Iraqi Yazidi fighter stands guard outside a shrine on August 10, 2014 in Sheikhan. Photograph: Getty Images.
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MPs want a chance to debate Iraq whether or not military action is planned

Downing Street is wrong to reject demands for a recall on the grounds that "our focus is humanitarian support". 

Three days after the new western mission in Iraq began, support for a recall of parliament is growing among MPs. Conservative Conor Burns has emailed the Speaker requesting a recall and has also written to Michael Gove (now Chief Whip) criticising Britain's limited response to the humanitarian crisis.

"I feel very strongly that the government's response is not hard enough or strong enough," he said. "These people are being beheaded by people from IS, and our only response is to drop some food or water on them. I think the US and UK should be involved in air strikes. I am not by any means advocating a ground war but I think we should put our special forces in there."

Other Tories demanding a recall include Glyn Davies ("I suggested recall weeks ago. [There is a] much stronger case for it than the motion we MPs returned for last summer"), Andrew Rosindell ("Britain cannot stand by and watch brutal terror being carried out against Christians in Iraq"), Nick de Bois and David Burrowes. The latter pair write in a letter to David Cameron: 

"What we are witnessing in Iraq is truly shocking and requires a co-ordinated international response. The horrific persecution of minority groups in the region impose both a moral obligation and a duty to our constituents to reconvene so that the escalating crisis can be properly debated with a view to the government being able to seek guidance from and support of the House for policies aimed at ending the killing. It is vital that the House of Commons debate an appropriate response to this emergency.

"Whilst the government is rightly engaged in a massive humanitarian effort we believe that the lack of a co-ordinated international response and the unilateral military intervention of the US demand the urgent attention of parliamentarians at this time."

On the Labour side, Tom Watson, Andrew Gwynne, Graham Allen and Mike Gapes (writing on The Staggers), the former chair of the foreign affairs select committee, have also made the case for a recall. Gapes wrote: "The Prime Minister may feel unable to act now following his defeat and mishandling of the Syria debate last August. He should get over it and urgently recall Parliament. I hope we can then, with opposition support, achieve a massive vote for UK military intervention alongside our US and NATO partners to defend and protect our democratic and secular Kurdish friends and to stop the genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other minorities by ISIL in Iraq and Syria."

Downing Street has responded by arguing that there is no need for a recall on the grounds that "our focus is humanitarian support" and that military action is currently not planned. But while this may be true, what MPs are demanding is a chance to debate whether that is the right stance for the government to take, not merely to approve it. Some of those calling for a recall, such as Conor Burns and Mike Gapes, support UK military action, but others, such as Tom Watson and Nick de Bois, currently do not. 

With the government not ruling out UK air strikes if the situation deteriorates, and three weeks to go before the end of the recess, there is merit in parliament returning to debate the circumstances (if any) in which military intervention would be appropriate. One of the reasons why MPs rebelled over Syria was the government's failure to consult them earlier in the process. If Cameron does eventually decide to take military action, he will have more chance of winning approval if parliament is recalled now. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The good, the bad and the ugly: behind the scenes of the Brexit broadcasts

Nothing feels more artificial than doing live television, and last weekend was even stranger than usual.

Nothing feels more artificial than doing live television. You sit there, isolated from the rest of the news, hair full of Elnett and face caked in something approaching yacht varnish. Then you’re expected to chat away with an anchor as if you were old mates under dazzling white lights, while seven crew members stand around watching you. Worse, everything has irony baked into it: TV now happens in the lively expectation that it will be instantly giffed, memed and stripped for parts on Twitter. It’s like eating a pre-chewed meal.

We live in such a media-literate culture that politics has the same sense of déjà vu. Its tropes are so familiar from TV programmes about politics that living through them in real-time 3D feels profoundly dissociative. You feel lost in the meta. I once asked a researcher what election night was like. “The only way in which it wasn’t like The Thick of It is that on The Thick of It no one runs around saying, ‘Oh, my God, this is just like The Thick of It!’”

Two days after the Brexit result, I went to College Green in Westminster to record a live version of BBC1’s Sunday Politics. The atmosphere on the muddy lawn, tramped by a thousand assistant producers, was suffused with overwrought importance and high absurdity. Spread out across the grass were tents – “Why don’t you sit in the news gazebo?” a producer told me – from which shell-shocked generals would occasionally emerge, ashen-faced, fresh from rallying the troops through an interview with Radio 5 Live. All it was missing were pillars of smoke, the whump of artillery and a man in a Hawaiian shirt with a cigar. Instead, we had a new shadow cabinet resignation every time we went off air for ten minutes.

That pandemonium compensated for referendum night, when all the channels were at their most sober. Inevitably, David Dimbleby was presiding over a stately galleon of a BBC show, on which things were so serious that Jeremy Vine wasn’t even allowed to dress up as a bendy banana. Over on ITV, Tom Bradby was doing his matinee idol thing (he always looks like someone playing a charming rotter in a detective drama)while Sky News had trapped Kay Burley at a series of parties where she couldn’t make anyone cry. It all reeked of gravitas.

Not so, the rest of the referendum telly. Take The Great Debate at Wembley, which BBC1 screened two nights before the vote. You know, the one that ended with Boris Johnson’s soulful invocation of “Independence Day” (never mind that many countries have an independence day and usually they’re celebrating independence from us). Between speeches from the main panel, led by Johnson and Ruth Davidson, the cameras flicked over to a second panel of people perched on those boy-band-doing-a-ballad high stools. For a moment, I thought that some form of panel Inception had occurred and there would be an infinite regression of panels, each marginally less famous than the last. In the best tradition of light entertainment, possibly the next one would have featured children who looked like Tim Farron and Priti Patel, offering faux-naive zingers.

The contest for the most surreal offering ended in a dead heat. The night before the vote, Channel 4 locked Jeremy Paxman in a room with an extraordinary collection of politicians and random Nineties celebrities. (Biggest surprise of the campaign: Peter Stringfellow is for Remain.) To put it in perspective, this was a show that Nigel Farage the attention vampire blew off. Poor old Paxman isn’t used to coping with luvvies. I thought he might throttle Sandie Shaw when he asked her about security and she started talking about “spiritism”. Someone with a cruel sense of humour should give Paxo a fluffy talk show. “TELL ME A BETTER SELF-DEPRECATING ANECDOTE FROM THE SET,” he’d thunder at Hugh Jackman. “AND BE QUICK ABOUT IT.”

The joint-weirdest bit of EU telly was ­Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance on Channel 4’s The Last Leg, a show for which the pitch was surely “Top Gear but for sports”. He turned up in a white fur coat and a Bentley for the opening gag, confessed to feeling “seven and a half out of ten” about the EU and essayed a similarly nuanced answer about whether he’d rather have a knob for a nose or a nose for a knob. “You’re really stuck on this whole binary choice thing,” he said, gnomically. Then Russell Crowe turned up to exude his usual low-level petulant menace, crushing any possibility of fun.

Having watched a huge amount of television over the campaign, I have come to five conclusions: 1) our prosperity is assured if we can patent whatever David Dimbleby’s bladder is made out of; 2) no man has ever looked sadder in victory than Michael Gove on Friday morning; 3) Ruth Davidson, Sadiq Khan and Anna Soubry should get more TV bookings; 4) the Leave campaign had so many versions of the same middle-aged, bald, white man that I began to wonder if it was a trick, like three kids in a long coat; 5) Versailles on BBC2 – full of frocks and fireplaces and men with hair like Kate Middleton – is the only thing that kept me sane.

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 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies