Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are pushing for suspending arms export licences to Israel. Photo: Getty
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Lib Dems pile the pressure on David Cameron over Gaza

Following the resignation of a Tory minister, the PM’s coalition partners are now calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel

As David Cameron soothes his nerves through his favourite form of escapism – pointing at fish at a Portuguese fish market – his coalition colleagues have piled on the pressure already mounting on him to clarify his stance on Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The Liberal Democrats are now calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel, a significant addition to the rebellious voices in Cameron’s own party – the loudest of which was Sayeeda Warsi, who dramatically resigned from his government yesterday, calling his position “morally indefensible”.

Both the Times and Independent are splashing this morning with stories about how the minister’s resignation has opened the floodgates for senior Tory figures criticising the PM’s reticence over condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza. He so far has called the actions “intolerable”, but has not used the word “disproportionate” – as Boris Johnson was quick to use yesterday, eclipsing Cameron’s stance.

The Independent reports a “mutiny among senior Tory MPs last night as they lined up to condemn his [Cameron’s] handling of the Gaza crisis and to warn his stance was alienating millions of British Muslims”, and the Times’ frontpage headline is “Tory war over Gaza”. It reports that Cameron is “struggling to contain a growing revolt”, and also describes a “pincer movement from Labour and the Liberal Democrats”.

Ed Miliband has repeatedly called upon Cameron to take a firmer stance, deploring his “inexplicable silence” on the subject. And now the Lib Dems are differentiating themselves from the Tory coalition leaders and adding a fresh voice to the cacophony already condemning Cameron. Nick Clegg said the Israeli military operation has “overstepped the mark”, and revealed he’s been working with his Lib Dem cabinet colleague, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, to push for a suspension of arms export licences to Israel. Cable added that he and his fellow senior Lib Dems have been “making this case inside government” for a while, but had been unable “to get agreement” with the Tories.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Suspending export licences is not a decision we take lightly and it is right that we examine the facts fully. This is the approach being taken by the vast majority of countries.”

How long can Cameron keep up this strategy of lukewarm No 10 statements and low-key tutting at Israel’s actions when the opposition, his coalition colleagues and even significant individuals in his own party are asking for much more?

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while he would hold a free vote, party policy would be changed to oppose military action, an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote. Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, members made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbot and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet. There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.