Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is on the brink of losing the support of his shadow cabinet, after being forced into a U-turn on Syrian airstrikes, and the details of how it happened are pretty wild.
At 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon, Corbyn called a shadow cabinet meeting to discuss the party’s position on Syrian airstrikes, and tell shadow ministers that while they would be allowed a free vote, the Labour party’s official position would be that it opposes any aerial attacks on the so-called Islamic State.
By 4 p.m., Corbyn had been forced to change that official line. Labour MPs would allow an unqualified free vote. The reversal means Corbyn has failed in his bid to persuade MPs to vote against action in Syria, by all but guaranteeing PM David Cameron the majority he wants for military action. Only a few Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the government’s pro-bombing line.
Accounts from inside the meeting, published by the Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, and the Guardian shed light on how Corbyn’s colleagues almost staged a full-scale revolt over his treatment of the Syrian issue.
Corbyn apparently started the meeting by reading a prepared statement about the party’s position on Syria, which would have essentially meant that the vote would be free in name only — MPs voting against it might have it counted against them.
Seven minutes into the meeting, while Corbyn was trying to explain the new position, some shadow cabinet members got push notifications from the Guardian on their phones, telling them exactly what Corbyn was reading out.
“Hang on — that’s already on Twitter” one MP apparently shouted at Corbyn. In one of the most embarrassing moments of the meeting, Corbyn apparently told his shadow ministers to “stop tweeting” details of the meeting, before being told that the info the Guardian had was actually given to them by Corbyn’s advisers.
The “farcical” moment sparked “one of the most heated shadow cabinet meetings in Labour’s history,” according to the Daily Telegraph.
Over the course of a chaotic two hours, Corbyn was subject to scathing criticism from all directions, and a threat from the shadow cabinet that they “would not leave the room” until allowed a totally free vote, and a changing of the party’s official position.
Below are a selection of the things that happened in the meeting, which almost sparked a full-scale revolt in the upper echelons of the Labour party.
- Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn threatened to resign from cabinet if he was not allowed to close the debate on airstrikes, as is traditional for shadow foreign secretaries. When Corbyn said that he planned to be Labour’s last speaker, Benn said, “If you do that I will do it from the backbenches.”
- Andy Burnham also threatened to resign, saying he wouldn’t be part of a “sham shadow cabinet”.
- Burnham then accused Corbyn of “throwing people to the wolves” by allowing a free vote in name only.
- Corbyn was accused of showing his shadow ministers a “lack of respect.”
- His actions were described as “embarrassing”, “deplorable”, and “disgraceful” by various members of the shadow cabinet.
- One MP said they had “never been so ashamed” of the Labour Party.
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