Tempers are fraying in the House of Commons as the ten hour Syria debate on whether or not to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State begins. Members of Parliament will vote this evening; if the motion is successful, the first raids over Syria could take place as soon as Thursday morning.
The Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire this morning for apparently branding those who oppose a bombing campaign in Syria “terrorist sympathisers”. His opponents called his words a “desperate slur” and have warned that he is losing support from his own party for airstrikes in Syria.
The opposition benches are also awash with infighting, with allegations of bullying circulating on social media. Some Labour MPs who want to see action in Syria say they have been sent letters threatening them with deselection if they support the government motion.
In a bid to rally support for his military campaign, Mr Cameron last night addressed Tory MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee, which includes all backbench Conservative MPs.
He told them: “You don’t want to walk through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers.
“If you, like me, agree that Isil needs to be defeated, you should not be sitting on your hands.”
“I don’t want to win this on the basis of Labour votes. I want to win this on the basis of Conservative votes.”
The former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond said that his words belied desperation on Mr Cameron’s part. Speaking to BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme he said: “I think the Prime Minister’s language is an indication of desperation, because he sees that the support he thought he had is starting to slip away as his case for extending air strikes into Syria starts to disintegrate on examination.
“Some of the Prime Minister’s claims start to disintegrate like dust, like the claim for example that there are 70,000 available ground troops who are going to step into the vacuum which will be released if Daesh is forced to concede ground in Syria.
“It is just not true, it is not credible. As these claims start to disintegrate, the support for this action starts to ebb away.”
But Mayor of London and Conservative MP Boris Johnson backed his leader, insisting that Mr Cameron was referring only to a small number of people at the top of the Labour Party who appear to condone terrorism, and not to everyone who opposes airstrikes.
He told LBC radio: “The PM was referring to some people who by unfortunate use of language have seemed to confer legitimacy on terrorism. He [the PM] was referring not to all people who oppose the bombing but to some people who through a disastrously infelicitous use of language have seemed to confer some legitimacy and also partly to excuse the actions of those who have murdered people in this city.
“To say that British foreign policy controversies can be called a “cause” in which people have “laid down their lives” is to use the language of the terrorists themselves and play their game. It was sad that he [Livingstone] used those words. In the minds of many impressionable Muslims it will have given the impression that he was justifying or excusing those murders, that action.
“It is playing their game, it is using their language, it is advancing their cause. That is what the Prime Minister meant. I think he was making an extremely good point.”
Meanwhile the Labour MP John Mann has called on his leader Jeremy Corbyn to kick out members who have been carrying out a campaign of bullying and intimidation ahead of the free vote this evening.
Former minister Diana Johnson MP has published on Facebook the text of an email she received, apparently from an anonymous Labour Party member.
The text reads: “Those Labour Party MPs who vote for the bombing of Syria the Labour Party members will be lobbied to follow the following process.
“Six months after the Vote on bombing Syria the Labour Party Members will lobby in the Constituency Labour Parties to move a vote of no confidence at constituencies meetings in those Labour Party MPs who vote to bomb Syria.
“If the Vote of no confidence is carried the MPs can then limp on until their selection at the next General Election when they will be deselected. During the 4 year period in the run up to the next general election the whole country will now [sic] of the no confidence in the MPs from their Labour Party constituencies.
“That is the least the Labour Party members will do to try to wash the blood from their hands of the innocent civilians which the bombs will surely kill.”
Ms Johnson said she was “very saddened” by the email.
Her fellow Labour MP Stella Creasy has been trending on Twitter this morning following reports that a large group of protestors had gathered outside her house. The reports were later called into question. Supporters of Ms Creasy have been using the hashtag #IStandWithStella to show that they oppose bullying within the party.
And Peter Kaye, the newly elected Labour MP for Hove has called for people to have “respect for other people’s views” after he received a picture of a dead baby in the post. According to The Telegraph, Mr Kyle, who supports strikes and was an aid worker during the Bosnian war, said that the picture was designed to intimidate him.
Mr Mann said: “It is deliberate bullying. I have received tweets and emails, some are random but some seem to be orchestrated by groups both inside and outside the party.
“Threats of deselection are at the mild end of it. There is every kind of name-calling you can think of.
“There is no place in the Labour Party for people who are going to abuse others in the run-up to an important debate and vote.”
“The level of abuse over the last four months is on a totally, totally different scale from anything ever before. It is directly linked to people purporting to support Jeremy.
“He should remove this intolerant minority. They have no place in a progressive left-wing party. None of them have been disciplined yet, never mind expelled and he should start doing so.”