Qatada's deportation won't end Cameron's headache

The Lib Dems will frustrate Cameron's efforts to reform human rights law.

It was with cheers that Conservative MPs greeted Theresa May's announcement that Abu Qatada has been arrested and will be deported to Jordan at the end of the month. Having decided not to contest the European Court of Human Rights ruling blocking Qatada's deportation, the government has received "assurances" from Jordan that evidence obtained by torture will not be used against him.  After nine years, it looks as if the man who allegedly acted as the intellectual inspiration for 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and other terrorists is on his way home.

But ministers are keenly aware that the Tory backbenches won't be satisfied for long. In her statement to the Commons, May pointedly referred to the need for "a British Bill of Rights". As things stand, for instance, the government is unlikely to win its appeal against the ECHR's ruling in favour of prisoners' votes and it may struggle to deport other extremist preachers. But as long as the Tories remain in coalition with the Lib Dems, it's hard to see any progress being made towards a British bill. The government commission examining the proposal is dominated by supporters of the ECHR (one Conservative appointee, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, resigned in protest) and Clegg is determined not to see the Human Rights Act undermined. As he declared in his speech to last year's Lib Dem conference:

The European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act are not, as some would have you believe, foreign impositions. These are British rights, drafted by British lawyers. Forged in the aftermath of the atrocities of the Second World War. Fought for by Winston Churchill. So let me say something really clear about the Human Rights Act. In fact I’ll do it in words of one syllable: It is here to stay.

Cameron's recent statement that the Tories "would be going quite a bit faster, in fact, quite a lot faster" if they weren't in coalition was an admission that the Lib Dems are winning this political tug-of-war.

Jordanian preacher Abu Qatada was arrested on Tuesday morning by officers from the UK Border Agency. Photograph: Rex Features.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.