The question of whether Britain should be involved in bombings inside Syria to confront IS has in some respects been made easier by the massacres in Paris a fortnight ago. Does IS pose a direct threat to Britain? Yes. Should IS be confronted in Syria and Iraq? Again yes. Will Britain adding its planes to those already bombing Syria really make a difference? A marginal effect at best but of far greater symbolic importance. Did David Cameron make the case for immediate bombing yesterday? In part I think he did…though he was less clear about how this fitted into plans for defeating IS and he made some grandiloquent statements about the Syrian forces opposed to IS of some 70,000 fighters…I was reminded of Tony Blair’s statements about weapons of mass destruction over a decade ago. Will bombing make Britain safer? In the short-term, probably not as there will almost inevitably be consequences.
Jeremy Corbyn has made his position clear in a letter to Labour MPs. This will not come as a surprise to his supporters or critics…he has long opposed Britain’s involvement in foreign interventions and has, in most cases, been right in his analysis. The question is whether as leader of Labour, he has the luxury of putting his own well-established views before what many people see as the necessity for action to stem the threat from IS. Those critical of his leadership see this as yet another example of the shambolic depths to which Labour has sunk and in a week with the Little Red Book dominating the news rather than Conservative U-turns over tax credits and police funding, the letter simply reinforces their view of him as a liability to both party and country.
Public opinion has shifted since 2013 when 2:1 were against intervention in Syria—albeit against Assad—to 2.1 in favour…even amongst Labour voters though not amongst the Corbynistas of whom 71 per cent want a free vote on the issues. The disconnect between the 300,000 activists and the 9 million who voted for Labour in May is very clear. For MPs, their mandate comes from those who elected them in May rather than the minority of activists and therein lies the problem at the heart of Labour’s dilemma. The choice appears to be between an activist-based party that lacks the numbers to win an election and Labour voters who are more ‘conservative’ in their views of a range of issues including Trident, welfare and education. With Labour currently polling at 27 per cent—15 points behind the government—and with public opinion broadly behind bombing, by making clear his stance Jeremy threatens to make the divisions within the Parliamentary Labour Party even worse.