Britain has stepped up its military involvement in the Iraq crisis. Photo: Getty
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Defence Secretary: the UK military could be involved in Iraq “for months”

The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon says that Britain’s role in Iraq has extended beyond humanitarian assistance.

Britain is stepping up its military campaign in Iraq to help its troops combat Islamic State (IS) militants. The Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told RAF personnel in a visit to the Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus that the UK’s military could be involved in missions in the country for “weeks and months”.

According to the Times, he said:

“This is not simply a humanitarian mission. We and other countries in Europe are determined to do what we can to help the government of Iraq combat this new and very extreme form of terrorism that Isil [the Islamic State] is promoting…

“This mission isn’t over. There may well now be in the next few weeks and months other ways that we may need to help save life, protect people. We are going to need all of you again and the surveillance you are able to give us.”

He revealed that British warplanes are being sent over to monitor the movements of and gather intelligence on the jihadists’ movements in the region. Fallon also added that four Chinook helicopters are on standby in case an airlift of displaced Yazidi people is needed.

Rescue plans had hitherto been on hold, as the US claimed it found fewer trapped refugees than once feared, and David Cameron has until now been keen to focus on the UK’s humanitarian role in addressing the crisis.

However, Fallon’s comments suggest the increasingly direct military involvement of Britain in Iraq and come after the government considering arming Kurdish fighters, as well as the PM’s warning over the weekend that, “If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.”

Britain’s military involvement in any foreign crisis is a matter of acute sensitivity for politicians and voters alike, particularly in light of its mistakes in invading Iraq over a decade ago. It will take more than suggestions along the lines of “this time it’s different” to persuade MPs concerned about mission creep to accept Britain stepping up its role in the regions recent developments.

On the other side of the debate, there are many who believe Britain should take more responsibility than it is currently by granting asylum to displaced Christians from Iraq. Chair of the defence select committee Rory Stewart told the BBC's Today programme this morning that the PM may want to consider providing this asylum.

As Britain seems to be on the cusp of a big decision on a region whose modern history has so affected our leaders' attitude to military intervention in foreign conflicts, Cameron will have to stop walking a tightrope between these two bodies of criticism.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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