Jeremy Corbyn is threatening to whip Labour MPs into toeing the party line (or the Jeremy line) on Syria, although even his ally John McDonnell has advised a free vote.
Who has a democratic mandate to decide this important issue? MPs have a mandate from their constituents, but Corbyn insists that his mandate from members/supporters trumps that. Yet Tom Watson also has a clear mandate on that basis, and he favours intervention in Syria.
Corbyn has tried to strengthen his position by emailing members for their views. It seems clear that members do largely oppose the Government’s proposals on Syria. However the UK is a representative, not a direct, democracy – and the online form can be accessed by any member of the public and filled in multiple times. I don’t have a settled opinion on the issue myself, but I’m pretty sure many of those indicating their online opposition will be doing so on a reflexive, tribal basis.
The whole mandate question is a tricky one. Corbyn is undeniably popular with the majority of members/supporters.
Some people who voted for a moderate Labour MP might have preferred to vote for a Corbynite. But – s/he might not have been elected.
Now Len McCluskey has weighed in.
Declaring that Britain would be party to an “illegal and irrational war” if MPs voted to support bombing raids on Islamic State, Mr McCluskey added that his union was preparing to go on the offensive if relations between Mr Corbyn and his MPs got any worse.
“They are playing with fire.” he said. “Any attempt to force Labour’s leader out through a Westminster palace coup will be resisted all the way by Unite and, I believe, most party members and affiliated unions.”
McCluskey was voted General Secretary of Unite in 2013 based on a 15.2% turnout. According to this Populus poll (it’s quite an old one admittedly, from 2009) only around 27% of Unite members supported Labour. (About 23% supported Tories, 15%, Lib Dems, and the (non)voting intentions of the 35% others weren’t broken down.)
There might be a debate as to who has the most convincing mandate to determine Labour’s future – but the answer surely isn’t Len McCluskey.