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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We're beginning to see what Brexit might look like

 If success means sluggish growth and increasing the amount that the state has to pay to large multinational companies to persuade them to stay, there is growing evidence that Brexit may be a success.

Today’s growth figures are out, and they show no signs of a post-leave vote slowdown, with growth down by just 0.2 per cent, to 0.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2015.

But the really good news is that Nissan will make the next generation of the Qashqai at their factory in Sunderland. Local MPs and the government had both feared that Britain’s out vote would result in the closure of the plant, or at least a dramatic reduction in the size of its operations.

Instead, production will continue, saving 7,000 jobs directly, and many more in both the pipeline and in servicing the needs of the factory’s employees.

All of which is causing the Brexit boosters to proclaim that the fears of the Remain campaign have been shown to be Brexit boosters have leapt on the news, arguing that it shows that the worries about Brexit were a fuss over nothing. Are they right?

Well, sort of. As I’ve written before, it really is worth remembering that we haven’t actually left the European Union yet. And as Mark Wallace – himself an unapologetic Brexiteer – notes, it is fairly clear that, rightly or wrongly, the markets regard Brexit as a bad thing. Many seem to still be betting on an incredibly soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all.

So, anyone celebrating the “success” of Brexit or pointing out that it has failed needs to wait a little while. But even these good figures show some cause for alarm – there is a contraction in the construction industry, generally the canary in the coal mine as far as the British economy is concerned.

And what about the Nissan deal? Reuters are running a story saying that they agreed to continue operating in Sunderland after the government pledged to support and if need be compensate Nissan should Brexit make it harder to operate in the United Kingdom. Neither Downing Street nor Nissan have commented, though Nissan thanked the government for its “support and assurances”, when announcing the deal. I am told by a well-placed source that Nissan did indeed receive guarantees about the future of the plant from the government.

We can expect to see a lot more of that sort of thing in the future. As I've written before, the government's best-case scenario involves not cutting, but likely increasing the amount that it pays both to the European Union and to the EU27 for a level of access to the single market that allows the City of London to maintain its primacy as a financial centre. It's striking that Theresa May has kept a firm line on increasing British sovereignity, by getting out of the European Court of Justice and freedom of movement, but not on reducing the size of the United Kingdom's contribution to the Brussels budget. 

So as ever with any story proposing the “success” of Brexit, the question comes back to how you define success. If success means sluggish growth, and increasing the amount that the state has to pay to large multinational companies to persuade them to stay while still handing over cash to Brussels, there is growing evidence that Brexit may be a success. If success means equalling or exceeding the growth of the United Kingdom within the European Union, while freeing up a cash bounty for public services, the prognosis is less good.  

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