, which asked members and supporters whether they agreed with strikes on Syria and whether they had any comments.

Labour said around 75 per cent of people in a sample of responses examined were against bombing. The poll is not a scientific survey of members' opinion but broadly chimes with previous systematically conducted polls.

The report comes as Labour’s shadow cabinet meets early this afternoon to finalise the party’s approach on Syria bombing after a very public internal debate on the issue.

Mr Corbyn is opposed to bombing in Syria because he believes that it could make the situation worse if indiscriminate or accidental civilian deaths strengthen support for Isis.

Thousands rally in UK against bombing Syria

The Government however says the UK should not “outsource” security to allies like the US and France, who are already bombing the country.

Some Labour MPs back strikes. A series of public opinion polls show that more of the public support strikes than oppose them, though Labour members are opposed.

Labour’s position could on the issue could be crucial because the Government may struggle to gain a majority in Parliament to authorise strikes on account of a bloc of Tory MPs being opposed to action.

However, whatever the UK ultimately does, strikes by France and the US are already on-going and will continue.

Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary and close ally of Mr Corbyn, told the Today programme this morning that a free vote on the issue would amount to a victory for David Cameron.

“I think public opinion is moving towards us in opposing the rush to war, that’s why so many right-wing newspapers and commentators are opposed to the Syrian airstrikes,” she said.

“The problem about a free vote is that it hands victory to Cameron over these airstrikes, it hands victory to him on a plate. I don’t think that’s what party members want to see. I think it’s a matter for the leader, in consultation and in particular in consultation with the chief whip.”

Diane Abbott says a free vote would be a victory for David Cameron

Another close all of Mr Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, however backs a free vote.

Mr Corbyn, a serial rebel before becoming leader, has in the past backed free votes on military action.

A number of Labour MPs said they would vote against a whip on the issue. Hove MP Peter Kyle yesterday told the Westminster Hour programme that he had made up his mind and that “the whip is irrelevant to me now”.

Under Ed Miliband Labour MPs were asked to vote against intervention against the Assad regime; the party’s entire front bench did so. This vote is about whether to bomb Isis, which the UK is already bombing in Iraq.

Some Labour frontbenchers have hinted that they might resign if they are not given a free vote, with Lord Falconer saying he hope resignations could be avoided.

Mr Corbyn yesterday told the Andrew Marr show that he would ultimately choose the party’s position because he was the leader.

“No decision has been made on that yet, I am going to find out what MPs think,” he told the programme.

“Obviously there are strong views on both directions. We will have a further discussion on this. We will make that decision not at this moment but later on.”

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