QUENTIN LETTS: Jeremy Corbyn won 'hear-hears' from backbenchers
QUENTIN LETTS: Jeremy Corbyn won ‘hear-hears’ from backbenchers, some of whom clearly wish he was still their party leader
Labour MPs piled into parliament for an afternoon statement on the Gaza crisis. Sir Keir Starmer was not among them. He was keeping a safe distance from his rebellious backbenchers.
In classic skirmish-dodger fashion, Sir Keir instead accused Rishi Sunak of his very own failing. He alleged that the PM was showing ‘cowardice’ in demanding a face-to-face meeting with the Metropolitan police commissioner about Palestinian protest marches.
When in a hole, pick a distracting fight: oldest trick in the book.
Sir Keir’s great claim is that he has changed his party. He has allegedly out-Blaired Tony Blair. His strategist Lord Mandelson would have us believe Sir Keir and Co are now to the right of the Conservatives on some matters.
Alas, that enticing optical illusion evaporated in the Commons as, time and again, Labour MPs stood to signal sharp disagreement with their absent leader on the Israel-Hamas war.
Jeremy Corbyn (pictured on October 23), who is these days an Independent, said it was time for the government to heed the many ‘sensible, reasonable voices’ demanding a ceasefire
Andrew Mitchell, international aid minister, repeatedly pointed out a ceasefire was a non-runner because Hamas had no intention of ceasing its rocket attacks on Israel and Hamas still held Israeli hostages (File Photo)
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One of them, Naz Shah (Bradford West) became so worked up that she MADE herself cry. Ms Shah sobbed and dabbed at her eyes after making an intervention about the children who were being hurt in Gaza. ‘At their age they should be going to a playground to buy an ice cream, not going to a graveyard or preparing for their death,’ she wailed.
It can be noted that Sister Naz was not always such a cuddly soul. She once got into trouble for posting an anti-Semitic message on the internet. Such was the offence that she was criticised by her spiritual leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for ‘offensive and unacceptable behaviour’. Attacked by Mr Corbyn for antisemitism! That’s quite an achievement.
The Labour parliamentary party was out in strong number, simmering and scowling. The session was chaired by Sir Roger Gale, a newish deputy speaker. Not unpompously he told MPs to watch their language. ‘I know the House is capable of rising to the occasion.’
Sir Roger is himself hardly a milquetoast. In pre-deputy speakership days he was the most batey of backbenchers, a liverish tusker whose tonsils would shoot inches beyond his purple face as he denounced this or that. It was hard to keep count as Labour MPs called for Israel to be investigated for war crimes or insisted it was time for a ceasefire.
Andrew Mitchell, international aid minister, repeatedly pointed out that this was a non-runner because Hamas had no intention of ceasing its rocket attacks on Israel and Hamas still held Israeli hostages. As David Davis (Con, Haltemprice and Howden) put it, ‘terrorist organisations only seek a ceasefire when they suit their own regrouping, not to end violence’.
Mr Mitchell, with ostentatious courtesy, noted that the last time he had looked, Starmer’s policy was to support Israel. Labour MPs bit their lips and crossed their arms. Only one of them, Steve McCabe (Selly Oak) was noticeably pro-Israeli. There was particularly crossness with the home secretary, Suella Braverman, for having suggested that some pro-Palestinian marches had been ‘hate-filled’. Mr Mitchell, with patrician disdain, distanced himself from Mrs Braverman.
Mr Corbyn, who is these days an Independent, said it was time for the government to heed the many ‘sensible, reasonable voices’ demanding a ceasefire. This won nods and hear-hears and ‘yeps!’ from his former backbench troops, some of whom plainly wish he was still their leader. Others called for water and electricity supplies to Gaza to be re-established. Sir Michael Ellis (Con, Northampton North) pointed out that those supplies had been cut by Hamas.
Of Imran Hussain (Bradford East), who had resigned from Sir Keir’s team in protest over Gaza, there was no sign. Have the Whips sent him on a fact-finding trip to the Falkland Islands? But Tan Dhesi (Slough), Jon Trickett (Hemsworth), Zarah Sultana (Coventry South), Sarah Owen (Luton North), Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port) and others made plain whose side they were on. And each time Mr Mitchell mentioned Sir Keir’s name, you could sense them tense.
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