PMQs sketch: Decibels replace debate

Drama at the Royal Courts spreads to the Commons.

Anyone short of a granddad could have picked one up at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday where an appearance by Vlad the Impaler had been cancelled to let a nice 81-year-old talk about his friends in high places.

Hellfire and damnation had been forecast for the first appearance in a British court of the man accused of dominating political life in this country for 45 years but it was almost all sweetness - if not much light - as Rupert Murdoch arrived and swore to tell the truth and nothing but to the Leveson inquiry.

In the same seat where less than 24 hours earlier his son James had put the sword to the Tory government’s Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the octagenarian-head of the £60 billion Murdoch empire said he was just here to put a few myths to rest, and in a polished performance which lasted four hours the mask hardly ever slipped.

It was a day of drama throughout the West End befitting the home of the capital’s theatres.

Down at the Palace of Varieties MPs gathered for Prime Ministers Questions as David Cameron prepared to cope with another worst-day-ever in his political life so far this week.

And what a day it was to be with the news the UK had slipped back into recession and Jeremy’s spokesman had quit even before Rupert got into his stride.

It was hard to imagine the most powerful man in the country as he sat there in a suit slightly too big for him watched over by wife Wendi - she of the left hook - and son Lachlan, the one not called James.

As it was, Robert Jay, who had so successfully parted meat from bone when examining Murdoch Jr. yesterday, took a slightly easier tone with the media mogul who only bared his teeth occasionally to remind us how he had got his fingers into so many pies.

Jay led him on a merry romp through 40 years of political history as we learned he loved Thatcher, really liked Tony Blair, got on well with Gordon Brown until he became “unbalanced” about News International, regretted banning Chris Patten’s memoirs as Governor of Hong Kong and really hated the Sun, claiming “It was we wot won it” when Neil Kinnock was defeated.

Alex Salmond, in trouble North of the border following James’s revelations about him yesterday, will have been delighted to hear that his dad is quite a fan and enjoys the "warm” company of the SNP leader. 

The only time he almost lost it was when Jay made the apparently outrageous suggestion he was pally with politicians to help his business interests. Having had a few trips down this particular path, Jay finally got a rise out of Murdoch Sr. when he questioned his closeness of contact with Tony Blair, who would go on to be godfather to the godfather’s son.

Rupert banged the desk in punctuation as he lost patience and declared that during Tony’s ten years in power he never asked nor received any favours.

Indeed, the belief that he put his papers' influence behind politicians to better his business seemed as shocking to him as it had to son James yesterday.

But if it was shock you were looking for then the Government front bench down at the Commons during PMQs was the place to be.

The naughty step, occupied so expertly by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and his Home Office counterpart Theresa May in recent weeks, had obviously been extended overnight to make way for the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary.

George Osborne looked as if he had his veins opened as he sat waiting for Labour’s onslaught on his economic plans, but that was nothing compared to Jeremy Hunt’s pallor as the Labour benches strained to get at him.

David Cameron, of whom Rupert had been asked did he think a “lightweight”?, had only relaunched his government’s message on Monday following the second-longest suicide note in history that was the budget.

Now here he was trying to defend not only George for the fifth week in a row, but now Jeremy too, who until yesterday was one of the few “safe” pairs of hands left in his Cabinet.

With a goalmouth even more open that for Fernando Torres last night, Ed Miliband was spoilt for choice so he produced the sleaze card fir one, the too-far too-fast card fir the other, and threw both at David Cameron.

If only Rupert could have seen the battered PM from his pole position at Leveson set up by the same man, he may well have smiled.

As it was he may well have heard him as Dave tried and failed to shout his way out of the double disaster. 

Roared on by Tory backbenchers only too aware of the Party’s disastrous showing in the polls, decibels replaced debate as Ed M accused the “arrogant posh boys” of not knowing what was going on.

Back at Leveson the real Rupert told his advisors on his way to the lunch break: ”Lets get him to get this f****** thing over with today”. But clearly not loud enough for Lord Leveson to hear, as he announced a break until tomorrow.

David Cameron should make no plans.

Tugging at Dave's strings. Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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“It feels like a betrayal”: EU citizens react to Jeremy Corbyn’s migration stance

How do Labour-supporting European migrants in the UK feel about their leader wanting to control EU migration?

“This feels a bit different from the man I had campaigned for,” says Eva Blum-Dumontet. “It felt like he was on the side of the group that matters, regardless of whether they were actually going to make him gain voters or not. He was on the side of what seemed right.”

Blum-Dumontet is a 26-year-old EU citizen who has been in the UK for five years. She works as a researcher for a charity and lives in north-east London’s Walthamstow, where she is the local Labour party’s women’s officer.

She joined Labour just before the 2015 general election, and campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn during his leadership bid that year. She spent one and a half months that summer involved in his campaign, either phone banking at its headquarters at the Unite union building, or at campaign events, every other evening.

“When he suddenly rose out of nowhere, that was a really inspiring moment,” she recalls. “They were really keen on involving people who had recently arrived, which was good.”

“Aside from the EU, I share all of his views”

Blum-Dumontet voted for Corbyn in both of Labour’s leadership elections, and she joined Momentum as soon as it was set up following Corbyn winning the first one in 2015. But she left the group two months ago.

She is one of the roughly three million EU citizens living in the UK today whose fate is precarious following the EU referendum result. And she doesn’t feel Corbyn is sticking up for her interests.

Over the weekend, the Labour leader gave an interview that has upset some Labour-supporting EU migrants like her.

Corbyn reiterated his opposition to staying in the single market – a longstanding left-wing stance against free market dominance. He added that his immigration policy “would be a managed thing on the basis of the work required” rather than free movement, and, in condemning agencies exploiting migrant workers, he said:

“What there wouldn’t be is wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry. You prevent agencies recruiting wholescale workforces like that; you advertise for jobs in the locality first.”

Corbyn also emphasised that Labour would guarantee the rights of EU nationals to stay in Britain – including the right of family reunion – and that there would still be Europeans working here and vice versa. But, for some in his party who hail from Europe, the damage was done.

“I feel like he’s now trying to signal more and more that he’s not on all sides, he’s on the side of people who are just scared of migrants,” says Blum-Dumantet, who will nevertheless stay in the party to try and change the policy. “The idea that he is willing to engage in this whole dog-whistling immigration fear feeling is a bit disturbing.”

She stresses that, “aside from the EU, I share all of his views”, but adds:

“I feel like he’s chosen his socialist utopia – and I don’t mean that as a bad thing; I’m a socialist as well – over the reality of the concrete lives of three million people. For us, this is not about some abstract ideal, it’s about our lives, whether we can get jobs here, whether we can stay here. And for the sake of his ideal, he’s sacrificing that. That does feel like a betrayal.”

***

Other EU migrants who initially supported Corbyn also feel let down. Sabrina Huck, the London representative of Labour’s youth wing Young Labour, moved here from Germany in February 2014.

Having joined the party that year, she voted for Corbyn in the first leadership election, “particularly because of things like being an internationalist, talking about migrant solidarity”.

Huck, 26, who lives in south London and works in public affairs, began to change her mind about him she discovered his Eurosceptic views. “It’s kind of my fault because I didn’t really do the research properly on him, I guess!” she laughs.

“I understand the argument that we have put downward wage pressure on some jobs”

Now, she feels “disappointed” in Corbyn’s comments about “wholesale importation” of workers. “The way he articulates himself – it doesn’t sound like what I wanted to hear from a Labour leader, particularly somebody who’s been a proud internationalist, proud migrant rights campaigner,” she tells me.

“I think the way he was making his point about wages was laying the blame way too much with workers and not with the bosses, basically.”

Huck notes that Corbyn is against the single market because of his socialist view of the EU as a “capitalist club”, rather than concern about borders. But she feels he’s using “the immigration argument” to sound mainstream:

“I feel like he’s using it as an opportunity to further his own ideological goal of leaving the single market by tying that to an argument that goes down well with the Leave-voting public.”

***

However, other Labour-leaning EU migrants I speak to do not feel Corbyn’s genuine motive is to bring immigration down – and are more understanding of his comments.

“I appreciate and understand the argument that we have put downward wage pressure on some – particularly blue collar or poorer paid – jobs, that is the nature of mass migration,” says a 29-year-old Czech who works for the government (so wishes not to be named), and has lived here since 2014. She believes his comments were made to “appeal to the hard left and Ukip types”, and has left the Labour party. But she adds:

“I can understand how communities suffering through a decade of stagnant wage growth and austerity are looking for a scapegoat, easily found in the form of migrants – particularly in a country where minimum wage and labour protections are so weak legislatively, and so poorly enforced.”

She also is sceptical that a “mass deportation” of EU migrants from Britain is likely to happen. “The optics are too bad, at a minimum,” she says. “It would look too much like the 1930s. What would the government do? Put us all on boats back to Europe?”

“I kind of shrugged off those comments and they didn’t bother me massively”

“I think they [Labour] are feeling their way around the issue [of Brexit] and are listening for public sentiment,” says Agnes Pinteaux, a Hungarian-born 48-year-old who moved to Britain in 1998. “But reconciling their hardcore Brexit support, those who just hate immigrants, those who want ‘sovereignty’, and those who want Brexit ditched altogether is going to be impossible.”

“I think the debate about the ethics of free movement of labour is a legitimate one, but it has to be rooted in human rights and dignity,” says Anna Chowrow, a 29-year-old third sector financial manager who moved from Poland to Scotland in 2007, adding:

“I was thrilled when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected Labour leader, and I have admiration for his principled approach. [But] I am in disbelief that these comments – akin to ‘British jobs for British workers’ – were made by him. The dehumanising language of ‘importation’ and ‘destruction’ is beyond disappointing.”

***

Finding EU citizens in Britain who are entirely sympathetic to Corbyn’s comments is difficult. Forthcoming defenders of his stance are hard to come by, suggesting that it’s a minority view among Europeans living in Britain. But there are some who continue to back him.

“I like Jeremy Corbyn’s authenticity. He comes across as genuine and honest, and I agree with most of his ideas. Contrary to the majority of politicians, he’s actually not afraid of coming across as a human being,” says Teresa Ellhotka, 24, who moved to the UK from Austria in 2016 and works in PR.

“His ideas and visions are, in my opinion, still very progressive”

“I kind of shrugged off those comments and they didn’t bother me massively,” she says of Corbyn’s stance on EU migrants. “My mind about Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t changed drastically as his ideas and visions are, in my opinion, still very progressive and I admire that he is dedicated to change but in a human way, and doesn’t suggest fighting fire with fire – as many other politicians, and people, seem to do.”

Ellhotka admits to being “a little surprised, as I did not expect this stance from him at all”, but feels there has been “so much back-and-forth” on the issue that she’s stopped worrying about what politicians say.

“Nobody seems to know what exactly is going to happen anyway.” The only thing, perhaps, that all politicians – and their voters – can agree on.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.