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Donald Trump has done the right thing in Syria for the wrong reasons

Unauthorised and inconsistent intervention bodes ill for Trump's presidency. 

 When I was working for Ben Brogan at the Telegraph, he always used to tell me of the importance of "stress-testing the narrative".

Donald Trump's decision to authorise missile strikes on Bashar Al-Assad's regime in Syria - the first direct intervention by the United States in the Syrian war - upends many of our assumptions about America's new president, but confirms others.

Yes, the investigation into whether the Kremlin may have co-ordinated with the Trump campaign remains open, and Trump may well owe his presidency to Russian interference. But it's hard now to claim that the Trump administration is a puppet of Vladimir Putin, particularly as Rex Tillerson has separately announced that it is now the American government's objective to seek "regime change" in Syria.

As far as the need for a response to Assad's use of sarin gas goes, it's worth revisiting Rory Stewart's 2013 blog. His case for the importance of a response (that the international prohibition on the use of chemical warfare should remain in place) remains convincing while his three conditions that response must satisfy (not to make the conditions for the civilian population worse, to deter Assad from using chemical weapons again, and to send a clear message that the use of weapons will not be tolerated elsewhere) continue to be essential. And as Yvette Cooper noted in her excellent 2015 speech, there can be no defeat of the self-styled Islamic State that doesn't involve the permanent removal of the Assad regime as well.

(It's worth noting too that the attack has been welcomed by the bulk of Syrian activists.)

There's a "but" coming though, and it's a big one. All of that has be weighed against the parts of the Trump narrative that have been reinforced, and terrifyingly so, by last night's bombing. The first is that Trump has acted without Congressional or international authorisation, part of the pattern noted in this week's Spectator: that Trump's approach is war and more war, and largely without legislative oversight.

The second is what it confirms about the volatility and unreliability of Trump. The case against "narrowing the circle of what is prohibited" as Stewart put it remains unchanged since 2013 when Trump angrily campaigned against bombing. The case against Assad as part of the solution in Syria remains unchanged since last year's presidential race, when Trump ran on a platform of doing a deal with Assad. When the facts change, I change my mind: but the facts haven't changed. What has changed is that Trump saw something he didn't like on TV. What will he see next week?

That Trump has acted against the use of chemical weapons and in accordance with the wishes the bulk of Syrian activist groups should be welcomed. That he has done so without authorisation, apparently off the back of a TV report is worrying. 

As I wrote earlier this week, the absence of direct intervention in Syria has been a disaster. That doesn't mean that the unauthorised and inconsistent intervention of a volatile president will be any more successful.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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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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