Sheikh Raed Salah is greeted by wellwishers. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Mehdi Hasan: Raed Salah takes on the Home Secretary and the press... and wins

"So what next?"

He was dubbed a "vile miltant extremist" and an "anti-Semitic preacher of hate" by the Daily Mail, a "hate preacher" by the Sun and an "'anti-Semitic' speaker" by the Jewish Chronicle. He was arrested and detained on the orders of the Home Secretary Theresa May while MPs and peers from across the political spectrum queued up to denounce him. The Community Security Trust (CST) "welcomed" his detention and provided a dossier of his alleged "hate speech" to the Home Office. 

But over the long weekend, Sheikh Raed Salah, the Palestinian leader of the largest civil society body in Israel, who had been visiting the UK at the invitation of the London-based, pro-Palestinian group, Middle East Monitor (Memo), received a letter from the Upper Immigration Tribunal stating that the decision to detain him appeared to have been "entirely unnecessary" and that his appeal against it had succeeded "on all grounds".

From yesterday's Guardian:

The home secretary was "misled" when she moved to throw a leading Palestinian activist out of the UK, according to an immigration tribunal ruling that strongly criticised her decision and found in favour of his appeal against the government's attempts to deport him.

. . . [Salah] sought damages for unlawful detention, and the high court ruled that since he was not given "proper and sufficient reasons" for his arrest until the third day of his detention, he should receive damages for that period.

The ruling of the immigration tribunal, made known on Saturday, states that May "acted under a misapprehension as to the facts" and was "misled" in relation to a poem written by Salah. It also decided she took "irrelevant factors" into account in relation to indictments against Salah, and a conviction in Israel in 2003 over charges that his organisation funnelled funds to a banned charity in Gaza.

Asa Winstanley has a detailed write-up of the Salah story here and, in today's Telegraph, Mary Riddell observes:

In the latest reversal for Mrs May, a judge strongly criticised her attempt to deport a Palestinian activist, ruling that she was wrong about the danger posed by Sheikh Raed Salah. In a decision labelled "entirely unnecessary", she had been misled about his supposedly anti–Semitic poetry and planned to ban him on the basis of a fragment from an old sermon.

Few may be delighted by the sheikh's victory, but his case illustrates the right of every individual to protection against an overweening state. The balance between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary is vital and endlessly fragile. At times, judges veer towards the political arena; at others, politicians attempt, with the public urging them on, to usurp the role of judges. We are now at such a moment.

On the whole, however, the press - especially the right-wing newspapers! - have been rather quiet about the Salah decision which is strange given how much (negative) coverage they heaped upon him last summer. There hasn't been a peep from the Jewish Chronicle, nor from the Times or the Sun. An annoyed Express went with the headline:

Fury as preacher wins fight to stay in UK

The CST, meanwhile, having been criticised by the Guardian's David Hearst for its role in the affair ("the CST should. . . examine its conscience"), has issued a defensive statement on its website saying:

CST is disappointed that Salah’s exclusion has been overturned. . . Some of the media coverage (for example in the Guardian) has noted that CST provided several pieces of evidence to the Home Office regarding Salah’s previous statements and activities, and carries the implication that CST is reponsible for misleading the Home Secretary by providing her with inaccurate information.

This implication is something that CST utterly rejects, and which is not supported by the facts.

So what next? I'm told Salah is preparing to sue members of Her Majesty's press over their alleged smear tactics; Hearst writes of how "[l]ibel writs will now be pursued against those who fabricated and peddled" the "dodgy quotes" attributed to the preacher. This could all get very interesting - especially given the fact that Lord Leveson has heard evidence about media Islamophobia and any serious inquiry into "media ethics" surely has to take a position on the media's lazy and simplistic coverage (demonisation?) of Muslims and the use of "gotcha" quotes.

Doesn't it?



Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, has informed me via Twitter that the JC website was closed for Passover, which is why there wasn't a "peep" out of the JC, online, in the immediate aftermath the ruling. However, the current print edition of the JC, out today, has extensive and in-depth coverage of the Salah case - including this bizarre, over-the-top leader in which the Guardian newspaper is accused of producing a "classic, shocking and immensely significant example of pure antisemitism". Hmm....


I've been rung up by a guy (coward?) using a fake name, pretending to be a member of the public, who accused me of supporting Raed Salah's alleged "blood libel" and who has since written up his version of our phone conversation on a right-wing, Islamophobic blog. He seems to be as dumb and close-minded as some of the commenters below, so let me say this slowly, very slowly: just because I don't agree with the Home Secretary and the media's treatment of Salah, a man I've never met or spoken to, doesn't mean I automatically support everything Salah has said or done in the past. Does that make sense? Take your time.

To those below the line who claim I expressed "solidarity" with Salah, show me where I did so? Do you have a single quote to back up your claim? I say again, disagreeing with the state's treatment of an individual doesn't make you a supporter or apologist for that individual; it makes you a supporter and defender of due process, fair trials and human rights.

As for the "blood libel" row, let me say that it is one of the most disgusting, heinous and unforgivable of anti-Semitic smears in existence - which is probably why Salah has been so keen to deny having used it, though it does, I have to say, seem as if he did use it. The judge in the case, of course, didn't accept his denial. Interestingly, the respected if controversial Israeli historian Ilan Pappe supports Salah on this particular, contentious issue and it is worth pointing out that the Israeli government curiously decided not to prosecute him for those seemingly inflammatory comments at the time. Forgive me, therefore, if, for now, I sit on the fence on this one...

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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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.