Labour set to whip MPs over Syria as Diane Abbott warns she could resign

Shadow public health minister says intervention "would put me in a very difficult position" as Labour signals it will whip MPs in support of Miliband's stance.

Ahead of tomorrow's recall of parliament, MPs from all parties are voicing their scepticism and in some cases opposition towards intervention in Syria. The most senior Labour figure to do so is Diane Abbott. While it is often forgotten given her long spell as a maverick backbencher, Abbott has been shadow public health minister since 2010, having been appointed by Ed Miliband after standing in the Labour leadership election. 

The Hackney North MP was quick to signal her concern over military action yesterday, when she tweeted: "Blair joins clamour for attack on Syria. Another reason why it's probably a bad idea." She went on to tell the Guardian: "I voted against the Iraq War. At the moment, I can't see anything that would make me vote for intervention in Syria. Essentially it's a civil war. What Libya and Egypt have taught us is that these situations in the Middle East are complex. It's not good guys in white hats and bad guys in black hats."

Asked whether she would resign from the frontbench if Labour supported intervention, she replied: "It would put me in a very difficult position." While Ed Miliband has yet to explicitly state that he will vote in favour of military action, he has said that he is prepared to support the government provided that the intervention is "legal", "specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons" and that it has "clear and achievable military goals".

A Labour source told me this morning that the party "was likely" to whip its MPs, citing the precedents of Iraq and Libya. As a result, any frontbencher who opposes intervention (assuming that Miliband supports the government) would be expected to resign their position. Abbott told Daybreak this morning that she was "waiting to hear the debate" but added: "on the basis of what I know now, I'm not even sure this intervention will be legal and it's certainly not the case that Assad is going to wake up the morning after we bomb him and say 'oh, less of these atrocities'. It runs a big risk of making matters worse and of dragging us into a civil war in Syria with no endgame." 

The question for Miliband, as he seeks to preserve party unity, is how many other shadow ministers may be prepared to join Abbott if she decides to resign, rather than support military action. 

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott speaks at the Labour conference in Manchester in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.