Pistols at dawn for Jeremy Corbyn?
Have things come to a crunch already? Less than 100 days into Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader and his MPs are threatening resignation or calling for his head. The trigger was the debate over whether to extend British military action against ISIS to Syria yesterday, with the anti-war Corbyn enraging his senior team by making a public declaration of opposition to war hours after a majority of the Shadow Cabinet indicated support for action.
Senior Labour figures are furious with Corbyn for failing to inform them of his decision to write publically to MPs at their meeting yesterday lunchtime, and see it as an attempt to muster Labour grassroots against them ahead of a make-or-break meeting on Monday. But while the papers talk of resignations, some of the most important Shadow Cabinet members are standing their ground. In a particularly ironic twist, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn – son of Corbyn’s late mentor Tony Benn – has indicated he will neither quit nor back down from his support for military action.
Corbyn appears to believe ‘going to the people’- in this case supportive Labour members – will bring his parliamentary team to heel. But turning the grassroots against MPs could backfire, making the latter even more intransigent. Corbyn also faces a problem in the form of his whips, many of whom support an extension of hostilities against ISIS and will not push their colleagues to vote against. As holds for a prime minister, if a leader of the opposition cannot assemble and direct a frontbench team, their authority is essentially non-existent. Can even the tribune of the new politics survive such an outcome?
Photograph: Steve Punter