The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog

RSS

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.

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

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.