PMQs sketch: Labour leader shoots, and finally scores

As Dave dodged, dived and rambled on, even his own MPs drew blanks.

Let us hear it for Ed Miliband, who finally took the foot out of his own mouth today and stuck it firmly down the throat of David Cameron.

It helped that the subject was Europe and that the path to the Prime Minister's tonsils had already been greased by buckets of unmentionable awfulness poured on him by former friends and eager foes.

But even outside help could not disguise the Labour leader's pleasure at finally getting a hook into someone who has A-levels in being out of the room, if not out of the country, when the smelly stuff hits the fan. And of course that is why Dave cannot wriggle out of this one, since its out of the country where the problem lies. And you could see that is just where he wanted to be when Ed asked him what exactly he planned to do about Europe.

You could tell he was in trouble by the number of words used in the answer and the increasingly blank looks of those around him. Ed wanted to know which powers Dave would be asking Brussels to hand back to Britain in the event of a renegotiation of the treaty. Any proper answer to this question would drop Dave in it, so he mumbled, waved, pointed and threatened his way through a full set of sentences and sat down.

There was a short silence as the listeners translated what he had said back into English and realised they had just lost two minutes out of their lives. Dropping Johnny Foreigner into the conversation is still enough to get handfuls of votes for Tory wannabe's, and pledging to widen the English Channel will certainly win the backing of such democratic institutions as the Sun and the Daily Mail; not to mention the usual suspects at the Daily Telegraph.

But the relative silence in the House of Commons during Prime Ministers Questions made you wonder just how many had really meant their anti-European stance, now that doing something about it might be a possibility.

As Dave dodged, dived and rambled on, further down the front bench slumped -- but not quite sleeping -- sat Ken Clarke, who had further rattled his leader by saying out loud earlier what Dave wants to say but dare not: that no powers can be won back and he was only joking if anyone thought he wanted a referendum.

Ken, who must check under his ministerial car every night, slumped further when Dave was asked if he agreed with him. Tory MP after MP was sweetness and light as they questioned Dave over his plans, but a study of his coded replies revealed only that he wasn't going to hang himself today.

As he rambled on, his Deputy Nick looked alternately pained and alarmed at what was going on. He knows a referendum would crush the Coalition and any draw back from Europe would be deadly for him.

As PMQs staggered towards closing time the Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell, shook himself awake and asked Dave to make sure when he is in Brussels to ask the Germans to study the Boston Tea Party. "No taxation without representation", said Sir Peter, as MPs cheered and wondered if he had been around for the original drafting.

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

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

Photo: Getty Images
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I'll vote against bombing Isis - but my conscience is far from clear

Chi Onwurah lays out why she'll be voting against British airstrikes in Syria.

I have spent much of the weekend considering how I will vote on the question of whether the UK should extend airstrikes against Daesh/Isis from Iraq to Syria, seeking out and weighing the evidence and the risks.

My constituents have written, emailed, tweeted, facebooked or stopped me in the street to share their thoughts. Most recognised what a difficult and complex decision it is. When I was selected to be the Labour candidate for Newcastle Central I was asked what I thought would be the hardest part of being an MP.

I said it would be this.

I am not a pacifist, I believe our country is worth defending and our values worth fighting for. But the decision to send British Armed Forces into action is, rightly, a heavy responsibility.

For me it comes down to two key questions. The security of British citizens, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. These are separate operational and moral questions but they are linked in that it is civilian casualties which help fuel the Daesh ideology that we cannot respect and value the lives of those who do not believe as we do. There is also the important question of solidarity with the French in the wake of their grievous and devastating loss; I shall come to that later.

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he set out the case for airstrikes on Thursday and I share his view that Daesh represents a real threat to UK citizens. However he did not convince me that UK airstrikes at this time would materially reduce that threat. The Prime Minister was clear that Daesh cannot be defeated from the air. The situation in Syria is complex and factionalised, with many state and non-state actors who may be enemies of our enemy and yet not our friend. The Prime Minister claimed there were 70,000 ground troops in the moderate Free Syrian Army but many experts dispute that number and the evidence does not convince me that they are in a position to lead an effective ground campaign. Bombs alone will not prevent Daesh obtaining money, arms and more recruits or launching attacks on the UK. The Prime Minister did not set out how we would do that, his was not a plan for security and peace in Syria with airstrikes a necessary support to it, but a plan to bomb Syria, with peace and security cited in support of it. That is not good enough for me.

Daesh are using civilian population as human shields. Syrians in exile speak of the impossibility of targeting the terrorists without hitting innocent bystanders. I fear that bombing Raqqa to eliminate Daesh may be like bombing Gaza to eliminate Hamas – hugely costly in terms of the civilian population and ultimately ineffectual.

Yet the evil that Daesh perpetrate demands a response. President Hollande has called on us to join with French forces. I lived in Paris for three years, I spent time in just about every location that was attacked two weeks ago, I have many friends living in Paris now, I believe the French are our friends and allies and we should stand and act in solidarity with them, and all those who have suffered in Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and around the world.

But there are other ways to act as well as airstrikes. Britain is the only G7 country to meet its international development commitments, we are already one of the biggest humanitarian contributors to stemming the Syrian crisis, we can do more not only in terms of supporting refugees but helping those still in Syria, whether living in fear of Daesh or Assad. We can show the world that our response is to build rather than bomb. The Prime Minister argues that without taking part in the bombing we will not have a place at the table for the reconstruction. I would think our allies would be reluctant to overlook our financial commitment.

We can also do more to cut off Daesh funding, targeting their oil wells, their revenues, their customers and their suppliers. This may not be as immediately satisfying as bombing the terrorists but it is a more effective means of strangling them.

The vast majority of the constituents who contacted me were against airstrikes. I agree with them for the reasons I set out above. I should say that I have had no experience of bullying or attempts at intimidation in reaching this decision, Newcastle Central is too friendly, frank, comradely and Geordie a constituency for that. But some have suggested that I should vote against airstrikes to ensure a “clear conscience” ’. This is not the case. There will be more killings and innocent deaths whether there are UK airstrikes or not, and we will all bear a portion of responsibility for them.

A version of this article was originally sent to Chi Onwurah's constituents, and can be read here