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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How Jeremy Corbyn plans to use the leadership race to bring the rebels back into line

With victory regarded as near-certain in the Corbyn camp, thought is turning to how to bring the rebels to heel after victory. 

Jeremy Corbyn has kicked off his campaign for the Labour leadership with what is being seen as a coded threat to deselect his dissident MPs unless they fall into line. Jeremy Corbyn’s aides, meanwhile, have insisted that he is simply reiterating the current state of affairs.

The reality is, without rule changes, boundary changes are an imperfect tool with which to remake the parliamentary Labour party to be more Corbyn-friendly.


There are two angles to this which need unpicking – the first, which is boring but essential to understanding the Labour party, is how the party’s selection processes actually work, particularly around boundary changes.

“Deselection” is a term that is frequently bandied about when the Labour party is discussed but poorly understood. What no longer exists is “mandatory reselection”, when an MP has to go through a full selection process. MPs can still be deselected if they fail to secure a majority of votes in their trigger ballot.

That word “votes”, as so often in the Labour party, is somewhat misleading. Each constituent “branch” of a local party has one vote. The membership branches of a local Labour party get one vote each which is decided by a ballot with a simple “Yes/No” option on whether to keep the sitting MP or trigger a full selection. But so does the local branch of any affiliate organisation, be that the Fabian Society, BAME Labour or a trade union. The votes of trade union branches – and often, in practice, most affiliated societies – are decided by a local official, not by a full ballot of local members.

That means, in practice, the sitting MP can lose the support of their members and keep their position provided they can keep their local trade union officials on side, and vice versa. (My expectation, however, is we will see a number of MPs facing full selections in the coming years, regardless of who emerges as leader in September.)

A “full” selection process only comes about if an MP is unable to win their trigger ballot. (That’s why Corbyn’s use of the word “full” and his description of a process which the sitting MP is one of a number of candidates has spooked the rebels).

But what about when there are boundary changes?

In the case of boundary changes, the MP remains the sitting MP provided their new constituency comprises at least 40 per cent of the old.

This is where things can get tricky. Let’s say for example you start with four seats, all Labour-held, two safe and two marginal. (Let’s call this place “the Wirral”. It’s just a name.)

Let’s imagine you are a Corbyn sympathiser who wants to get rid of one of the MPs on the Wirral. (Let’s call her “Angela Eagle”. It’s just a name.)

The boundaries are redrawn – one seat vanishes, leaving two safe Labour seats – and a third safe Conservative seat. At this point the game of musical chairs starts, with one person certain to end up without a seat and a fourth set to end up de facto unemployed.

But here’s the problem – one of the four MPs has lost their claim, as there is no remaining seat which contains more than 39 per cent of their old seat. (Except perhaps the safe Conservative seat, but let’s assume they find this an unappetising prospect.) But all of the remaining three MPs have a 40 per cent claim on the two safe Labour seats (let’s call these two seats “Wallasey” and “Birkenhead”. They’re just names.)

So this presents you with a golden opportunity to get rid of your opponents, right? There’s just one fly in the ointment: the other sitting MPs are Frank Field and Margaret Greenwood, only one of whom (Greenwood) is a particular friend of Labour’s current leader.  This pattern is fairly similar through the country – Corbyn’s opponents tend to be neighbours, and vice versa. (It’s perfectly possible, for instance, that boundary changes will create one Islington constituency, resulting in a face-off between Emily Thornberry and Corbyn himself.)

Of course, he could change the rules. However, by my reckoning, even if, as looks likely, all six of the positions elected by ordinary members on Labour’s NEC go to the candidates of the Grassroots Alliance, there still won’t be a majority on the ruling exec to bring about wholesale changes to how Labour selects its MPs.

What feels more likely is, as one senior ally of Corbyn’s reflected at the start of a coup is that Corbyn’s re-election campaign run on a “package to democratise the party further and put members back in control – the stuff MPs’ worst nightmares are made of”, before using that as leverage to bring back the bulk of the soft left and the “make it work” caucus on the right of the party into the tent. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.