Ed Miliband answers questions from members of the public during his People's Question Time at Nelson and Colne College on February 19, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband floors Cameron on MPs' second jobs

The Prime Minister was left looking as inert as Gordon Brown following the expenses scandal. 

It is some time since David Cameron has endured a defeat as bad as that he suffered at today's PMQs. Ed Miliband unsurprisingly led on the lobbying scandal and pressed the case for reform of MPs' second jobs (the subject of a Labour motion tonight). Cameron replied that he did not rule out "further changes" but the tone of lofty scepticism was unmistakable. At this, an animated Miliband pounced. Had the PM not once declared that "double-jobbing MPs won’t get a look-in when I’m in charge"? Cameron replied with what he thought was a trump card - Labour's motion would allow MPs to serve as paid trade union officials - but it proved to be a dud. Miliband simply ruled out this exemption and invited the PM to do business. (There are, in any case, no Labour MPs who occupy this role.) He offered to consult on the level of an outside earnings cap, while demanding that the government agree to a ban on directorships and consultancies. 

A wrong-footed Cameron could only respond with pre-heated attacks on the trade unions, intermingled with cheap barbs at Tristram Hunt and David Miliband over their outside earnings. (The most reliable indicator of a defeat for the PM is the number of times he mentions Len McCluskey and co.) Swatting away the case for reform, he appeared as inert as Gordon Brown did following the expenses scandal. "This is a very big test. You can vote for two jobs, or you can vote for one. I’ll be voting for one job; what will he be voting for?" cried Miliband with the confidence of a man who knows he has the public on his side (voters support a ban on MPs holding second jobs by 56 per cent to 25). In return, Cameron could only offer feeble non sequiturs: "I make an offer to him, no more support from trade unions for the Labour Party – then we’ve got a deal!" He looked like what he was: a man desperate to change the subject. 

Following his exchanges with Miliband, Cameron was questioned by the DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds on the seemingly doomed TV debates. Today's session was an apt reminder of why he does not want to face the leader of the opposition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.