ConHome Diary: Donald, Theresa, Jeremy & Another Hapless Sarah Olney Interview

3 Feb 2017 at 13:49

I suspect like many of you, when I heard Theresa May was going to visit Donald Trump, I feared the worst. Although I thought it was right she should go, I doubted whether much good would come of it. I thought also that there was a real risk of it all going wrong, largely because it didn’t seem to me they would get on very well. I was wrong. The visit was a triumph for the Prime Minister. She handled the press conference with great skill and it was a masterstroke for her to make clear the President had backed NATO “100%”. Even those who thought she shouldn’t have gone, had to admit that she had played a blinder. But what a difference 12 hours make… In that 12 hours the President issued his presidential order banning people from seven countries from entering the country for three months. As she arrived in Turkey the next morning, details were sketchy, so when she was asked about it at her press conference with the Turkish prime minister, she didn’t condemn it, merely saying that US immigration policy was for the United States. The media went mental and it took Downing Street a further ten hours for a spokesman to give the baying media some condemnatory words. But even at her press conference with Enda Kenny on Monday, Theresa May didn’t go much further. It was only at PMQs on Wednesday that the Prime Minister called the policy “divisive and wrong”. While I certainly didn’t expect her to lay into Donald Trump all guns blazing, it took her far too long to get to the right place.

Sometimes people need to calm down. This is one of them. Let’s put Donald Trump’s refugee ban into a little perspective before we all rush away with the idea that Trump has done something totally unprecedented and proves that he is a modern day incarnation of Hitler. Don’t get me wrong, I do not agree with the ban. I condemn it unreservedly. But people who want to shut down the debate have coined a new phrase – whataboutery. Apparently we’re not allowed to point out any inconvenient facts which might jeopardise their argument. So when asking people to consider the facts, I’m not allowed to point out that President Obama banned refugees for six months – not three – six – back in 2011. But of course the sainted Obama can do no wrong. In addition Sixteen middle eastern nations have a blanket ban on people from Israel entering their countries. Sixteen! They even ban anyone with an Israeli stamp in their passport. Do we hear any outrage on the left about this? Of course we don’t. Israel is fair game for discrimination. The truth is that Trump is using the prospect of refugees turning into terrorists to frighten the American people. If there was any evidence that refugees to America from these seven countries had actually had an involvement in terrorism in the United States over the last decade, then perhaps Trump might be able to cite that in aid of his announcement. But he can’t, because there isn’t any. In fact, the evidence that there is makes one wonder why he’s picked these seven countries rather than Saudi Arabia. My main fear is that this policy will actually encourage a major attack on US soil. Daesh will know that if they manage to perpetrate one, they will almost certainly manage to provoke Trump to take even more extreme measures. The consequences of that are unthinkable.
Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron have the same problem. They cannot control their parties. Having enforced a three line whip on the Article 50 vote more than a third of Labour MPs defied the instruction to support it. 47 Labour MPs rebelled. Surprisingly, Tim Farron had a similar problem. 22% of his MPs (admittedly only two!) decided not to obey the party line. Only one Tory MP, Ken Clarke, rebelled against the whip. Corbyn also had to endure the humiliation of three of his shadow cabinet members resigning. Admittedly they were three that few of us had ever heard of, but it demonstrated just how little control he is able to exert over his own parliamentary party. The fact that several junior frontbenchers also voted against a three line whip without resigning or being sacked merely adds to the growing sense of chaos. When the Bill comes to its third reading the Shadow Business Secretary Clive Lewis is also likely to quit, as he has said he will vote against if the Bill hasn’t been amended. Interesting times for Mr Corbyn. It’s ironic that an issue that has torn the Labour Party apart from decades, is now doing the same to the Labour Party.

Last Saturday morning I sat in for Matt Frei on LBC. We decided to spend an hour on Theresa May’s visit to Turkey. “That new LibDem MP Sarah Olney has written an article on it in The Guardian,” said my producer. “How every interesting. Not,” I replied, rather dismissively. Anyway, I read it and couldn’t believe the sanctimony contained in it. Mr Erdogan is a nasty man so she shouldn’t have gone, was the basic message. There was no recognition that Turkey is a vital ally in the fight against Daesh and that if countries like us didn’t engage with him, he was likely to cancel the agreement which has stemmed the flow of Syrian refugees through Turkey into Europe. Her tone suggested that May was just as evil as Erdogan, mainly because she belongs to the Conservative Party. I then typed “Nick Clegg Turkey visit” into Google. It turned out Clegg had led a trade mission to Turkey, as deputy prime minister, in 2012. “Gotcha,” I thought to myself. On the day after her by-election victory in December Sarah Olney was pulled out of a floundering live radio interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer. Had she had a spin doctor with her on Saturday morning, I suspect the same thing would have happened. Her sole defence seemed to be that Turkey was a nice country in 2012 but it wasn’t anymore. Listen and enjoy ].