Answering John Rentoul - on Iran, Israel and the never-ending nuclear debate

Iran Watch, part 6.

Iran Watch, part 6.

Ok. This is getting BO-RING. The Sindy's John Rentoul says "the world might have decided it has better things to do" than follow our ongoing blog-and-Twitter row over Iran/Israel/nukes - but, bizarrely, he says this at the end of yet another blogpost - "Calling Mehdi Hasan" - in which he yet again dodges the key issues.

This'll be my last post on Rentoul - I promise! - and I'll try and make it as short as possible because I know he doesn't like having to read long articles. (I can only guess that he prefers to conduct debates on geopolitics via 140-character putdowns on Twitter. Then again, his knowledge of Iran is pretty superficial: he claims, for example, that the Iranian president would be in control of nuclear weapons when of course, if such weapons were to be built by the regime, it would be Ayatullah Khamenei with his finger on the trigger and Ahmadinejad wouldn't be allowed anywhere near them!)

Three quick points:

First, Rentoul wants to misquote people and then pretend he didn't and/or pretend it doesn't matter. It was Rentoul who claimed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had threatened to "wipe Israel off the map", refused to correct himself or the belligerent meaning he ascribed to those comments and who now says that he knew I "would go off into the old debate about the translation of the Iranian president's 2005 words about Israel". This is wonderfully evasive as it leaves the passing reader unaware of the fact that, "old" or not, the debate is over and Rentoul is wrong. Ahmadinejad, for all his flaws, sins and crimes, didn't say that. Rentoul knows he didn't say that. Yet this proud pedant continues to flagrantly misquote the Iranian president in order to beat the drum for war against Iran.

Second, Rentoul again asks "why the warmongering IAEA should allow such a government to develop nuclear weapons". I'm not sure I understand this contorted and rather loaded question - the IAEA isn't a "warmongering" organisation (though its director general does look a little compromised to me) and hasn't said Iran is developing weapons. Has he even bothered to read the IAEA's reports? I'm happy to extend the "Iain Dale challenge" to Rentoul, if he's interested in trying to win the £100 cash prize that's still on offer.

Third, double standards matter. Despite Rentoul's unfortunate smears, my own view is clear and well-documented: I want a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East in accordance with UN resolution 687. I don't want Israel or Iran to have nuclear weapons (and nor does the IAEA!); Rentoul is ok with the former having 'em but not the latter.

That's what this row has been about. The rest is noise.

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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The public sector pay freeze isn't the only Downing Street policy in danger

The government has reached the end of the road as far as politically-deliverable cuts go.

It's Schrödinger's pay freeze: is it dead or not? We won't know until Philip Hammond opens the box! Yesterday, two Cabinet ministers – Chris Grayling and Michael Fallon – suggested that it was dead. Then Downing Street said it remained in place.

But as I wrote yesterday, the pay freeze is one of four things that Conservative backbenchers think must change before the next election. (The second and third are the cuts to schools and the pressure on the health service respectively, and the fourth is their leader.) Two senior backbenchers, Stephen Crabb and Nicky Morgan, have publicly called for an easing of the pay cap, particularly for nurses.

The difficult truth is that whatever Nos 10 or 11 may say or think, there aren't the votes in the House for a budget that doesn't include some action on the pay freeze. (The government can do it and keep to Philip Hammond's revised deficit projections, as he has an extra £30bn of headroom, and a pay increase at inflation would cost around £4bn.)

It's worth pausing, forgetting May's woes for a moment and looking out at the government's long-running difficulties at passing its fiscal policies. The proposed change in business rates? Mothballed. Philip Hammond's modest change in national insurance? Abandoned and very probably a key factor in Theresa May's disastrous decision to hold an early election. George Osborne's tax credit cuts? Killed in the Lords, taking with them his leadership hopes and quite possibly Britain's EU membership. School funding changes? A question of when, not if, those are abandoned.

In a way, May's difficulties only highlight what was already true: that the government has reached the end of the road as far as politically-deliverable cuts go.  

And with Britain closer to the next recession than the last, the levers are still firmly where Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling left them after they dealt with the last crisis: interest rates are still at record lows, the government still heavily indebted. 

And that's a far bigger worry, for the Conservatives and for everyone, than how long May endures at Downing Street.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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