Councillor Nick Davies, Swansea West CLP, reports
An early success for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was the fact that in a free vote, only 66 Labour MPs in a largely hostile Parliamentary Labour Party voted with the Tories to bomb Syria. The votes of Welsh Labour MPs contributed to this success. This was all the more surprising given that there is little Clear Red Water in evidence at Westminster, most Welsh Labour MPs being on the right of the Party and lacking the radical instincts of some of their counterparts in the Senedd.
In the end only four Welsh MPs voted with the Tories. In the days leading up to the vote, many MPs, as in England, felt the weight of opinion from their CLP members and constituents on the issue. Some were no doubt persuaded that the case for bombing did not stack up, some were no doubt wary of any military response, having had their fingers burned on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Some felt obliged to vote against bombing given the weight of the views of their constituents and members.
Reportedly, Owen Smith, Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, was minded at the PLP meeting a few days before the vote to support bombing. That he voted against says something about the pressure he must have been under from his Pontypridd members. Swansea West MP Geraint Davies, who voted for the invasion of Iraq and has never been a natural rebel, voted against the government, 85% of his constituency members who gave their view having advised that he should.
Thus pressure can be applied to Labour’s parliamentary caucus to heed the views of the members who work to send them to Westminster. The rank and file members – excluded, marginalised and disregarded in the New Labour years – must be the necessary counterweight to the largely hostile PLP, in support of the Corbyn- McDonnell leadership.
What of the Welsh MPs who did vote to bomb Syria? Chris Bryant (Rhondda) is an open Blairite somewhat surprisingly given a job by Jeremy Corbyn. Wayne David (Caerphilly) is another frequent Corbyn critic. Something of a surprise was Susan Elan Jones, not known as a strong right winger. Stephen Doughty (Cardi South & Penarth) went on to excel himself by orchestrating his on-air resignation with the BBC, a piece of destructive vanity which may damage his standing with his local party more than it damaged Jeremy Corbyn.
This article also appears on the Welsh Labour Grassroots website www.welshlabourgrassroots.org.uk