Has Clegg broken his own manifesto pledge on Iran?

Lib Dem leader ignores manifesto pledge explicitly opposing military action against Iran.

Nick Clegg has given an interview to The House magazine in which he's questioned about the increasing possibility of a pre-emptive strike by Israel against Iran. Asked if Britain would participate in military action, he replies:

It depends entirely on what Iran's intentions are. I think of course you don't in a situation like this take any options off the table. When you are in a major stand off with a country which appears to have a sort of hostile intent on these issues, of course you don't do that. But equally we have been very very clear that we are straining every single sinew to resolve this through a combination of pressure and engagement.

His assertion that no options should be taken "off the table" is notable because unlike Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems explicitly opposed military action in their election manifesto. The pledge read:

[W]e oppose military action against Iran and believe those calling for such action undermine the growing reform movement in Iran.

At the time, when foreign policy was far from most politicians' minds, Clegg probably thought little of the promise. But it could become a millstone around his neck. The Lib Dems, a party with a strong pacifist wing, would likely oppose any attack on Iran.

Clegg would probably argue that events have moved on since May 2010 or point out that the Lib Dems are in coalition. But at a time when he's pursuing a differentiation strategy in other areas, most Lib Dems will be dismayed by his equivocation.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.