Prime Minister David Cameron criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Paris terrorist attacks in the House of Commons today, and loads of Labour MPs agreed with him.
It all started when Angela Watkison, the Conservative MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, asked the Prime Minister whether he thought that depriving the police of the right to shoot-to-kill suspected terrorists would make the public safer.
This might sound like a relatively mundane question: Of course Cameron favours shoot-to-kill powers for police who are hunting terrorists.
But in fact it was a pointed attack on Corbyn. And it opened the gates to a full-scale mutiny from some of Corbyn’s own colleagues, who publicly sided with Cameron against Corbyn — an almost unheard of act of betrayal.
In an interview with the BBC yesterday, Corbyn said that he was not happy with a shoot-to-kill policies in general, as they are “dangerous” and “counterproductive.” (Corbyn is probably a critic of shoot-to-kill policies because they can go very wrong, very quickly: In 2005, police shot a Brazilian electrician, whom they wrongly believed was a terrorist trying to escape them on the London Underground; and between 1982 and 1992 British security forces used extra-judicial shootings against the IRA, which led to court rulings that it was illegal and compensation being paid to the dead men’s families.)
But the comments got him into a lot of trouble with his MPs, who had an angry private meeting with him yesterday. They thought Corbyn’s comments made it sound like he cared more about the lives of terrorists than those of British citizens.
Cameron knew exactly what was going on when Watkison asked her question and replied by saying that Corbyn should “review his remarks.” In the case of a Paris style attack, police “must be absolutely clear that if they have to take out a terrorist to save lives they should go right ahead and do so,” Cameron said.
The stage was set for Labour MPs who were angry with their leader to pile in.
Chris Leslie, the Labour MP for Nottingham East said that he agreed with Cameron and that the police “need the full and necessary powers, including the proportionate use of lethal force if need be, to keep our communities safe.” Chuka Umunna, the Labour MP for Streatham joined in, telling Cameron that the police should have the power to use lethal force when necessary.
Labour MPs didn’t even need any help from the Conservatives to line up their next attack on Corbyn. Emma Reynolds, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton North East asked Cameron whether he agreed that “any attempt, by any organisation, somehow to blame the West or France’s military intervention is not only wrong, disgraceful, but should be condemned.”
Again, this might sound like a relatively innocuous question, but it was actually another attack on Corbyn.
On Saturday, the Stop the War Coalition sent a tweet saying that Paris was “reaping whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East.” Many people found this very offensive, as it implied that France was to blame for the terrorist attacks. Corbyn, who has a close relationship with Stop the War, refused to condem the tweet or cancel his appearance at Stop the War’s Christmas dinner next month.
Both Conservative and Labour MPs cheered when Reynolds asked her question.
The assault on Corbyn from his own side didn’t stop there. Pat McFadden, Labour’s shadow minister for Europe asked Cameron if he would reject the view that terrorism is always a reaction to something the West has done. Cameron praised him for his “moral and intellectual clarity.”
Finally, Ian Austin the Labour MP for Dudley North asked whether “those that say that Paris is reaping the whirlwind of Western policy, or who want to say that Britain’s foreign policy has increased not diminished the threats to our own nation security, are not just absolving the terrorists of responsibility, but risk fuelling the sense of grievance and resentment which can develop into extremism and terrorism.” Cameron said he agreed with Austin “100%”.
These attacks on Corbyn are nothing short of treachery, and they are just the start. Things are about to get very ugly in the Labour Party. Momentum, the organisation set up to mobilise grass roots campaigners to support Corbyn has this afternoon been tweeting at Labour MPs who have criticised their leader, telling them to get behind Corbyn or leave the party.
At the same time, some of Corbyn’s supporters are going to try to get Labour MPs they don’t like deselected in the coming months.
If that starts happening, it’s going to tear the Labour Party apart.
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