Is Gaddafi a “legitimate target”?

Fox and Hague slapped down by the generals after suggesting that Gaddafi could be personally targete

Is Muammar al-Gaddafi a "legitimate target" for the coalition? Liam Fox was swiftly rebuked by the US when he suggested as much on Sunday. "We are not going after Gaddafi," the US navy vice-admiral Bill Gortney told a press conference at the Pentagon.

But in an interview on the Today programme this morning, William Hague refused to rule out targeting the Libyan leader. He said:

It all depends on how people behave. The targeting that we do on these kinds of strikes will always be in accordance with the UN resolution and that of course emphasises the protection of the civilian population.

In other words, the removal of Gaddafi could be justified as a by-product of the coalition's mandate to protect civilians. But such loose talk has already upset the generals. The chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, has robustly declared that Gaddafi is "absolutely not" a target. "It is not allowed under the UN resolution and it is not something I want to discuss any further," he said.

So, on only the third day of military action, we already have a major split between the armed forces and the government. It's a sign that the tension between the formal aim of civilian protection and the coalition's underlying desire for regime change (Cameron's repeated declaration that Gaddafi "needs to go") is growing.

The need for clarity on this point is urgent – Cameron must provide it in this afternoon's Commons debate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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