Me versus French MP on the face-veil

Watch the video of the BBC World News’s <em>Doha Debates</em>, hosted by Tim Sebastian.

A fortnight or so ago, I went out to Doha, Qatar, to participate in the Doha Debates programme on BBC World News. The show is beamed into 300 million homes in 200 countries and is hosted by the veteran BBC interviewer and anchor Tim Sebastian.

The motion was: "This house believes France is right to ban the face veil." Speaking on the proposition side were Jacques Myard, a French MP from President Sarkozy's UMP, and Farzana Hassan, a Canadian author and activist; speaking on the opposition side were me and the French journalist Nabila Ramdani.

I'm pleased to announce that my side won the debate on the night, with the 350-strong audience of Qataris and expats rejecting the motion by 78 per cent to 22 per cent.

It was a pretty lively and heated debate. You can watch it all in one go in the video on the Doha Debates website.

Or you can watch it via YouTube in four parts, beginning with part 1 below:

Here are parts 2, 3 and 4. (My own opening statement kicks in at 4mins 45secs in part 2 of the four video clips and at 16mins 30secs in the full video of the debate on the Doha Debates website.)

UPDATE: I forgot to mention above that I was a last-minute replacement on the panel for Sayeeda Warsi, who pulled out at the last minute. But was she forced to withdraw by her boss, the Prime Minister?

From the Evening Standard:

Muslim cabinet minister Baroness Warsi pulled out of defending the burqa at an international TV debate because of "government pressure", it was claimed today.

The Tory party co-chairman had been due to appear in front of a global TV audience of 350 million people opposing the motion that "France is right to ban the face veil".

However, a Tory party source said that Baroness Warsi, right, had pulled out for diary commitments.

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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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.