David Cameron attends a ceremonial welcome for The President Of United Mexican States at Horse Guards Parade on March 3, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Confident Cameron blusters through immigration and TV debates

Miliband's arguments were by far the stronger but at no point did the PM appear truly uncomfortable. 

David Cameron had the confidence of a man scenting victory at today's PMQs. The latest polls, showing the Tories ahead, meant he was in boisterous, remorseless form. Ed Miliband sought to pin him down on his failure to meet his promise to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" a year (of which he once declared: "If we don't deliver our side of the bargain, kick us out in five years") and his refusal to commit to the TV debates. But Cameron simply blustered through it at all. Miliband's arguments were by far the stronger but at no point did the PM appear truly uncomfortable. 

On immigration, he declared: "There are two reasons for high migration, one is the growth of our economy and the other is that our benefits system allows people to access that benefits system straight away – I say let’s keep the strong economy and change the benefits system, he wants to keep the benefits system and trash the economy!" As Miliband pressed him on his "no ifs, no buts" promise, Cameron simply listed all the pledges the Tories had met. It was shamelessly evasive but also a reminder of how much easier the better economic news has made these encounters for him. 

He was similarly shameless in the case of the TV debates. Challenged by Miliband to commit to them, he simply replied: "We’re having a debate now" (the traditional riposte of every PM until Gordon Brown). Not even he seemed convinced by his later declaration that he wanted them to happen "before the election" (that is, before the start of the short campaign on 30 March). Never have the debates appeared more doomed. As Labour sources briefed after the exchanges: “Behind the scenes Cameron’s team are doing everything they can to scupper the negotiations and sink the debates.”

As so often, Cameron couldn't resist a jibe at Ed Balls (a man with whom he is peculiarly obsessed) but this time at least he had a half-decent joke prepared. "He told us he was a long, slow burn," he said in reference to Balls's bedroom habits. "But I have to say the only thing lying in ashes is Labour’s economic credibility." 

One final point worth noting from today's session was Cameron's refusal to rule out again raising tuition fees. Asked by Labour's Seema Malhotra to do so, he did not even offer a token "no plans" assurance. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Wikipedia.
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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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