The Today Programme featured a report from Orla Geurin speaking to troops in Iraq - some of them English - fighting Daesh alongside Kurdish soldiers. They want the British government to support them much more in order to defeat Daesh there before embarking on the dreadful situation in Syria.
The spokesperson for the select defence committee happened to be Ruth Smeeth MP, who spoke knowledgeably to Nick Robinson on the topic. It was unexpected and rather nice of the BBC to bring her in to discuss something other than you know what.
At the end of the interview Nick Robinson asked her about the abuse she’s been subjected to, which brings me to the final ‘leadership hustings’ debate between Corbyn and Smith, which took place on Sunday in front of Labour Friends of Israel and similar groups.
You can watch the whole thing on Jewish TV if you can bear it. The sound quality is abysmal; they seem to have amplified the applause coming from the auditorium and muffled the actual speakers. The whole thing was as frustrating as you’d expect it to be. Jeremy Corbyn was as reptilian as usual and he sat uncomfortably on his peculiarly designed high-stool, which I think was facing the wrong way. The others seemed to have foot-rests on theirs, whereas I think Jeremy’s was round the back and he couldn’t find anywhere to perch his feet. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost but not.
Interestingly, the anchor was from the BBC. Lucy Manning. I must admit I wasn’t familiar with Lucy, but I found out from Mr. Google that she wasn’t a popular recruit (from ITV) at a time when others at the BBC were being given the heave-ho.
However, although I hear she has a reputation for being strident, in this debate she seemed fine, although the sound levels might have contributed to that. I don’t think you could tell which side she was batting for, Corbyn, Smith or the audience, and that’s quite a feat for a BBC staffer
There’s a summary of the questions that were submitted to the pair here.
The widely publicised quote from Corbyn: ‘I believe Israel has the right to exist in its “1948 borders”’ ‘ came from that debate as did the well-worn excuse regarding Paul Eisen. ‘I attended the events before I knew he was a holocaust denier’ - which was trotted out again to audible groans from the audience.
Even though there was potential to put the questions some of us would have liked to ask, there was no opportunity for follow-ups due to the one and only microphone having been passed to the other end of the room by the time the original questioner might have made use of it.
Owen Smith drew louder applause than Corbyn, from this tiny audience at any rate. Towards the end, a question from the President of Oxford University Jewish Society. ‘Why have student victims of labour anti-semitism not been apologised to, and their attackers not been dealt with?’ Waffle ensued.
My pick of the press today. Daniel Finkelstein in the Times (£)
Labour’s chaos over antisemitism is shameful.
It’s about about Michael Foster, still suspended from the Labour Party. I’ll post a chunk of the piece here for the benefit of those who can’t access.
There was a time when it was almost impossible to be expelled from the Labour Party. You could get a programme on Iranian state TV, vote against the party in parliament hundreds of times, and praise Hamas and they’d make you leader.
Nowadays it seems hard to avoid being excluded. You might have purchased your membership on the wrong date, for instance. Or, like Michael, said the wrong thing without any clear rules about what the right thing is.
Yet even though it’s not remotely apparent what rule Michael broke, I think I can guess what it was that did it. It was the word Nazi. And this would be funny if the whole thing wasn’t so tragic.
When Ken Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party there was a lot of comment about his inability to avoid mentioning Hitler every time he appeared on television. But this is what I call the Fawlty Towers Fallacy. The problem isn’t that he mentioned the war. It’s what he said about Jews.
Livingstone claimed that “before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews” Hitler supported Zionism. He continues to claim that this is true (which, just to be clear, it is not). With this statement he joined other Corbyn supporters who regularly make comparisons between Israel and Nazism.
The problem is not with mentioning Hitler, or generally using Hitler analogies, or loosely making Hitler comparisons. The problem isn’t being abusive or silly or hyperbolic. The problem is deliberately and systematically equating the Jews with their exterminators. The problem is with implying the Jews are authors of their own misfortune and as bad as their killers.
Israel isn’t being compared to the Nazis because of a want of tact. These people don’t compare Israel to Stalin, or to Pol Pot, or to Kim Il Sung. It is a deliberate and grossly offensive attack tailored specially for the Jews.
It is an attack that tells the survivors of the death camps that they should have learnt lessons from their suffering but haven’t. It is an attack that deliberately minimises Hitler’s genocide by comparing it to the conflict with the Palestinians. It is an attack that outrageously distorts Israeli policy and provides those who want it with a justification for the terrorist murder of Jews. It is shameful and has no place in a progressive party.
I thought, when suspending Mr Livingstone, that perhaps the Labour Party now appreciated this. Now it is clear they do not. In the grip of the Fawlty Towers Fallacy they haven’t decided to suspend antisemites, they had decided just to suspend anyone who mentions Hitler. Never mind if they are a Jew, whose grandparents were in Dachau concentration camp.
Instead of dealing with hatred of Jews, they are just running around in a panic. And when this leadership election is over, neither the panic nor the antisemitism will have gone away.
The Corbyn supporters who complain of a purge, the moderates who despair that there hasn’t been one, they are both correct. Maybe you are a member, maybe you aren’t; maybe that behaviour is OK, maybe it isn’t; maybe you will be out for ever, maybe we will let you back; maybe you can have a vote, maybe you can’t. Who knows?
Nobody has a clue what they are doing or why they are doing it. The party is flailing. Accuse someone of being a stormtrooper and goodbye, support the IRA and you can be shadow chancellor.
The only question I have for Michael now is an inversion of Groucho Marx’s famous quip. Why would he want to be part of a club that doesn’t want him as a member?
And if a party cannot retain someone like him — enterprising, full hearted, unpredictable, passionate, successful, excitable and exciting — it is doomed. Suspend Michael Foster and you are suspending the Labour Party on a rope.