Philip Hammond refuses to rule out second vote on Syria

Defence secretary says parliament could look again at the issue if circumstances "change very significantly".

Downing Street has spent the day fending off multiple calls for a second vote on Syria, stating that the government has "absolutely no plans" to go back to parliament. In addition, Nick Clegg said that he could not "foresee any circumstances" in which the possibility of military action would be raised again. 

But at defence questions this afternoon, Philip Hammond was careful to leave the government with some wriggle room. In response to shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, who has expressed "unease" at David Cameron's decision to take military action against Syria off the table, he said: 

Circumstances would have to change very significantly before parliament would want to look again at this issue.

That answer will prompt speculation about what those "circumstances" might be, the most obvious being another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.

But the political reality is that it suits both Cameron and Ed Miliband to close down debate over a second vote. Cameron is understandably reluctant to avoid appearing indecisive by putting military action back on the table and, in view of Labour's unpredictable stance, is not confident of winning a second vote.

Miliband, who narrowly managed to avoid a major party split, has little incentive to offer Cameron his support for raising the possibility of intervention. Shadow transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick resigned before last week's vote over Miliband's refusal to rule out intervention and I'm told by a party source that at least six other frontbenchers, including one shadow cabinet minister, were prepared to do so. After a woeful summer, Miliband has regained some authority as the man who prevented a precipitous rush to war even if, as Boris Johnson wrote today, "his real position has been more weaselly". It suits him to now treat the question of military action as closed.

With all this in mind, after last week's extraordinary events, it would be wise to avoid easy predictions. 

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond stands in front of a Rapier System ground-to-air missile launcher during a visit to RAF Waddington near Lincoln. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Will Jeremy Corbyn stand down if Labour loses the general election?

Defeat at the polls might not be the end of Corbyn’s leadership.

The latest polls suggest that Labour is headed for heavy defeat in the June general election. Usually a general election loss would be the trigger for a leader to quit: Michael Foot, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband all stood down after their first defeat, although Neil Kinnock saw out two losses before resigning in 1992.

It’s possible, if unlikely, that Corbyn could become prime minister. If that prospect doesn’t materialise, however, the question is: will Corbyn follow the majority of his predecessors and resign, or will he hang on in office?

Will Corbyn stand down? The rules

There is no formal process for the parliamentary Labour party to oust its leader, as it discovered in the 2016 leadership challenge. Even after a majority of his MPs had voted no confidence in him, Corbyn stayed on, ultimately winning his second leadership contest after it was decided that the current leader should be automatically included on the ballot.

This year’s conference will vote on to reform the leadership selection process that would make it easier for a left-wing candidate to get on the ballot (nicknamed the “McDonnell amendment” by centrists): Corbyn could be waiting for this motion to pass before he resigns.

Will Corbyn stand down? The membership

Corbyn’s support in the membership is still strong. Without an equally compelling candidate to put before the party, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP are unlikely to initiate another leadership battle they’re likely to lose.

That said, a general election loss could change that. Polling from March suggests that half of Labour members wanted Corbyn to stand down either immediately or before the general election.

Will Corbyn stand down? The rumours

Sources close to Corbyn have said that he might not stand down, even if he leads Labour to a crushing defeat this June. They mention Kinnock’s survival after the 1987 general election as a precedent (although at the 1987 election, Labour did gain seats).

Will Corbyn stand down? The verdict

Given his struggles to manage his own MPs and the example of other leaders, it would be remarkable if Corbyn did not stand down should Labour lose the general election. However, staying on after a vote of no-confidence in 2016 was also remarkable, and the mooted changes to the leadership election process give him a reason to hold on until September in order to secure a left-wing succession.

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