The 10 best political videos of 2013

Including, Dennis Skinner on Atos, Mehdi Hasan on the Daily Mail and Glenda Jackson on Margaret Thatcher.

1. Dennis Skinner denounces the "heartless monster" Atos

The beast of Bolsover delivered one of the most powerful parliamentary performances in recent memory at PMQs in October. As he recounted the story of a constituent who was stripped of his benefits by Atos and waited 11 months for an appeal before his cancer "took his sight, his hearing, and then - last Friday - took his life", the House fell to a rare silence. He closed:

Two things the Prime Minister should do. One, with immediate effect, make an ex gratia payment to his widow to cover the pain and loss of income, and second, abolish this cruel, heartless monster called Atos. Get rid of it!

Whatever their views on welfare cuts, all were agreed that it was a masterful piece of oratory from the 81-year-old. 

2. Mehdi Hasan lets rip at the Daily Mail

Whoops of delight were heard across liberal England as the NS columnist tore into the Mail for its attack on Ralph Miliband as "the man who hated Britain", denouncing it as "immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining" and "gay-baiting". 

3. Anna Soubry stands up to Farage's scaremongering 

Appearing on Question Time last month, Conservative minister Anna Soubry unexpectedly - and brilliantly - departed from the Lynton Crosby script and attacked Nigel Farage for his scaremongering over immigration. Rather than pandering to the UKIP leader, as so many Tories do, she declared: "You do not talk facts, you talk prejudice. That’s what you talk, and you scaremonger and you put fear in people’s hearts.

"Look, times are tough. We know that. But when times are tough, there’s a danger and history tells us when things are not good, you turn to the stranger and you blame them. And you shouldn’t. That is wrong. And I’m proud of our country’s history and I’m proud that people come here."

4. Godfrey Bloom thwacks Michael Crick

After beginning the day by referring to UKIP's female activists as "sluts", Bloom continued his apparent mission to destroy the party's conference by hitting Channel 4 News's Michael Crick over the head after he challenged him on the absence of non-white faces on a party brochure. Bloom was subsequently suspended from the party and now sits as an independent MEP. 

5. Glenda Jackson on Thatcher: "A woman? Not on my terms"

Most of Margaret Thatcher's fiercest Labour foes chose to stay away from the parliamentary tribute to her, but Glenda Jackson couldn't allow the occasion to pass without criticism, declaring that the former PM wreaked "the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country", and concluding: "a woman? Not on my terms." 

The Labour MP for Hampstead was jeered and booed by Tories, with Tony Baldry declaring that her speech was against the "conventions of the House" as "this is not and has never been a general debate on the memory of the person who has been deceased, but an opportunity for tribute". But John Bercow rejected the criticisim, stating that "nothing unparliamentary has occured".

"We are debating a motion that says ‘this House has considered the matter of tributes to the Baroness Thatcher’ - that is what we are doing and nothing has got in the way of that."

6. Alastair Campbell blasts Paul Dacre: "you're dealing with a bully and a coward"

When the Daily Mail put up its deputy Jon Steafel to defend the paper's attacks on Ralph Miliband, Alastair Campbell seized the opportunity to tear into the absent Dacre: "You [Emily Maitlis] said the Mail is a formidable opponent. The Mail is not a formidable opponent because it's run by a bully and a coward and, like most cowards, he's a hypocrite as well. Paul Dacre hasn't got the guts to come on this programme and defend something that I know Jon Steafel believes is not defensible."

He added: "These people do not believe in genuine debate. If you do not conform to Paul Dacre's narrow, twisted view of the world as all of his employees, like Steafel, have to do, you get done in. All I say to all of the politicians in Britain is that once you accept you're dealing with a bully and a coward, you have absolutely nothing to fear from them."

Those on the left who have never forgiven Campbell for his conduct during the Iraq war were moved to rare praise. 

7. David Cameron 'gets' it on Syria

The most dramatic moment of parliamentary theatre this year came when Cameron ruled out military action against Syria after becoming the first prime minister since 1782 to lose a vote on a matter of peace and war. When Miliband asked him to assure the Commons that he would not use the royal prerogative to approve intervention, he replied:

Let me say the House has not voted for either motion tonight. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons. It is very clear tonight that while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.

With Obama responding by halting the US's rush to war and Syria agreeing to dismantle its chemical weapons (to be followed by a nuclear agreement with Iran), rarely has one voted proved more consequential. 

8. Eddie Mair takes on Boris Johnson: "you're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?"

The usually unflappable Boris Johnson met his match when he was confronted by Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show. As he was reminded that he was sacked from the Times for making up quotes, sacked from the Conservative frontbench for lying to Michael Howard about his affair with Petronella Wyatt and that he listened uncritically as Darius Guppy plotted to beat up a journalist, the mayor helplessly pleaded: "why don't we talk about something else?" 

9. Cameron confronted by protester over NHS privatisation

The day after it was announced that the NHS-owned blood plasma supplier PRUK had been sold to US private equity firm Bain Capital (the company co-founded by Mitt Romney), David Cameron found himself heckled by a protester at the Olympic park over the privatisation of the health service. Unable to deny the charge that he was "privatising the NHS", the PM could only offer the non-sequitur that the government was "putting more money in". 

10. Miliband at PMQs: "is there anything he could organise in a brewery?"

The Labour leader delivered his finest PMQs zinger to date when he responded to the government's U-turn on minimum alcohol pricing by asking Cameron: "is there anything he could organise in a brewery?" The best the PM could manage in response was another hackneyed jibe at Ed Balls. 

Oh crumbs: Boris Johnson during his appearance on The Andrew Marr Show.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn faces a dilemma as Brexit solidifies: which half of his voters should he disappoint?

He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club.

Imagine a man who voted to leave the European Economic Community in 1975. A man who spoke out against the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, saying that it “takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers”. A man who voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008.

You don’t have to imagine very hard, because that man is Jeremy Corbyn. When campaigning for the Labour leadership in 2015, he told a GMB hustings, “I would ­advocate a No vote if we are going to get an imposition of free-market policies across Europe.”

When Labour’s Brexiteers gathered to launch their campaign in 2016, several seemed hurt that Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were not there with them. “It is surprising, when we voted against the advice of the chief whip on a number of European issues over the last decades, that Jeremy and John, who have always been in that lobby with us, that they would want to lead a campaign that isn’t even asking for a renegotiated position,” said the MP Graham Stringer.

I mention this because since the election campaign started in April, I keep having an odd experience – people insisting that Corbyn is not a Eurosceptic, and that he will use Labour’s new-found strength to argue for a softer Brexit. Others claim that Labour’s current position on freedom of movement (ending it) is the obvious, common-sense – even progressive – choice.

This matters. Look, if the evidence above doesn’t convince you that the Labour leader is intensely relaxed about exiting the European Union, I don’t know what else would. Yet it’s clear that some Labour activists strongly identify personally with Corbyn: they find it hard to believe that he holds different opinions from them.

The second factor is the remaking of Brexit as a culture war, where to say that someone is a Eurosceptic is seen as a kind of slur. Perhaps without realising it, some on the left do associate Euroscepticism with Little Englanderism or even flat-out racism, and see it as a moral failing rather than a political position.

But I’m not impugning Jeremy Corbyn’s character or morals by saying that he is an instinctive Brexiteer. He comes from a tradition on the left that sees the EU as a capitalist club. You can disagree with that premise but it’s a respectable line of reasoning.

Also, the Euroscepticism of Corbyn and his allies will undoubtedly give them an advantage in the months ahead; they are not consumed by fatalism, and the members of McDonnell’s shadow Treasury team feel that the removal of European state aid restrictions can help revive ailing bits of the British economy. They have a vision of what an ideal “Labour Brexit” would be – and it’s not just sobbing and begging Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to take us back.

We do, however, need a reality check. Now that the necessary humble pie has been eaten, Labour’s unexpected revival at the ballot box means we can begin to treat Corbyn as a normal politician – with the emphasis on the second word. He’s not the Messiah, but he’s not a joke either. He is a charismatic campaigner who is willing to compromise on second-tier issues to achieve his main objectives.

From the general election, we can see just how good a campaigner Corbyn is: he can fire up a crowd, give disciplined answers to interviewers and chat amiably on a sofa. That throws into sharp relief just how limp his performances were last year.

He might have little else in common with Theresa May, but they both looked at the EU referendum and thought: yeah, I’m going to sit this one out. He called on activists to accept the EU “warts and all”; and said he was “seven, or seven and a half” out of ten in favour of staying in it.

For both leaders, this was a pragmatic decision. May did not want to be overtly disloyal to David Cameron, but neither did she wish to risk her career if the result went the other way.

Anyone in Labour would have been equally sane to look north of the border and back to 2014, and remember just how much credibility the party immolated by sharing stages with the Conservatives and allowing itself to be seen as the establishment. By limiting his involvement in the Remain campaign and whipping his MPs to trigger Article 50, Corbyn ended up with a fudge that gave Labour some cover in heavily pro-Brexit regions of the country.

That’s the politics, but what about the principle? I can’t shake the feeling that if Corbyn campaigned as hard for Remain in 2016 as he did for Labour in 2017, we would still be members of the European Union. And that matters to me, as much as left-wing policies or a change in the rhetoric around migrants and welfare claimants, because I think leaving the EU is going to make us poorer and meaner.

That’s why I worry that many of my friends, and the activists I talk to, are about to be disappointed, after waiting and waiting for Labour to start making the case for a softer Brexit and for the single market being more important than border controls. As Michael Chessum, a long-standing Momentum organiser, wrote on the New Statesman website, “Recognising the fact that immigration enriches society is all very well, but that narrative is inevitably undermined if you then choose to abolish the best policy for allowing immigration to happen.”

Labour’s success on 8 June was driven by its ambiguous stance on Brexit. To Leavers, it could wink at ending freedom of movement when they worried about immigration; to Remainers, it offered a critique of the immigrant-bashing rhetoric of recent times. But can that coalition hold as the true shape of Brexit solidifies? Over the next few months, Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest decision will be this: which half of my voters should I disappoint?

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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