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9 April 2020

A Commons vote from 2015 shows how Labour could change under Starmer

MPs who voted for airstrikes on Syria in 2015 come in from the cold.

By Patrick Maguire

The right of the Parliamentary Labour Party has finished Keir Starmer’s inaugural round of front-bench appointments as the big winners, as my colleague Stephen Bush has noted. For evidence of just how profound a shift it is, December 2015 is a good place to start.

Three months into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Commons voted on whether to authorise airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria. Labour’s official policy was to oppose intervention, but Corbyn gave his MPs a free vote. Sixty-six of them sided with the government. Only 29 of that number remain Labour MPs – itself a sign of how the party changed under Corbyn. The vast majority of them are from the party’s right, or New Labour veterans.

Of the 29, only one still had a front-bench role before Starmer’s election as leader – Alan Campbell, who has retained his post as deputy chief whip. After this evening’s appointments, that number now stands at 11: Wayne David and Stephen Doughty join the shadow Foreign Office team, Conor McGinn and Holly Lynch both become shadow Home Office ministers, Liz Kendall gets shadow care, Peter Kyle shadow justice, Lucy Powell shadow business, Alison McGovern shadow sport and Pat McFadden is the new shadow City minister. Bridget Phillipson, meanwhile, sits in the shadow cabinet as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

That number is not only a sign of how the PLP’s attitude to the party leadership has changed, but how it expects Labour’s foreign and security policy to change. A front bench where David leads on the Middle East and McGinn on national security is naturally going to think and act rather differently to its predecessor – or at least Corbyn critics who have come in from the cold will hope. The test will be how they square their own priorities with the more dovish instincts of Starmer and Lisa Nandy.

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