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.
Show Hide image

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.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

I'll vote against bombing Isis - but my conscience is far from clear

Chi Onwurah lays out why she'll be voting against British airstrikes in Syria.

I have spent much of the weekend considering how I will vote on the question of whether the UK should extend airstrikes against Daesh/Isis from Iraq to Syria, seeking out and weighing the evidence and the risks.

My constituents have written, emailed, tweeted, facebooked or stopped me in the street to share their thoughts. Most recognised what a difficult and complex decision it is. When I was selected to be the Labour candidate for Newcastle Central I was asked what I thought would be the hardest part of being an MP.

I said it would be this.

I am not a pacifist, I believe our country is worth defending and our values worth fighting for. But the decision to send British Armed Forces into action is, rightly, a heavy responsibility.

For me it comes down to two key questions. The security of British citizens, and the avoidance of civilian casualties. These are separate operational and moral questions but they are linked in that it is civilian casualties which help fuel the Daesh ideology that we cannot respect and value the lives of those who do not believe as we do. There is also the important question of solidarity with the French in the wake of their grievous and devastating loss; I shall come to that later.

I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he set out the case for airstrikes on Thursday and I share his view that Daesh represents a real threat to UK citizens. However he did not convince me that UK airstrikes at this time would materially reduce that threat. The Prime Minister was clear that Daesh cannot be defeated from the air. The situation in Syria is complex and factionalised, with many state and non-state actors who may be enemies of our enemy and yet not our friend. The Prime Minister claimed there were 70,000 ground troops in the moderate Free Syrian Army but many experts dispute that number and the evidence does not convince me that they are in a position to lead an effective ground campaign. Bombs alone will not prevent Daesh obtaining money, arms and more recruits or launching attacks on the UK. The Prime Minister did not set out how we would do that, his was not a plan for security and peace in Syria with airstrikes a necessary support to it, but a plan to bomb Syria, with peace and security cited in support of it. That is not good enough for me.

Daesh are using civilian population as human shields. Syrians in exile speak of the impossibility of targeting the terrorists without hitting innocent bystanders. I fear that bombing Raqqa to eliminate Daesh may be like bombing Gaza to eliminate Hamas – hugely costly in terms of the civilian population and ultimately ineffectual.

Yet the evil that Daesh perpetrate demands a response. President Hollande has called on us to join with French forces. I lived in Paris for three years, I spent time in just about every location that was attacked two weeks ago, I have many friends living in Paris now, I believe the French are our friends and allies and we should stand and act in solidarity with them, and all those who have suffered in Mali, Kenya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Tunisia and around the world.

But there are other ways to act as well as airstrikes. Britain is the only G7 country to meet its international development commitments, we are already one of the biggest humanitarian contributors to stemming the Syrian crisis, we can do more not only in terms of supporting refugees but helping those still in Syria, whether living in fear of Daesh or Assad. We can show the world that our response is to build rather than bomb. The Prime Minister argues that without taking part in the bombing we will not have a place at the table for the reconstruction. I would think our allies would be reluctant to overlook our financial commitment.

We can also do more to cut off Daesh funding, targeting their oil wells, their revenues, their customers and their suppliers. This may not be as immediately satisfying as bombing the terrorists but it is a more effective means of strangling them.

The vast majority of the constituents who contacted me were against airstrikes. I agree with them for the reasons I set out above. I should say that I have had no experience of bullying or attempts at intimidation in reaching this decision, Newcastle Central is too friendly, frank, comradely and Geordie a constituency for that. But some have suggested that I should vote against airstrikes to ensure a “clear conscience” ’. This is not the case. There will be more killings and innocent deaths whether there are UK airstrikes or not, and we will all bear a portion of responsibility for them.

A version of this article was originally sent to Chi Onwurah's constituents, and can be read here