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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Why the 2017 election was much worse for Theresa May, and much better for Jeremy Corbyn, than it looked

To understand the 2017 result, you need to understand the 2015 one. 

There is a lot stuff talking about the election as if Theresa May did quite well – and a lot talking about what Jeremy Corbyn did right, focusing on his vote share rather than his more important gain, vastly increasing the number of winnable seats.

The 2015 election result was so bad for Labour, as I wrote immediately after, before Corbyn was even on the ballot, that they had lost two elections in one night.

Seats like North Swindon, Labour-held until 2010, had Conservative majorities in excess of 10,000. They needed a swing of 1997-proportions to get a majority of one, and to gain close to 100 seats. Their vote was badly distributed, going up in seats they held and retreating in seats they needed to win to form a government.

In 2017, the picture is very different. Labour needs a swing of just 3.5 per cent to win a majority of one, well within the reach of the possible. A swing of just 1.4 per cent from Conservative to Labour would gain the party 30 seats and put them in office in a minority administration – not one in which they could carry through all of Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto, but one in which they would be able to easily govern from a centre-left perspective with the help of the nationalist parties and the Liberal Democrats.  

In contrast, to get into minority administration territory after 2015, Labour needed close to a six-point swing. Just 15 seats would have fallen into Labour hands on a 1.5 per cent swing, well below the 33 seats that Labour gained on 8 June.

Vote share is not all that relevant under first past the post. What matters about Corbyn’s performance as opposed to Ed Miliband’s is that his vote is efficient under first past the post and he has created an electoral map where Labour can honestly talk about winning the next election. (Regardless of who had won the Labour leadership in 2015, their best case scenario was not victory but creating the conditions for victory at the election after that, as I wrote at the time.)

Nor is vote share that useful a metric to talk up May’s dire performance. Ultimately, there were four reasons why Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn got such a high vote share: 1) The collapse of Ukip following the referendum, 2) The failure of the Liberal Democrats to revive in a big way, 3) Voters who had never voted until the referendum continuing the habit in the election, and 4) First-time voters motivated by Corbyn.

Neither May nor Corbyn can take credit for the first three, and only Corbyn can take credit for the fourth.  The others were the result of decisions taken by, variously: David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Tim Farron, Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall.

Most of the increase in vote share was about what happened to the minor parties. Their collapse and failure increased the size of the marketplace for the big two.

And on this metric you get a better idea of Corbyn’s success and May’s failure. Corbyn took 48.5 per cent of the Labour-Conservative combined score, up from 45 per cent under Ed Miliband. Theresa May in contrast took 51 per cent of the two-party combined score, down from 55 per cent under David Cameron.

I will write in more detail about the 2015 result, and what the 2017 result has done for the prospects of the four major parties. But the most important thing to understand is this: while there are legitimate arguments that 8 June 2017 might be “peak Corbyn”, the election result was a very good one for Labour and a very bad one for the Conservative Party. That has nothing to do with their expectations before the exit poll – and everything to do with the actual pattern of votes and seats across the country. 

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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