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Jeremy Corbyn's refusal to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria shows his newly assertive approach

Against expectations, the opposition leader says shadow ministers will not be permitted to support air strikes against Isis. 

Since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader the assumption has been that he will offer his MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis in Syria (should the government bring one forward). The divisions within the party over the issue and Corbyn's rebellious past (voting against the whip 534 times since 1997) meant that to many it seemed the logical option. Shadow ministers would be permitted to vote in favour of air strikes while Corbyn and others voted against. When asked about the issue at the Labour conference in September, Corbyn refused to dismiss the possibility. 

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, his closest ally, went further and said a free vote would be appropriate: "There are some big ticket issues where there are some principled disagreements. On a lot of other issues you can see consensus and compromise. Jeremy is teaching me how to reach consensus and compromise – bloody difficult I tell you. But on a number of big ticket issues the reality is we have to agree that we can’t agree.

"We haven’t come to this conclusion yet about Syria. But my view – I have been in parliament and on five occasions we have gone to war. It just focuses your mind. You get a chill down your spine when you are making a decision to send people into war where there could be a possible loss of life … When you are sending people with a potential loss of life I think it is a conscience decision, I think it is a moral decision.

"So I am hoping on the Syria thing it should be a free vote on the basis of conscience. On that big ticket issue that is the way we should go. I will try and win the argument. But I have got to recognise on this particular issue I respect people if they feel otherwise because it is such a morally challenging decision to make whether you are going to go to war and a result of that people will be maimed and there could be a loss of life."

But interviewed by Sky News today, Corbyn said: "I don’t think a free vote is something that we are offering". At last week's shadow cabinet meeting, he emphasised the value of collective responsibility and implicitly rebuked shadow cabinet ministers, such as shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle, for undermining his authority by taking contradictory positions. Corbyn's refusal to offer a free vote is the first example of his newly assertive approach. 

His stance means it will be even harder for Cameron to secure a Commons majority for air strikes. While there are around 30 Labour backbenchers prepared to rebel against the leadership, shadow ministers would now be forced to resign in order to vote for military action. At this early stage of the parliament, as they seek to exert influence over Corbyn, few will want to do so.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Martin Lewis’s battle with Facebook could shake online advertising to its core

The consumer advocate is furious that his face is being used to sell scams. 

Facebook simply cannot catch a break – not that many people will feel at that sorry for it. This month the company is in the middle of dealing with the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, while also trying to make its service compliant with strict new EU data protection rules.

And now it’s having to deal with a lawsuit that could, in theory at least, threaten its entire business model. The challenge comes from consumer advocate and financial talking head Martin Lewis – no stranger to publicity – who is suing over the issue of his image in Facebook adverts linked to financial scams.

Adverts for these scams are one of the major sources of fake news across the internet, and Lewis is far from the only person to see his likeness used in them. The adverts are for an extremely high-risk and under-regulated form of trading known as “binary options”, which have seen numerous reports of people losing their life savings.

The extremely high-risk product, though, is often advertised as virtually (or entirely) risk-free, thanks to some formula devised by an expert – often accompanied by a convincing fake write-up by a trusted news network, such as the BBC or CNN. One such site even created a video faking an endorsement from the physicist Stephen Hawking to sell its services.

Lewis, then, has picked a good villain: he has every right to be angry that his image is being used to sell such scams, and a good case to make that it could be damaging to his reputation. He argues that despite the volume of adverts uploaded to Facebook, given their reputation for facial recognition and other technologies, they should easily be able to stop these adverts appearing at all.

This is where Lewis’s argument becomes somewhat simplistic: no level of facial recognition would let Facebook automatically fix the problem of placing adverts. Yes, Lewis may not lend his image to sell any financial product, but what if he was the keynote speaker at a conference? Or if a news outlet did an interview with him and wanted to promote it to help it attract views (a practice some outlets actually do)?

In the case of other public figures it gets trickier still: an environmental group may wish to use a picture of an oil company CEO as part of a Facebook advert, or campaign groups may wish to use pictures of politicians. Preventing all of this would effectively create a huge new right over use of likeness, to the detriment of free speech and free debate.

And yet Facebook’s current response – that it removes any misleading adverts if they are reported to it by users – feels lacklustre to the point of inadequacy. This becomes especially true given the strange plot twist following the publication of stories about Lewis’s legal challenge. In a tweet thanking outlets for the coverage, Lewis alleged that similar adverts were now appearing next to the articles in question, including on Sky News and the Guardian, asking them to “rectify this immediately”.

This highlights a huge issue for any site mainly or partially reliant on advertising – including this one – where many if not most of the adverts you see are determined by algorithm with no prior control or sight by any staff (editorial or commercial) before they’re seen by the public.

Sites can try to rule out adverts for certain types of product or services, or based on certain keywords, but such rules are patchy. The result is often that on numerous high quality journalism sites, the adverts can push dubious products, if not outright scams. At their most harmless, these are very low quality, ad-stuffed, celebrity listicles (‘18 celebrities you never realised were gay’). But then there are questionable sites offering help with PPI refunds – which can be got for far lower fees through official channels – and binary option scams.

Editors can and do try to get such adverts removed when their users alert them, but this needs to be done on an ad-by-ad basis and can be time-consuming. Oddly, thanks to the ad networks upon which they rely, news outlets find themselves facing the same problem as their oft-time rival Facebook

As a result, the high-quality media which is currently railing against, and trying to fight back against, fake news often finds itself at least partially funded by that self-same fake news.

If successful – and it’s likely to be a very long shot – Martin Lewis’s lawsuit could find that it radically breaks and reshapes the way not just Facebook advertising, but all online advertising. That would be a huge, perhaps existential, risk to many sites which rely on it. But given the threats posed by the current business model of the internet, many could be forgiven for feeling the risk might be one worth taking.

James Ball is an award-winning freelance journalist who has previously worked at the Guardian and Buzzfeed. He tweets @jamesrbuk