Corbyn's war over Syria: no-one wins the first battle

Officially, Jeremy Corbyn is "granting" his MPs a free vote on whether the UK should join military action against Islamist militants in Syria. 

In reality, the Labour leader has taken his only available option. 

There was never any question of Mr Corbyn, a man who has for decades taken a principled stance against international military interventions, suddenly backing RAF air strikes. 

He may have told Andrew Marr he was "not a pacifist", but he gives a highly convicing impression of one. 

No party leader, no matter how popular, could hope to impose his will on such an issue. The political mis-step was to ever think that he could. 

From the back benches, Mr Corbyn has said that MPs should be free to vote with their conscience on issues relating to military action. And he must have realised any attempt to enforce his will on MPs who never wanted him as leader was a doomed strategy. 

Along the way, his allies and advisers have made a series of clumsy mistakes. Releasing his anti-war letter on a Friday was a sign to activists to bombard Labour MPs over the weekend. 

His survey of Labour members, 75% of whom are apparently opposed to air strikes, was largely meaningless. We already know Labour Party members are considerably further to the left than their MPs. The leadership election demonstrated that beyond doubt.

After all this bluster, we have ended up exactly where we would have been had none of it happened. 

Mr Corbyn will say he is personally opposed to air strikes on Syria, his deputy will say he's been convinced by the Prime Minister, Labour will split in the lobbies, and the government will have parliamentary approval for action within days. 

Relations between Labour MPs and their leader are a little worse than they were -- but relations were already pretty bad. Activists will be even more dismayed by events in Parliament -- but they were already pretty dismayed. 

David Cameron will be tempted to grant Mr Corbyn his 2-day debate -- feeling it will add more legitimacy to the vote for action, when it comes. 

This crisis, bourne of tragedy in Paris, highlights the very issues Labour hope to avoid under Jeremy Corbyn -- defence and foreign affairs. There is simply no uniting the leader with the great majority of his MPs on this. 

But this issue goes beyond the Labour Party's internal struggles. Any government needs an effective opposition to hold it to account. More than 60% of voters in May backed parties other than the Conservatives. Their views deserve to be represented in parliament. Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party is so busy fighting itself, it barely has time these days to think about the voters.