Labour members could be given a direct say over the party’s nuclear policy with a fresh online poll to gauge grassroots support for dumping Trident, Jeremy Corbyn has suggested.
In the second instalment of his HuffPost UK interview to mark his 100 days in office, the Labour leader said that the recent experiment of emailing members on the Syria vote was such a success that he would repeat it.
He also refused to rule out a return to the party for George Galloway and said that while he had no proposals to change MP reselection rules, both decisions were ultimately “upto the party to decide”. “I am not a dictator,” he said.
Several Labour MPs were furious at the email consultation on the free vote on Syria because they believed that it was an attempt to get local parties to pressurise them to vote against military action.
Mr Corbyn pointed out that the new move had allowed the rank and file membership to influence the way several Labour MPs ending up voting - and warned that his critics “had better get used to” the power of social media and online campaigning.
His defiant stance - insisting that “I don’t apologise” for the email on Syria - contrasted with a warning from Shadow Cabinet minister Angela Eagle that the party should not make "policy by plebiscite".
Ms Eagle, who chairs the party's National Policy Forum, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: "We don't make policy by plebiscite because there are very few policies that have clear, black and white, yes or no answers in a complex world.
"What we need to have is debate and decision-making after everybody has been listened to, democratically arrived at through the policy processes.”
Mr Corbyn, in interview mode
But in his HuffPost UK interview, Mr Corbyn said a review of Trident policy could also be put out to the membership.
Asked if he could also go directly to members and supporters, he said: "Yeah. I've done that on the Syria vote.
"In 36 hours we got 80,000 replies. There may have been more later. We sampled them and we got overwhelming opposition to bombing.
"I hope that had an influence on what Labour MPs were thinking, I hope that had an influence on public opinion. I don't apologise for that, I think it's the right thing to do. And it's something I will do again."
The party’s sample of responses - which opponents complained was not reliable - found overwhelming opposition to RAF airstrikes but failed to stop 66 Labour MPs from voting for them and gave David Cameron a clear mandate to start bombing Islamic State targets.
"I'll be quite honest about it, we have a management problem with dealing with responses," Mr Corbyn admitted, pointing out that at one point the party had a six-figure backlog of emails. But he suggested volunteers could work quickly to sort through the process.
"There is a problem of engagement but to have a problem of engagement with those numbers of people is surely a good thing. And that's what we're working on.
"This is what social media unleashes and I think politics better get used to the idea it is here to stay.”
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On the party’s current system of reselecting MPs, Mr Corbyn insisted: “I’ve got no proposals to change that.”
But asked what would happen if members demanded to change the reselection rules - to use the boundary review to open up the whole process for every MP, he replied: “It’s not upto me, it’s upto the party to decide. I am not a dictator”.
And pressed on whether he was agnostic or had a firm view on changing the rules, he replied: “I think we should all be accountable to our parties but I also think that accountability should be a process of engagement: that MPs do engage with their constituency parties, do engage with their constituents and MPs do change their minds on things because of local opinion.
“That’s not wrong. There’s nothing bad about that and many MPs clearly changed their mind on the Syria vote between what I was picking up when the proposal first came and what happened five days later.”
George Galloway, former Labour and Respect MP, an ally of Mr Corbyn's in the anti-war movement
Mr Galloway, who was kicked out of Labour in 2003, said in July that if Mr Corbyn were elected leader and extended an olive branch to him, then he would return “pretty damn quick”.
Labour HQ at the time ruled out the possibility of the party offering any reconciliation to the former MP, who is running for Respect in the London Mayoral elections in May 2016.
When asked by HuffPostUK if he would at some point in the future like to have George Galloway back in the party, the Labour leader said: “There is a five year rule. If he applies in five years’ time, it goes to the National Executive, they decide. Not me.”
Pushed further if he would be unhappy at the former Respect MP being readmitted, Corbyn replied: “Let them decide.”
Mr Corbyn also talked of his misgivings over the UK's bombing of Dresden in the Second World War. He said that apart from World War Two, the other 'moral' conflict Britain had been involved in in history was the blockading of African slave ports in the early 19th century.