Military action begins in Libya as the allies open fire

French fighter jets reported to have destroyed four Libyan tanks.

Military action has begun in Libya, with France leading the way. A French plane is reported to have fired on a Libyan military vehicle in the first air strike of the campaign. As many as 20 of the country's fighter jets are patrolling the skies over Benghazi in an attempt to enforce the no-fly zone.

In a typically assured statement outside the emergency conference in Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy has declared that "France has decided to take up its role in front of history". David Cameron has conceded that there will be "unforeseeable consequences" of taking action, but has insisted, Blair-like, that it is better to intervene than to "risk the consequences of inaction".

He said: "Colonel Gaddafi has made this happen. He has lied to the international community, he has promised a ceasefire, he has broken that ceasefire. He continues to brutalise his own people and so the time for action has come. It needs to be urgent. We have to enforce the will of the United Nations and we cannot allow the slaughter of civilians to continue.

"What is absolutely clear is that Gaddafi has broken his word, he has broken confidence and continues to slaughter his own civilians. This has to stop. We have to make him stop and make him face the consequences. I think action must take place urgently."

For now, the declared aim remains to protect the people of Libya; both Cameron and Sarkozy have been careful not to give voice to the ultimate objective of regime change. It remains unclear how the allies will respond if Gaddafi refuses to give way. Meanwhile, there are reports that the rebels have admitted that they shot down their own plane this morning.

UPDATE: French fighter jets have destroyed four Libyan tanks in air strikes to the south-west of Benghazi, according to al-Jazeera.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May enjoys the honeymoon bounce Jeremy Corbyn can only dream of

It's back to October 2009 in the polls. 

Back in October 2009, The Telegraph reported that backbench MPs were planning a coup against their unpopular leader, Gordon Brown. 

The simmering discontent was attributed not to ideological angst but management, specifically the anger at Brown's insistence that MPs pay back their expenses.

Days earlier, The Sun had switched allegiance with a front page declaring: "Labour's Lost It."

That was the last time Labour's poll rating was as low as it is now, according to pollsters ICM. 

The latest poll surveyed voters between 22 and 24 July 2016. The findings are stark. Of those intending to vote, 43 per cent would choose Theresa May and the Tories, while just 27 per cent would go for Labour.

The Tories now enjoy a 16 point lead, and for this party too, the last time such a figure was recorded was October 2009. 

Of course, the new prime minister may be enjoying a honeymoon bounce. When John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher mid term, the Conservatives overtook Labour in the polls. Brown’s ascension to Labour leadership in June earned him a double-digit lead by September, but after that his popularity rapidly crumbled. 

Theresa May could experience something similar. YouGov pollster Anthony Wells noted: “The current polls look wonderful for her, but on past timescales they won’t necessarily be so rosy in a couple of months’ time.”

But Jeremy Corbyn never enjoyed such an edge. In the heady days of September 2015, after he clinched a surprise victory in the Labour leadership election, ICM found Labour enjoying an immediate honeymoon boost of one point. 

That still put Labour lagging four points behind the recently victorious Conservatives, with 32 per cent of the vote.

The gap has widened. Immediately after Brexit, the Tories had 36 per cent of the vote and Labour 32 per cent. Both parties were tested in the following month, and the Conservatives triumphed. 

For the hard left backing Corbyn, a 27 per cent slice of the vote is welcome after years as political outcasts. The centre left, on the other hand, must hope May trips up – or that Owen Smith can claim a honeymoon bounce of his own.