Labour’s fragile truce comes to an end

The relationship between Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his backbenchers has never been easy. The relationship has been characterised by divisions and disagreement and famously led to a vote of no confidence. Yet, after the General Election a fragile truce appeared to have been reached. This week, that came to an end.

So, what was the reason for this? Namely; Russia or more specifically Jeremy Corbyn’s reaction to the current crisis. The crisis between the UK and Russia escalated after on Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Russia for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in a statement to the House of Commons. A failure by Russia to explain their actions led to Theresa May announcing she would expel 23 Russian diplomats.

Jeremy Corbyn was given a chance on both Monday and Wednesday to respond to the Prime Minister. Firstly, on Monday Corbyn was adjudged to have misjudged the mood of the Commons when his response focused on attacking the Conservative Party for accepting donations from Russian oligarchs and calling for a ‘robust dialogue’ with Russia. Corbyn critic John Woodcock claimed “many of us thought Jeremy got the tone wrong.” Senior Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Chris Leslie also struck a very different tone to their leader.

In his second response, Corbyn’s decided not to directly condemn the Kremlin for the poisoning. This drew a scathing reaction from across the House of Commons. The row intensified when Labour spin doctor Seamus Milne compared the evidence for direct Russia involvement with the case for war in Iraq. Again, senior Labour MPs such as Hilary Benn, Ben Bradshaw, Pat McFadden and Chris Bryant were very publicly at odds with the Labour leader. An early day motion which unequivocally accepted the Russian’s state capability gained support from a number of Labour MPs.

After a period of relative calm on the Labour benches, tensions have enflamed again. For many Labour MPs, Corbyn’s reaction was unacceptable. It has reopened their fears about his foreign policy and past links to Russia and reminded many of their concerns about Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. For Corbyn loyalists, it highlighted another example of when his MPs have failed to back him and will increase calls for deselection.

No-one knows the ending to this story. However, until this chapter comes to an end, we can safely say the truce between Corbyn and his backbenches is over.

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph; New Statesmen

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