When Jeremy Corbyn referred to Hamas and Hizbullah as “our friends” he certainly didn’t imagine that he would one day have to defend the remark at Prime Minister’s Questions. But that was the position he found himself in today as David Cameron remorselessly targeted him. Challenged three times by the Prime Minister to withdraw the comment, he refused to do so, though he came close when he insisted: “Anyone who commits racist or anti-Semitic acts is not a friend of mine.”
So unrelenting was Cameron’s assault that Corbyn’s questions on spending cuts were rendered irrelevant. The Labour leader instead returned fire by challenging the PM over Zac Goldsmith’s noxious London mayoral campaign (which has painted Sadiq Khan as the friend of extremists). Suliman Gani, the iman whom Khan has been attacked for sharing a platform with, was a Conservative supporter, Corbyn noted. He quoted a former Tory candidate who denounced Goldsmith’s “repulsive campaign of hate”. But Corbyn’s lax response to anti-Semitism has weakened his moral authority.
Cameron gave no quarter in his defence of Goldsmith, defying the theory that he wants Khan to win in order to shore up the Labour leader. But he also undoubtedly hopes that the lines which appear to have failed in London will succeed elsewhere. With pure ruthlessness, he declared of Corbyn: “He may be a friend of the terrorist group Hamas but he’s an enemy of aspiration.” Labour was left to rue how its leader’s back catalogue crowds out its attacks on government policy. Should Corbyn make it to the next general election, it will face far worse. “A party that puts extremists over working people” was Cameron’s parting shot.
After this brutal electioneering, it was left to the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson to return the debate to policy. Cameron confirmed that the government was preparing a climbdown on accepting more unaccompanied child refugees. “We’re already taking child migrants in Europe with a direct family connection to the UK,” he said. “I’m also talking to Save the Children to see what we can do more, particularly with children who came here before the EU-Turkey deal was signed.” He added: “It won’t be necessary to send the Dubs amendment back to the other place [the House of Lords].”
The other notable moment came when Cameron announced that the Chilcot Inquiry would finally be published “not long after” the EU referendum. It this occasion that Corbyn will ikely to use to make his long-promised apology for the Iraq war (for which, of course, he bears no blame). But as today made clear, there will be no such remorse for the wrong “friends”.