At quarter to four on an autumn Monday, when thoughts might usually turn to tea, Rishi Sunak wrenched the Commons to the dust and murk of the Middle East.
Referring to last week’s explosion at a Gaza hospital, the Prime Minister said this: ‘On the basis of the deep knowledge and analysis of our intelligence and weapons experts, the British Government judges that the explosion was likely caused by a missile, or part of one, that was launched from within Gaza towards Israel.’
MI6’s boffins – ‘Q’ and his mates, if you like – had crawled all over the data. That hospital blast was a jihadi group’s damn fault.
A low groan of disgust rose from the Conservative benches behind Mr Sunak; from Labour MPs opposite him, stiff silence. This was not what they wished to hear. On the evening of the explosion, the Left hurriedly blamed Israel. Now that was evidently fake news.
Imagine if it had been the other way round and killings initially attributed to Hamas were found to have been caused by Benjamin Netanyahu’s forces.
Mr Sunak’s arrival was greeted with more warmth than would normally be the case after thumping by-election losses. The Israel emergency has changed Westminster’s currency, writes QUENTIN LETTS
Sir Keir again tried to tread the tightrope of acknowledging Israel’s right to defend herself while also sounding pro-Palestinian, but it becomes trickier for him by the day
Imagine the parliamentary shouts of ‘apologise!’
This crisis is ageing our once-youthful premier. His cheekbones are more evident. The hair is becoming speckled by grey.
‘Must be those by-election results,’ you retort. They can’t have helped. But looking at Rishi, one senses a man becoming dented by intractables, specifically here the unbending, ancient enmities of the Holy Land.
At departmental questions immediately before Mr Sunak’s statement, education minister Robert Halfon twice spoke of Hamas’s ‘useful idiots’ and ‘fifth columnists’ in our universities. Oh well, a former news editor of mine did always say columnists were a menace. But Mr Halfon’s point should make us gulp at the way today’s so-called respectable classes flirt with extremists.
Mr Sunak’s arrival was greeted with more warmth than would normally be the case after thumping by-election losses. The Israel emergency has changed Westminster’s currency. It won’t last but at present the dangers are sufficiently awesome to secure approbation for the PM’s travels to Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Several MPs, not all Tory, praised him.
Beside him sat James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, who has also been zooming around the region. Mr Cleverly was in red socks. Clean-laundry shelves running a little low, perhaps.
For Sir Keir Starmer, the Israel-Hamas war is a particular nightmare. An opposition leader this far ahead in the opinion polls never welcomes upheavals, especially when plenty of members of his own party are soft on the terrorists involved. Sir Keir again tried to tread the tightrope of acknowledging Israel’s right to defend herself while also sounding pro-Palestinian, but it becomes trickier for him by the day.
He was obliged to sit there for the rest of the session. His left toecap kept swivelling as a succession of Labour MPs made coded anti-Israel noises.
Sir Keir is some distance from his party on this issue. When a water-skier overtakes the motorboat, it seldom ends well.
Labour MPs went rigid during Sir Keir’s speech. Vicky Foxcroft (Lab, Lewisham Deptford) was nodding but apart from her there was little evident support for his efforts to sound pro-Israeli. Afzal Khan (Manchester Gorton), one of Sir Keir’s own frontbenchers, studied his mobile phone.
In response to a question from Jeremy Corbyn, the Prime Minister reminded the former Labour leader that he had once hailed Hamas as ‘friends’
A line of anti-Zionists at the back of the chamber had their arms crossed.
Yvette Cooper’s right eyebrow was hooked like a bishop’s crook, alive to the drama. It was striking how many backbenchers had suddenly become tremendous experts in international law.
During contributions from the likes of Zarah Sultana (Lab, Coventry South), Mohammad Yasin (Lab, Bedford) and Kim Johnson (Lab, Liverpool Riverside), the Starmer toecap whizzed at high speed.
Jeremy Corbyn (Ind, Islington North) had a go. Mr Sunak dealt with him crisply by recalling that Mr Corbyn had once hailed Hamas as ‘friends’. No one enjoyed that putdown more than Sir Keir’s neighbour David Lammy, who laughed and nodded.
Things are bad in Israel-Gaza but there’s not much peace and love in the Labour Party, either.