Are dissenting MPs a threat to Corbyn’s leadership authority?

With 50-100 MPs including members of the shadow cabinet ready to dissent over backing military action in Syria, is Corbyn’s leadership already in danger?

At the Brighton Labour Party conference that occurred in late September, a motion was passed by popular vote that the party will not back any action in Syria unless there is approval from the United Nations, further plans for humanitarian aid and stricter oversight over military targets. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has said that MPs will have a free vote if the Prime Minister decides to launch air strikes on the war-torn country.

However between 50 and 100 Labour MPs (including members of the shadow cabinet) “would be ready to back British military action [in Syria] if its ultimate purpose was to protect civilians caught up in a growing humanitarian disaster, rather than merely to extend attacks on Isis” as reported in The Guardian. This goes against the Labour leader Corbyn’s intention to oppose any form of direct interventionism in the Syrian conflict that has been the focus of Middle Eastern news for the past few months.

This group of around 50 MPs want to join forces with the Conservatives in order to ensure that a three-pronged strategy is passed in the Commons to intervene directly in Syria and tackle Isis. As part of the strategy, Britain would work with the EU to give humanitarian aid to refugees that have escaped from the conflict to EU member states; utilize diplomatic means to bring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to a negotiating table; and send the army to protect civilians and prepare the ground for UN safe havens.

Some critics of the newly elected Labour leader would say that these tensions within the party show that Corbyn’s authority has already been compromised and could suffer a coup as early as next year. Indeed agreeing to British air strikes would go against his non-interventionist beliefs since he’s chair of the ‘Stop the War Coalition’. In addition, most of the elected delegates at the conference in Brighton supported the policy against air strikes.

In my opinion Corbyn needs to just follow his conscience and not bow down to dissenters within the party elite. However I also agree with McDonnell that Labour MPs should make their own mind whether to favour military intervention or not. It would be even more democratic if Corbyn held a poll for all Labour Party members (like me) to see what the general consensus is and then negotiate with his parliamentary colleagues. So far the dispute within the party around the Syrian crisis has been the only real serious challenge to the leader’s authority. The future seems unclear but it is certain that Labour would lose credibility if its leadership did not follow the wishes of its members and supporters, the majority of which Corbyn can rely on.

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Published in the InQuire newspaper issue 11.5.