David Cameron holds a press conference at the end of the two-day European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on 21 March 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Cameron should be wary of playing to the eurosceptic gallery

The PM's blast against Jean-Claude Juncker delighted his MPs - but he'll let them down in the end.

Today's PMQs was one of those statesmanlike occasions that could be summarised as "Does the prime minister agree with me that the world is a dangerous place?" Ed Miliband devoted all six of his questions to the crisis in Iraq, with no hint of disagreement with Cameron. The PM used the session to announce that humanitarian aid to the country would be increased from £3m to £5m and hit back at the isolationists in his party and others by insisting that Britain would be "playing its role". While declaring that "it would be a mistake to believe that the only answer to these problems is the hard attack of direct intervention", he added: "I'd also disagree with those people who think this is nothing to do with us and if they want to have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq, that won't affect us. It will."

In response to Miliband's question on Iran, in which he supported the reopening of the British embassy but warned that the country "does not support a vision for a democratic and inclusive state in Iraq", Cameron replied that the rapprochement with Iran should be done on "a step-by-step basis" and "with a very clear eye and a very hard head" due to the "appalling things" that happened to the British embassy in 2011.

It was an appropriately serious-minded and sober exchange, later unwisely attacked by the Tory Treasury Twitter account, which tweeted: "Another week with no question from Ed Miliband on the economy. No credibility and no #longtermeconomicplan"

The most politically notable moment of the session, aside from Peter Tapsell's quixotic call for parliament to impeach Tony Blair for war crimes, came when Cameron was asked about Jean-Claude Juncker's bid to become EU commission president. After Labour's Ben Bradshaw mockingly asked how his campaign to stop Juncker was going, Cameron seized the opportunity to deliver a eurosceptic blast against the arch-federalist. He declared:

I don't mind how many people on the European Council disagree with me: I will fight this right to the very end. And what I would say to my colleagues on the European Council, many of whom have expressed interesting views about both this principle and this person, if you want reform in Europe you've got to stand up for it. If you want a change in Europe, you've got to vote for it. That is the message I will take and that is the right message for this country.

The Tory backbenches lapped it up, crying "more, more!", but Cameron should be wary of playing to the eurosceptic gallery. If he fails in his bid to block Juncker's candidacy, a significant number of them will view that as a good reason to leave the EU altogether, but he will not. The gap between Cameron, who ultimately believes that EU membership is a positive good for Britain, and the anti-EU fanatics on the Tory benches remains as wide as ever. He should not fall into the trap of trying to appease the unappeasable.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.