Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are pushing for suspending arms export licences to Israel. Photo: Getty
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Lib Dems pile the pressure on David Cameron over Gaza

Following the resignation of a Tory minister, the PM’s coalition partners are now calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel

As David Cameron soothes his nerves through his favourite form of escapism – pointing at fish at a Portuguese fish market – his coalition colleagues have piled on the pressure already mounting on him to clarify his stance on Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The Liberal Democrats are now calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel, a significant addition to the rebellious voices in Cameron’s own party – the loudest of which was Sayeeda Warsi, who dramatically resigned from his government yesterday, calling his position “morally indefensible”.

Both the Times and Independent are splashing this morning with stories about how the minister’s resignation has opened the floodgates for senior Tory figures criticising the PM’s reticence over condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza. He so far has called the actions “intolerable”, but has not used the word “disproportionate” – as Boris Johnson was quick to use yesterday, eclipsing Cameron’s stance.

The Independent reports a “mutiny among senior Tory MPs last night as they lined up to condemn his [Cameron’s] handling of the Gaza crisis and to warn his stance was alienating millions of British Muslims”, and the Times’ frontpage headline is “Tory war over Gaza”. It reports that Cameron is “struggling to contain a growing revolt”, and also describes a “pincer movement from Labour and the Liberal Democrats”.

Ed Miliband has repeatedly called upon Cameron to take a firmer stance, deploring his “inexplicable silence” on the subject. And now the Lib Dems are differentiating themselves from the Tory coalition leaders and adding a fresh voice to the cacophony already condemning Cameron. Nick Clegg said the Israeli military operation has “overstepped the mark”, and revealed he’s been working with his Lib Dem cabinet colleague, the Business Secretary Vince Cable, to push for a suspension of arms export licences to Israel. Cable added that he and his fellow senior Lib Dems have been “making this case inside government” for a while, but had been unable “to get agreement” with the Tories.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “Suspending export licences is not a decision we take lightly and it is right that we examine the facts fully. This is the approach being taken by the vast majority of countries.”

How long can Cameron keep up this strategy of lukewarm No 10 statements and low-key tutting at Israel’s actions when the opposition, his coalition colleagues and even significant individuals in his own party are asking for much more?

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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