Politics

After Jeremy Corbyn’s Syria shambles, step forward Major Dan Jarvis . . . the new Labour-saving device

5 December 2015

9:00 AM

5 December 2015

9:00 AM

It makes no sense for Britain to bomb Islamic State in Iraq but not Syria. Attacking a group that does not respect international borders on only one side of a border makes no strategic or military sense. From the Prime Minister down, government ministers are acutely aware of this absurdity. That is why they have been so keen to gain the Commons’ permission to extend the strikes to Syria.

Yet this week Westminster has been gripped, not by the strategic case for taking the fight to Islamic State in Syria, but by the effect that this debate has had on the Labour party. Unprecedented is an over-used word in political coverage; very few things are without precedent. But there really is no precedent for the Labour party’s current state.

It is far worse than Labour not having a position. Instead of having no policy, it has two policies — that of the leader and that of the shadow foreign secretary. Jeremy Corbyn is adamantly opposed to airstrikes and will make that case from the despatch box on Wednesday. But Hilary Benn is in favour and will make his argument from the same despatch box later in the debate. Even during the great Labour divide over Europe in the 1970s, Harold Wilson insisted that ministers speaking from the despatch box had to represent his position, even though cabinet collective responsibility had been suspended.

Almost no one in the Labour party is pretending that this is anything other than a shambles. The free vote and the opposing arguments being put from the same despatch box aren’t part of the fabled ‘new politics’ but a product of the fact that the leader and the shadow cabinet can’t agree.

If Corbyn had stuck to his anti-war guns and whipped Labour MPs against airstrikes, sacking those who rebelled, he couldn’t have filled his front bench. Only a handful of the shadow cabinet are loyal to him, and most would have walked out if he had tried to sack those who disagreed with him. Rosie Winterton, the Labour chief whip, isn’t Corbyn’s enforcer but the shadow cabinet’s shop steward. At her signal, it will be one out, all out.


But the shadow cabinet know that, however much they might want to, they can’t move against Corbyn because he has the support of party members: to bring him down would cause a Labour civil war. Polling suggests that Corbyn is now even more popular with the membership than he was when he won the leadership on the first ballot with nigh-on 60 per cent of the vote in a four-candidate field. The result is that Labour can’t function as an effective political party.

Straight after Corbyn became eader, even those who had opposed him most strongly acknowledged that it would take time to replace him. They conceded that they couldn’t move against him before those who had voted for him had begun to accept that his leadership wasn’t working. They also stressed that they needed time to find a candidate and to recruit new supporters. But the experience of having Corbyn as leader has caused even those who advocated patience to snap.

So, what’s the alternative? There are two distinct anti-Corbyn strategies being touted at the moment. The first is to make doing the job so difficult for him that he resigns. But there are no signs that Corbyn intends to walk away. Ever since party conference, he has been rather enjoying himself.

The other strategy is more high-risk. It is to force him out now and gamble that the party rulebook wouldn’t allow Corbyn to stand again unless he got the nominations of 35 MPs, which he would struggle to do. If this heist could be pulled off, the grassroots would scream blue murder. The leader they overwhelmingly elected would have been forced out in a parliamentary coup. But the advocates of this strategy say that there could be no alternative, because by the next conference the leadership will have fixed the rules so that Corbyn is automatically on the ballot and, with grassroots opinion the way it is, he would defeat any challenger.

There are no good options for Labour now. Forcing Corbyn out could split Labour, with his left-wing supporters either walking away from the party in disgust or setting up a new one of their own. But a year of his leadership could doom Labour to opposition for a decade or more. Polling suggests that the party has already lost the support of one in three of those who voted for it in May. The longer Corbyn continues, the worse this number will get.

As Labour demonstrated in the 1980s, it is very hard to kill one of the two major parties of British politics. But despite there not having been any defections yet, Labour’s position is even worse now that it was then. Two of the things that kept Labour sane in the eighties were the Scottish Labour party and moderate trade unions. These pillars of sanity have been greatly weakened. Scottish Labour is now a husk with only one MP, while moderate trade unionism is far less of a force today than it was then.

Hilary Benn is regarded by many in the Parliamentary Labour Party as the ideal stop-gap leader if Corbyn is deposed. But those looking around for a Labour-saving device have alighted on Dan Jarvis. Even those who as recently as May worried about his lack of policy knowledge and economic populism now believe that he is the right choice. Corbyn is doing daily damage to the Labour party’s reputation for patriotism and willingness to keep the country safe. Electing this former paratroop major would offer an immediate fix to this problem.

But Labour’s difficulties are about far more than its leader or even the split between its membership and its MPs. It still can’t agree on what its purpose is in an age of globalisation when government budgets are facing constant downward pressure. The evidence to date shows that Corbyn’s answer to these questions can’t put together an election-winning coalition. But the worry for Labour is that it might be impossible to put things right.

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  • UKExpat

    After spending 30+ years working in Islamic countries including both Iraq and Saudi Arabia as a professional expat I honestly believe that the majority of people that have come out against the UK fighting IS in Syria have virtually little or no comprehension whatsoever of the way that the supporters of IS and extremist Islam think or comprehend the world. The idea that either British thoughts of Western democratic ways and British common sense will always prevail is utter nonsense. The only things that IS truly believes in is fundamental Islam and it’s accompanying Jihads, to them Western ideals are completely irrelevant. The current Western policy of dilly-dallying on whether or not to militarily defeat these Jihadists; on the ground, can only be described as a prime example of decadent ignorance on a grand scale that can only lead to a far greater number of the inevitable casualties in the long run.

    • Jeffrey Vernon

      The objection to bombing is not that we can teach them democracy by other means. The three reasons for opposing bombing are i) it didn’t help in the case of Iraq, Libya and so on; ii) there is no kind of precision bombing that will selectively kill IS militants; and iii) the self-defence pretext is flimsy. The only local force with the organisation and incentive to defeat ISIS are the Kurds.

      • grutchyngfysch

        That’s the reasoning needed – but its advocates at a public level are very bad at making clear that the problem with the decision was “only air strikes”. They could have rectified this by setting out whether and in what numbers they would support the use of UK troops to achieve the same – but then they would have lost the support of the “other” opposition to war: the ones who would be opposed no matter how many bodies pile up under ISIS, the ones who are opposed to all foreign warfare principally because it costs us, and the (thankfully small) few who are opposed because they genuinely do sympathise with ISIS.

      • Mr B J Mann

        Ever heard of the Syrian Army? Or aren’t they local enough for you?
        Just Like Saddam, and Gaffafi, Assad managed to contain j!had, and with far less bloodshed and atrocities than the “locals” suffered after the West decided to “help” them.
        So the latest strategy for peace in our time is to fund, equip, and support a group attacked as terrorists by our NATO ally, Turkey, the Kurds, and to equip and support the (supposedly) more “moderate” j!hadis funded by our Saudi and other oil-state allies, to overthrow Assad, before turning on each other, as well as IS!S!

        • Jeffrey Vernon

          Although I hear of Kurdish successes against Isis, the Syrian army does not seem to be making gains. Assad has come to appreciate ISIS for its efficient management of his oil fields, and he might think he’s better of with them than without them.

          • Mr B J Mann

            The situation is simply that the “rebel” terrorists were taking ground with Western and Fundamentalist support, and were encroaching on the capital.

            Then the IS!S terrorists started encroaching on the “rebel” terrorists from Iraq, leaving them fighting on two fronts.

            Because he’s actually sane, Assad defends his capital, and also tries to cut off the “rebel” terrorists supply lines from Iraq and Turkey, which the IS!S terrorists also attack.

            That doesn’t mean he supports the IS!S terrorists any more than Churchill supported Communism.

            And, surprise, surprise, especially when the West are concentrating their attacks on the IS!S terrorists, exclusively, and actually supporting the “rebel” terrorists, Russia is backing it’s Syrian ally by attacking the terrorists that are trying to take the Syrian capital, and trying to cut off their supply lines from Turkey and Iraq, rather than concentrating on the IS!S terrorists which are already being dealt with by NATO.

            Note also, who else would Assad be bombing but “his own people” if the people that are trying to overthrow the Syrian government are Syrians.

            It’s a civil war.

            I don’t see anyone condemning the “rebel” terrorists for “k!lling thir own people”!!!!

            No one attacks the Americans for k!lling 750,000 “of their own people” in their own civil war!

            Or suggest that the North should have let the South win, because it was wrong to “k!ll their own people”!

            And I seem to recall the French “k!lling their own people” in their own revolt.

            And didn’t the English have a Civil War too?!

            Shocking!!

            And before our police engage anyone in a gunfight, I hope they check their passports to make sure that they don’t “k!ll their own people”!!!

          • rtj1211

            More recently, the British were killing ‘some of their own people’ in Northern Ireland, even if a subset of those ‘own people’ didn’t actually want to remain as ‘their people’…..

          • Mr B J Mann

            Also, what we hear is what NATO and the MSM want us to hear.

            Remember what a success Libya was?

            Strangely, not only do we not see Obama, Cameron, and the BBC floozies pontificating from there:

            Not even the war correspondents seem to want to go there.

            Presumably it’s now too peaceful to be of any interest to anyone!

      • UKExpat

        Sorry but this post is both historically and factually wrong. i) The bombing was an very important and integral part of the winning of the cited wars. Particularly the Iraq war against Sadam. I know, as I was there, that It saved many thousands of coalition lives, The main problems came directly after the war was won when the Americans unilaterally sacked almost the entire government civil service and armed forces leaving the country without proper governance almost overnight. ii) Please do some research. There is plenty of areal ordinance available for selective kills, look what happened to Jihad John. Also there are numerous other effective targets available in Syria that that do not include specific assassinations. iii) The self defence issue is certainly not flimsy. If you think this then then I suggest you explain it to the families of the victims of the attacks in Tunisia, Paris, etc. etc. You clearly have absolutely no idea as to the nature and culture of the enemy currently facing western Christian or moderate Islamic societies or how to protect themselves from it.

        • Jeffrey Vernon

          When I wrote that bombing did not help in Libya, I was looking at the state of Libya today.

          Even though precision technology is said to exist, there were enough village weddings wiped out by bombing in Afghanistan to make me sceptical about claims for clean kills. Even if you hit the right target (or the right country…) damage to bystanders from the radius of the impact is guaranteed (cars and buildings don’t simply evaporate with no residue). Moving targets, fast jets, uncertain intelligence, low resolution satellite data…this is not going to result in the neat computer simulations we’ve all seen.

          You misunderstand my point iii), which is that any nutjob with a suicide vest can carry out another Paris. It does not need to be coordinated or funded by sophisticated terrorist masterminds thousands of miles away, and almost certainly wasn’t.

          • trobrianders

            Intervention in Libya was designed to prevent the colonel from massacring his own people. In that it was entirely successful. It was a policing action. Nothing more. Your lefty strawman argument that it was not worthwhile because it didn’t result in stable society is just filthy. If a policeman saves me from a mugging I thank him. I don’t then make him responsible for everything that happens to me. After the campaign Cameron visited Libya and made it plain that now Libyans were free of a tyrant they should concentrate on establishing a stable society. But they had no intention of doing that. They began their civil war in earnest because they are savages.

          • UKExpat

            Sorry, but this is more ridiculous nonsense. It is obviously well known that war is not a precise science and is very dangerous where accidents and mistakes can happen and unfortunately cause some innocent casualties. However there comes a time, like now, when the prevailing clearly indicate that an extremely robust response must be instigated in order to eradicate the horrendous threat that IS ands its followers present to our present way of life. Pathetically trying to stop or delay such required action is akin to advocating banning cars from motorways because innocent people may die in road accidents. If this IS threat is left to fester thousands and thousands of innocent western citizens will be harmed and killed.
            .
            I have not misunderstood your point 3. What it means is that you have little or no understanding as to what has and is happening. We are not talking about a few “nutjobs” as you put it but a huge problem that is fundamental to the core

        • JoeCro

          I am sure it won’t be too long until we see a school or hospital bombed by the Western powers. The so called precision of western air power is a myth.

    • trobrianders

      Over 10 hours of debate in the Commons there was only one brief reference to Sunnis. Our clueless political class actually does a fantastic job of reflecting our clueless populace. The idea the Islamic threat is going to be countered by intellect is absurd. It’s going to countered (and defeated) by instinct. Our instinct for self-preservation as the fight draws nearer.

  • Jeffrey Vernon

    Two propositions: 1) ISIS have to go, but bombing is less likely than support for the Kurds to get rid of them (unfortunately, the Kurds have no friends among the neighbouring states). 2) Any maniac who doesn’t care about dying can stage a Paris atrocity; it doesn’t take much in terms of funds or equipment. It does not need to be coordinated by terrorist godfathers in a secret bunker thousands of miles away in Syria, and probably wasn’t.

  • wycombewanderer

    Dan Jarvis would not succeed where others are currently failing.

    Labour are in the hands of the gobbing mob of Corbyn supporters.

    FFS last week they wheeled out Livingstone on QT, this week they’ve got the Abbotamus.

    No-one sensible in the party is prepared to defend Corbyn and the gobbers at this time yet they wont be able to get rid of him any time soon.

    • Mr B J Mann

      By the way, I wonder what Cameron and Osborne’s reaction would be to Assad bombing their Command an Control Centres at 10 & 11 Downing Street, especially if there were children sleeping above the command and Control Rooms, as happened in Libya?!

    • ReefKnot

      Livingslime and Abbopotamus – now they would make good monsters in an episode of Dr Who.

      • amicus

        After the watershed.

    • sfin

      “Abbotamus”.

      Crass, insensitive, infantile…and highly amusing!

      Take an up vote for chuckle of the day.

  • Mr B J Mann

    “It makes no sense for Britain to bomb Islamic State in Iraq but not Syria. Attacking a group that does not respect international borders on only one side of a border makes no strategic or military sense. From the Prime Minister down, government ministers are acutely aware of this absurdity. That is why they have been so keen to gain the Commons’ permission to extend the strikes to Syria.”

    Doesn’t that mean we should be bombing Brussels too?

    And Bradford!

    More to the point, doesn’t it mean that Assad should be bombing Brussels too?

    And Britain?!

    • Margot5000

      Well as yet no-one been beheaded in Bradford – or thrown off a building or stoned….. so the idea of going after IS where they’re doing all that seems a pretty good idea – bit like if we could have nipped the concentration camps and the ideology behind them in the bud. Problem is there’s a good chunk of the Islamic world not exactly bastions of human rights – Saudi being the most GA one and we’re not likely to start bombing them anytime soon – dream on. 0ne good thing is the whole world incl even China is aware of the threat islam poses and even the Saudis must have realised how their goings on are viewed by the non-Islamic world. OK China probably wouldn’t win prizes for niceness but they’re a long way off IS and Saudi. It’s worth getting rid of one cancer at least. Maybe then hope the ghastliness of Saudi et al can get pointed in another direction. The big mistake was decades ago when we sold ourselves out for oil. Millions of lives ruined (incl almost every female in the islamic world since) to keep the West’s cars on the road.

  • misomiso

    They are very lucky Eurosceptisim is split and UKIP are unable to move towards the center and come up with a ‘positive’ offer to the electorate.

    If UKIP were to rebrand and the various different Eurosceptic factions unite behind it we would be in a very different political situation.

    Such a shame.

    • amicus

      Centre.

  • Richard Brinton

    Jeremy Corbyn may be opposed to air strikes but he is not opposed to taking action against Isis. It would take far greater courage to send home the ambassador to Saudi Arabia, for example or freeze their assets.

    • UKExpat

      You seem to have a strange idea about what constitutes courage. I certainly wouldn’t use the word courage in respect to Corbyn, as it would insult to many brave men. Perhaps a better word for him would be luddite.

      • Richard Brinton

        I do not think JC is opposed to new technologies nor would he advocate destroying machines in manufacturing industry. In fact he is resolutely in favour of supporting British manufactures and the creation of employment in that sector. Therefore he is anything but a Luddite. But this has nothing to do with Isis and stopping those states who are financing them.

        • trobrianders

          “stopping those states who are financing them”
          Like we did with Iran? Why don’t you face it. You’re offering completely impractical solutions for a reason.

    • trobrianders

      Now that’s real gesture politics

  • annoyingMonkey

    whats an eader. also MPs should do what the constituency’s want them to do not what the MP wants to do.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Impossible. If thirty people come to an MP and 16 want one action, and 14 the other, the mp cannot possibly do what they want. They have to apply their own party position, consider what that whip says, and then act in conscience. We’d be so much better off without parties.

      • annoyingMonkey

        well you just go for the greater percentage.

    • trobrianders

      MPs represent constituents not local party members. It’s simple really. Only degenerates won’t grasp that.

      • jennybloggs

        But it is this word ‘represents’. Represents who or what. I live in a Tory marginal. My MP is a decent enough individual but his political views are not the same as the majority of his constituents. The electorate have grown up. They do not want an MP who is merely a kind of welfare officer. Proportional representation would solve this problem.

    • UKExpat

      There is no obligation, either legal or otherwise, for an elected MP to do what the constituents want. The MP is free to make his own choices as to how he votes in Parliament. The MP is usually elected by the constituents on the assumption that the MP’s views best reflect the views of the majority of the electorate, the MP is not obligated to stick to these views and can change them at any time the MP chooses even after the election. If the constituents do not like the MP’s changed views their main method of retribution is to not elect the MP at the next election. Obviously, long term career MP’s do not want to upset their constituents or political party if they have one.

      • annoyingMonkey

        well yeah so thats the problem. we have the internet now it would be very easy to get peoples opinions on mass and quickly.

  • Dominic Stockford

    There is a Labour civil war, but only one side is fighting – the other side, who voted for the widening of bombing, is appeasing. Ironic, and their funeral.

    • trobrianders

      If they openly attacked the recent influx of “members”, that’d be a start.

  • trobrianders

    What I’ve seen of Major Dan has been pretty timid so far. And anyway he’s Labour so probably an appeaser.

    • JoeCro

      Labour party members will not forget the betrayal of the warmongers, there is a good chance Jarvis will be deselected along with the other 67.

      • trobrianders

        Deselected? Why not beheaded? It’s more your style, no?

      • Michael85

        Then Labour will become totally unelectable without moderates.

  • JoeCro

    What is the Syrian government position on British bombing? Has anyone asked Assad for permission?

  • mikewaller

    How so,so, pre-Oldham!

  • marvin

    There are only three legal exceptions for another State to enter a foreign
    State and begin aggressive attacks. Neither Europe nor the US are legally entitled to do so!

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