David Cameron began the debate in the Commons about whether the UK should carry out air strikes in Syria by saying he “respects people who disagree” with his support for bombing.
This comment appeared to be in response to some remarks he made to his own MPs, leaked yesterday, saying they should not vote with “terrorist sympathisers” on the other side of the debate. He told the 1922 Committee, the Tory backbench group: “You should not be walking through the lobbies with Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers.”
The Labour party was insulted by this characterisation and wanted the Prime Minister to apologise.
Cameron’s speech in parliament has been interrupted by Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MPs calling for him to apologise for the comment.
He has refused to apologise.
My hunch is that Cameron wants to have that phrase out there, attached to Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell (who between them have made sympathetic comments about the IRA, Hamas and Hezbollah in the past), but is disguising it as an off-record gaffe so that he can brush it off without retracting it. This is very similar to the “dead-cat strategy” of having cabinet minister Michael Fallon causing controversy by calling Ed Miliband a backstabber just before the election, as my colleague Helen has discussed.