We had an unexpected preview yesterday of next week’s Prime Minister’s Questions. Jeremy Corbyn asked David Cameron a question about his statement on Syria and refugees. Here is how it went:
Corbyn: “At the Home and Interior Ministers summit next Monday, will Britain now sign up to be part of a Europe-wide response to assist refugees from all parts of the world and ensure that they have somewhere safe to go, so that Britain plays a much greater role than it does at present, including sorting out the misery and desperation of people living in the camps in Calais and other places? They are human beings, too, who need some help and support.
“Can the Prime Minister say anything about the welcome remarks made by the Foreign Secretary during his visit to Tehran, when he indicated that the new relationship with Iran meant that there was a possibility of wider political involvement in bringing about some degree of progress in and possibly even a solution to the desperate crisis facing Syria through a summit of all the nations of that region plus, of course, Britain, the USA and Russia?”
The Prime Minister: “We do not believe it is right to take part in the European relocation quota because we think that a better answer for Britain, which is such a major investor in the refugee camps, is to take people directly from the camps. In that way we will not encourage more people to make this perilous journey. By taking a long-term view, and looking at the asylum seekers we have taken and the people we have resettled from around the world, I would say Britain is absolutely fulfilling our moral responsibility, and we absolutely play our part.
“In terms of the hon. Gentleman’s question about Iran, of course there is an opportunity for greater dialogue with Iran now that this nuclear deal, which I think is a good deal, has been done, but Britain should enter into that in a cautious and sceptical way. We ought to remember that Iran is still a supporter of terrorist organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah, which I know he describes as friends but which I see very much as enemies. We also need to make sure that Iran is playing a positive role in Syria, rather than the role it plays now of propping up the hated Assad regime.”
I suspect that was the pattern for what is to come. Conservative MPs cheered enthusiastically when Corbyn’s name was called: they do not think his imminent elevation to party leader is a threat to them, to put it neutrally. Corbyn was nervous (as is evident on the video) and steered clear of the contentious subject of the British jihadi who was killed by a British drone, sticking to what he presumably thought was safer ground of asking about refugees.
Cameron dealt with his future adversary soberly, but was sharp enough to pick up on Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah.
The other aspect that possibly prefigured the future was George Osborne, behind Cameron, giggling at some private joke.
The first part of Corbyn’s question, on the plight of people at Calais trying to get into the UK, failed to address Cameron’s argument that to set up what looks like a reception centre at Calais would encourage migrants to make the dangerous journey. I suspect that more people agree with the Prime Minister’s position than Corbyn’s.
It was notable that Yvette Cooper, in her audition for PMQs when she asked, after the Prime Minister’s statement, for a further debate, dealt with Cameron’s argument directly: “He says he does not want to encourage people to travel. I say to him they are travelling already and they need our help.”
• The problems for Labour of Corbyn as leader were further illustrated by BBC Panorama last night, which reported that he attended a conference that called on Iraqis to engage in “military struggle” against coalition forces.
His spokesperson said the 2003 conference, in Cairo, wasn’t organised by the Stop the War Coalition, of which Corbyn is chair. This was an unsuccessful attempt to distance Corbyn from the message, because the Stop the War Coalition issued a statement in its own name, and therefore that of its chair, in October 2004, calling on Iraqis to end the British “occupation” by whatever means necessary:
“The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends.”
This was the sort of thing for which George Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party. Corbyn was overlooked presumably because it was expressed in less colourful language.
• With two days left for people to vote in the Labour leadership election (unless the deadline is extended because of problems getting ballot papers to all those entitled to them), I think Jeremy Corbyn is most likely to win. I set out my reasoning here.
- More about:
- Jeremy Corbyn