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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Chris Patten says Theresa May is creating “Millwall” Britain: “No one likes us, we don’t care”

The former Conservative chair urges fellow Tories to oppose Theresa May's “dogmatic, Trumpian view of where this country's going”.

I think it’s always bad for any government when the official opposition is hopeless. It makes the government more accident prone. It makes it less careful. And I think overall, it’s bad for the national interest. The extent to which the way we go about pursuing the biggest disaster in modern British politics can be interrogated is rather limited because of what the opposition’s like.

Over the next year or two, it’s going to be increasingly important that people who are really concerned about the national interest – who think that a hard Brexit, a divorce from Europe, which is what we’re heading for – would be very bad for the national interest, are going to have to do more and more to try to shape the eventual outcome.

Apparently no deal wouldn’t be any problem, according to one or two ministers. And no deal having been thought through. It’s a complete nightmare. It isn’t very long ago we were told we would still be in the single market, in a customs union, able to do a free-trade deal with the EU, which would leave us no worse off. It’s either mendacious or it’s a consequence of supreme ignorance and folly, because that isn’t going to be what happens.

The right wing of the Conservative party have to a very considerable extent dominated not just the run-up to the referendum, but the consequences of the referendum. And they are encouraged by the tabloid press. The real policing of a hard Brexit isn’t done by the whips and the Conservative party, it's done by the tabloid editors. I think it’s [the government] led by the nose by them [tabloids].

[We’re told to] forget about the 48 per cent, and forget about the conventional ways in which we’ve sought to find some accommodation between majorities and minorities. That just is thrown overboard when you’ve got government by tabloids.

My own judgement is what we want to take back control of is the debate and our national interest, and we want to take it back from the tabloid press. In a mafia film, for saying that, you’d get your favourite pet’s head left on the coverlet when you wake up in the morning. Nowadays, you get a blistering personal attack from some hack employed at a tabloid newspaper. It’s awful and we’ve just got to stand up to it. I’m optimistic, because I think people are going to be sickened by it.

Even if the Labour party doesn't get its act together, I very much hope that enough Conservatives will speak up for the national interest, not for a dogmatic, Trumpian view of where this country's going, with most of our friends thinking we're completely crazy. Do you remember that, I'm not a particular football fan, but do you remember that Millwall football supporters' song? "No one loves us, we don't care." That's going to turn into our position in the world.

The negotiations [will] turn out to be at best incredibly difficult, and at worse a pretty good disaster. Don't forget, we've been told that this is all going to be wonderful, and that because the Italians like selling us prosecco, everybody will fall over to give us whatever trade terms we need. I mean, that is the depth of the geopolitical wisdom of the Foreign Secretary and others. It's beyond depressing.

Events will shape the debate, and events will eventually oblige Conservatives, including the Prime Minister, to make a choice between national interest and bloody-minded dogmatism.

Chris Patten is a peer and former Conservative party chair. He is Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and was chairman of the BBC from 2011-14.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition