Labour split intensifies on strike decision

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A FRAUGHT 48 hours is ahead for the Labour Party as MPs and the shadow cabinet must decide by Monday whether they plan on backing airstrikes against Syria.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s oddly timed and incendiary letter to members saying he could not back the Prime Minister’s strategy for military intervention against Isil came half way through ongoing discussions with his shadow cabinet.

The group resumes talks on Monday and David Cameron has said he is awaiting to hear whether he has cross-party support before proceeding any further with a potential vote.

Deputy leader of the party Tom Watson is the latest member of the shadow cabinet edging towards action, which distances himself from Mr Corbyn. He said he agrees with Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn that the country is at risk but that a full decision won’t be made until Monday on where the party stands.

Mr Watson made clear he had no intention of resigning - pointing out that he also had been directly elected by party members.

“I am the deputy leader of the Labour Party with a mandate,” he said.

Mr Benn also said that he intended to carry on in the shadow cabinet and suggested that a free vote may be the only way out of the impasse.

“The shadow cabinet will continue its discussions on Monday and it may be that that is where we end up,” he said.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, one of Mr Corbyn’s closest allies, appealed for calm following the letter, insisting the party was “working through the issues”.

“Don’t mistake democracy for division,” he wrote on Twitter.

It’s understood that Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham is undecided.

While Labour continues its struggle to find a party line or allow a free vote, the Conservative party are expected to be hitting the phones this weekend to make sure they can count on all of their 330 MPs to back strikes.

With a majority of just 12 MPs they will need to convince some 30 members who rebelled on air strikes on President Assad in 2013 that military intervention this time would bring about a positive change for Syria.

Some in Labour believe Mr Cameron already has enough support to gain a majority to strike Isil targets, while at least one Yorkshire Labour MP is attending a Monday morning briefing with the Government to hear more about their plan.

However in various Labour held seats across Yorkshire, where constituency party memberships swelled significantly during the Labour leadership election, MPs may be lobbied this weekend at surgeries and via social media not to vote for strikes.

The Momentum group set up in the wake of Mr Corbyn’s victor, said: “David Cameron lacks a comprehensive strategic plan that will bring about a much needed peaceful solution and make life better for the Syrian people and increase security for the UK.”

With an online form, they are asking people to ‘lobby’ their MP and ‘urge them to vote against bombing Syria.”

A vote by Mr Cameron on strikes is due before the Christmas parliamentary recess on December 17 which leaves him 14 days to table a motion, but he has said repeatedly that he wants a broad coalition across the House before proceeding any further.

For one Yorkshire MPs the decision on military intervention is clear-cut.

Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, said: ”It’s very simple for me. I fully support military intervention. I go further and say of there’s a need for ground troops we should supply them.

“I think David Cameron can win the vote with just Conservatives. I think the bigger story here is what the Labour Party is going to do.”