Does Cameron want war with China and Russia?

Once again, the Tory leader reveals that he's a foreign-affairs lightweight.

So tell me again, Dave, why it is that you think Britain should renew Trident?

Are we really happy to say that we'd give up our independent nuclear deterrent when we don't know what is going to happen with Iran, we can't be certain of the future in China?

China?? Does David Cameron really believe that the People's Republic of China is a threat to the United Kingdom? That the Chinese, in the midst of supplying our high-street stores with much of their clothing lines, have prepared military plans to either invade and occupy the British Isles or nuke us to smithereens from afar? And, even if they had, does he think the UK's four Trident-armed nuclear submarines would protect his "big society" from the People's Liberation Army, backed up by 400 Chinese nuclear warheads? It'd be like the Na'vi versus the humans in Avatar - only without a happy ending for the Na'vi.

Random movie references aside, I do, however, have a serious point to make. Cameron is not qualified to be prime minister. The self-professed "heir to Blair", like Tony Blair before him, edges towards Downing Street with little knowledge of the world beyond the white cliffs of Dover. He is, as President Obama is alleged to have remarked, a "lightweight". Labour strategists have smiles on their faces. The Foreign Secretary David Miliband was quick to say that the Leader of the Opposition had issued "an insult to a fellow permanent member of the UN security council and to a country with whom we have just announced a close strategic relationship," adding: "David Cameron should withdraw this slur now."

Brown is fond of remarking that this is no time for novices. Given the state of the economy, and the "fragile recovery", he argues, we have to stick with an experienced leader who can handle crises and has proven judgement. The same applies on the international stage, where uncertainties, threats and conflicts abound.

Can we trust Cameron to handle Britain's foreign policy? He might do more damage than Blair ever did.

This, after all, is not his first gaffe. Last night, he suggested nuclear confrontation with China. In 2008, he implied that Britain, via Nato, would go to war with Russia over Georgia. As I wrote in my column in the magazine, back in January:

Nothing has better illustrated Cameron's inexperience and lack of judgement than his intervention in the South Ossetia conflict in 2008, when he rushed to Tbilisi to declare his support for embattled Georgia, which, he wrongly claimed, had been "illegally invaded" by Russia. However, as the former Tory foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind pointed out at the time, "Britain, France and Germany are not going to go to war with Russia over South Ossetia", adding that it was "totally unconvincing" to claim that the conflict wouldn't have happened had Georgia been in Nato.

As my colleague James Macintyre and I have long argued, Cameron has been given a pass by the press. But, I'd add, nowhere has that lack of scrutiny been more evident than on the Tories' foreign policy - both in Europe and beyond. Let's see if that changes next week, in the "foreign affairs" leaders' debate on Sky News.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.