European ambassadors feared Iranian lock-in

WikiLeaks exposes officials’ worries of being trapped at Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.

It appears that tactically thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions is not the only concern on the mind of state representatives in managing relations with the Persian nation. A document from the WikiLeaks batch of US cables, dated July 2009, exposes the back-room politics of EU diplomats as they prepared to attend the inauguration of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Although prepared to send ambassadors to the ceremony in the Iranian parliament, member states had reportedly agreed to a secret caveat that would see them walk out if the leader crossed the "Durban Red Lines". Any denial of the Holocaust or threats against the State of Israel would trigger leaders' exit from the ceremony.

Despite their best intentions, the leak exposes the concern of members regarding the plan's practicality. Never having entered the building in Tehran where the event was to take place, attendants feared that their lack of territorial knowledge might prevent them from staging a successful escape.

Though threatened by seating layouts, floor plans and aisle widths, diplomats' greatest fear is said to have been the danger that the Iranians would simply lock them in:

They are not sure how they will stage their walkout, logistically, should they need to do so. They are worried that the doors may be locked.

Officials presumably felt that Iran might take its cue from China, who used the "locked-door" tactic to great effect in 2005. After facing hostile questions at a Beijing news conference, President George W Bush attempted to make a hasty exit from the room, only to find his way blocked. His shock and embarrassment at being held awkwardly in the conference has been replayed millions of times online.

The threat of viral videos exposing a stalled diplomatic stampede at the doors of the Iranian parliament would be enough to scare even the most seasoned ambassador. International relations can be a dangerous battlefield, and it is the responsibility of any serious professional to plan not only his strategies, but also his exits.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.