The House of Commons will on Wednesday vote on whether Tony Blair should be stripped of his Privy Council membership for allegedly misleading MPs over his intentions to invade Iraq.
The motion has been tabled by the SNP, which has 54 seats in the Commons, while MPs from other parties like Caroline Lucas of the Greens and Kate Hoey of Blair’s own Labour Party have signed the motion in support.
If passed, the former prime minister will be kicked out of the Privy Council, which is a formal body of advisors and senior politicians, who report to the Queen on a monthly basis.
The legislation presents an almighty headache for current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has spent his political career campaigning against wars, no more so than against Blair’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
The majority of Labour MPs are keen to put the ghost of Blair behind them. The Huffington Post reports that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) asked Corbyn to impose a “three-line whip” which would require all Labour MPs to attend the debate and vote against the SNP’s motion, with possible disciplinary action for those who refuse.
However, Corbyn rebuffed the request and instead agreed to a “one-line whip” compromise, which means Labour MPs are not obliged to attend. The Labour leader himself isn’t expected to show up for Wednesday’s vote.
On one hand, Corbyn’s move to reject the PLP’s will is a reminder of his authority over MPs, especially after winning the recent leadership contest by a landslide. But on the other, the Blair question puts him in a lose-lose situation.
If Corbyn did attend the debate and vote in favour of the motion against Blair, it would mean defying his own whip and probably triggering yet another round of in-fighting at a time when the Tories are running amock in the polls.
But if Corbyn stays clear of the vote, which looks to be the case, then he risks damaging his reputation among his supporters for being a principled politician, particularly when it comes to his life-long opposition to foreign wars.
Speaking about the prospect of a Corbyn no-show, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas told the Huffington Post:”To now back away from taking the action to match their words would be deeply disappointing.”
Here lies the problem for the Labour leader. When it was announced that he had defeated Owen Smith to retain the leadership earlier this year, he vowed to unify the party and reach out to his critics.
Being dragged back into a divisive issue like the Tony Blair debate, no matter how strongly he feels about it, will not aid his cause.
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