Douglas Alexander warns Cameron: a vote must be held on Syria and Labour could oppose the government

Shadow foreign secretary says he is "unconvinced" of the case for an air campaign and criticises William Hague for "implying force is inevitable".

After cutting short his summer holiday in Cornwall to return to Downing Street, David Cameron is expected to decide later today whether to recall Parliament in response to the crisis in Syria. More than 60 MPs have now signed Labour MP Graham Allen's Early Day Motion demanding "a full debate before any British commitment to military action in Syria". 

But while Cameron may be willing to grant a debate, this leaves open the question of whether a vote will be held before any action is taken. Interviewed on the Today programme this morning, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander raised the stakes by arguing that there "should be a vote" after the government has set out its case for intervention. Asked whether action could still be taken if MPs refused to vote in favour, he replied: "I don't think it [the government] would have a mandate in Parliament, I can't state it more clearly than that." Significantly, he added that Labour "would whip" its MPs against military action if it was not persuaded by the government's case. Alexander said that he was "unconvinced" that an air campaign could "decisively resolve a conflict that has unfolded in the last two years in Syria." He criticised William Hague for "almost implying force is inevitable without setting out the evidence and the objectives". 

While the government has previously promised MPs a vote on Syria, this commitment was made in reference to arming the rebels, not conducting air strikes. William Hague said in June: "We have a good record on going to the House of Commons for a vote. There would be a vote one way or another. I can't see any reason why it couldn't be before any such decision was implemented. Just for the sake of clarity, we wouldn't use a parliamentary recess to say we can't consult parliament because it's the middle of August, so MPs don't have to be concerned about that." After Alexander's intervention, the government is likely to come under significant pressure from MPs of all parties to also ensure that Parliament has the final say on whether Britain participates in an air campaign against Syria. 

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander speaks at last year's Labour conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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However Labour do on Thursday, Jeremy Corbyn's still the right leader

When the Blairites talk about winning by appealing to the country, what do they mean?

Commentators have spent the last few weeks predicting exactly what will happen on Thursday and, more importantly, what the results will mean. One thing is certain: no matter what the Labour party achieves, Jeremy Corbyn’s position is safe. Not only is the membership overwhelmingly supportive of the leader, but also Blairites would be foolish to launch an attack with the European referendum just over a month away.

So whatever happens on Thursday, Jeremy Corbyn’s position will be as secure as it is at this exact moment in time. I want to go further than explaining simply why whatever happens on Thursday will not spell the end for the Labour leader by arguing why, in any case, it should not.

Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party with an astonishing mandate. Paid-up Labour party members, Labour supporters and Labour affiliates gave this to him. Polling consistently showed that the ability to ‘win’ elections was not the reason people voted for Jeremy. I don’t think that the Labour leader’s opponents are accurate in suggesting that this is because Labour supporters are self-confessed losers. In many ways we are the realists.

I am perfectly aware of the current political ground. The country is largely opposed to accepting more refugees. People who rely on state benefits have been stigmatised. Discrimination is rampant within our society. A majority of people are found to oppose immigration. So when the Blairites talk about winning by appealing to the country, what do they mean exactly? I’m sure that even Liz Kendall would not have mounted an election campaign that simply appealed to the way issues were seen in the polls.

Jeremy Corbyn inherited an uphill battle; he didn’t create it. Anyone who suggests so is shamelessly acting so as to discredit his leadership. Labour’s message is of equality and solidarity. Our party proudly stands as an institution that seeks to pull down the barriers that bar the less privileged from achieving. But when the nation is gripped by the fear of the ‘other’ and man has been pitted against woman in a war of all against all how can Labour’s message break through?

The answer is time. Labour needs time to rebuild and assess the situation on the ground. Labour needs time to talk to people. Labour needs time to change the frame of the debate and the misleading narrative that the Tories are proud to spout because it wins them votes. The Labour party is better than that. We have to be better than that. If we are not then what is the point in the Labour party at all?

The idea that Jeremy Corbyn could possibly change the entire narrative of the nation in 8 months is laughable. But he has started to. People have seen through the Tory lies of helping those in work get on. People have seen the government cut support for the poor while giving to the rich. At the same time they have been fed lies about the Labour leader. Jeremy Corbyn is an extremist. Jeremy Corbyn is too radical. Jeremy Corbyn is a friend of terrorists. Jeremy Corbyn wants to disband the army. Jeremy Corbyn wants to talk to ISIS. Jeremy Corbyn hates Britain. And so on.

In such an environment how is it surprising that after just 8 months Labour may not make huge gains across the country? It is likely that people will call for Jeremy to resign. When they do, ask what Andy, Liz or Yvette would have done differently. They would have needed time too.  

Liam Young is a commentator for the IndependentNew Statesman, Mirror and others.