The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hillary Benn, has declared that he will not resign from the Shadow Cabinet despite his declared support for military action against Islamic State in Syria, a position that is diametrically opposed to his party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr. Benn said that he was simply doing his job by speaking in favour of some form of armed response to the events in Paris and refused to accept that his public differences with his leader meant that his position was untenable. He was, for example, very keen to stress that he could not decide how to vote until he saw the wording of the government’s motion, which will go before the House of Commons next week.
In an attempt to capitalise on the rift within Labour, David Cameron has called on fellow MPs to vote their conscience regardless of their party’s line, saying that they should “do the right thing.”
It is well known that other Shadow Cabinet members, including the deputy leader, Tom Watson, Lucy Powell, and the Shadow Justice Secretary, Lord Falconer, all voiced opposition to the leadership’s stance at a recent meeting. Should Mr. Corbyn, a serial rebel in his backbench days, require his senior team to toe the line or face the sack, he could be in a position where he is removing a large segment of his Shadow Cabinet mere months into his leadership.
The divisions within the parliamentary party have led to a number of backbench MPs suggesting that Mr. Corbyn should resign, causing his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, to appeal for calm on Twitter. However, with even Corbyn ally Ken Livingstone advocating a free vote on the issue, it is clear that the Labour leader’s room for manoeuvre is limited.