Thousands of people marched in London and around the UK on 28 November, in opposition to air strikes in Syria.
But it seems that Labour MPs still aren’t convinced that bombing Syria is a bad idea. Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet will meet on Monday 30 November to reach a consensus about the party’s official stance on the government’s plans, but the Labour leader himself has made his opposition to military escalation very clear in a letter sent to Labour MPs on 26 November. So why is Corbyn against air strikes in Syria, and why should Labour MP’s listen to him?
In his letter, the Labour leader wrote:
I do not believe the Prime Minister’s current proposal for air strikes in Syria will protect our security and therefore cannot support it.
David Cameron, he said, had not clarified how his proposals would strengthen (or undermine) Britain’s national security. The prime minister, he argued, had also failed to explain:
- A “coherent strategy, coordinated through the United Nations, for the defeat of ISIS”.
- Which “credible and acceptable ground forces could retake and hold territory freed from ISIS control”.
- The “contribution of additional UK bombing to a comprehensive negotiated political settlement of the Syrian civil war”.
- The campaign’s “likely impact on the threat of terrorist attacks in the UK”.
A number of union officials, writers, politicians, and musicians signed a letter on the same day, in which they elaborated on Corbyn’s stance. They urged Cameron’s government not to bomb Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) in Syria, saying:
- The “last fourteen years of war have seen massively increased Jihadi terrorist organisation around the world”, so the so-called war on terror clearly hasn’t worked.
- “The US has been bombing Isis for a year and admits that Isis is as strong as ever and has continued recruiting”, so there’s no reason to think that more bombing would suddenly weaken the group.
Instead, they insisted that the British government should “stop arming reactionary and aggressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that sponsor terrorist groups and look for political solutions as the only viable way to end the conflict”.
Nonetheless, this stance was not favoured by all Labour MPs. Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, for example, claimed there was a “compelling case” for air strikes, saying:
our allies look to us… and they want to feel we are with them in solidarity
And Benn is right. Solidarity should indeed be shown for people around the world who have suffered from terrorist attacks. But the big question is still: ‘what is the best way to show solidarity’?
The answer to that question is clearly a point of disagreement within the parliamentary Labour party.
But while Benn and others seem eager to back the Tories’ plans to intervene in Syria, shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott has insisted:
Jeremy is almost exactly where party members are on this. There was a YouGov poll this week, 70% of party members are against bombing.
And with Corbyn becoming leader with “the biggest mandate in history”, she says, the parliamentary Labour party should take the hint that members do not want another foreign military campaign. Perhaps for that reason, Corbyn asked his colleagues to “consult with their constituents over the weekend” before making decisions on the issue.
Corbyn is currently the most popular political leader in the UK according to Ipsos-MORI’s latest poll of voting intentions. In his first weeks as Labour leader, he has also built on Ed Miliband’s gains in this year’s election. In other words, he clearly has significant support in the country. And perhaps the most important fact is that he was among the MPs who rightly opposed the invasion of Iraq back in 2003. With the hindsight of seeing the civilian deaths, destruction, and regional chaos that the war caused, we should listen to those MPs today.
True, the lack of a common position regarding air strikes in Syria is likely to be one of the first big challenges for Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party, but he was elected by a significant majority of Labour members and supporters. His popular anti-war stance should therefore be respected by his parliamentary colleagues. If not, the faith that Corbyn restored in the party with his election as leader may be lost once again.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?