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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t ask a single question about Brexit

On the day Article 50 is triggered, the Labour leader neglects to hold the Prime Minister to account on the UK’s future outside the European Union.

The entirety of British politics since the EU referendum campaign began was symbolised in today’s bout of PMQs. Theresa May’s studied banality, Jeremy Corbyn’s missed opportunities, and the SNP triumphantly filling the vacuum.

Today’s weekly round of questioning fell on the same day as Article 50 being triggered. A historic move by our government, notifying the European Union that the UK will be departing after more than 40 years of membership. A decision that lobs Britain’s future into the unknown – the country’s history, culture, economic stability, and price of a pint of milk, teetering on a cliff-edge.


BBC Parliament screengrab

Yet Jeremy Corbyn decided not to ask Theresa May about her plan for Britain’s exit. Yes, he will get a chance to give his view to the Commons following the Prime Minister’s imminent statement on Brexit. Yes, the subjects Corbyn chose to bring up – real-terms cuts in police spending, and the daft hacking away at schools budgets – are worthy.

But PMQs is a chance for opposition parties to very publicly hammer the Prime Minister on policy failings of the day. To have the first word and put her on the spot, to put her in an uncomfortable political position, in a way that is more difficult to do in a response to a Commons statement. And the PM should be given as few free passes as possible on this subject.

This was a chance for the Labour leader to at least create the façade of opposition to the hard Tory Brexit that most progressive voters in this country are desperate for our politicians to counter, and to which Labour is ostensibly opposed.

Instead, it was – as ever – left to the SNP to attack the Prime Minister on Brexit. The party’s Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, was the first MP in PMQs to challenge May on her lack of a Brexit plan. Not a good look for Corbyn.

Even if he will respond to May’s Commons statement, he missed the opportunity to unpick the deplorably political and reckless approach the PM is taking to Brexit via the first-word direct questioning afforded by PMQs. Yet more proof that Labour has never been wholly serious about holding the government to account on Britain’s post-EU future, preferring the comfort of passively watching the mess unfold.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.