Front Bench Weekly: Boris under fire over Burka comments, Labour mired in (more) anti-Semitism accusations, and one man and his van attempt to stop Brexit



Not for the first time, Boris Johnson has been the name on everyone’s lips this week. His Telegraph column on Denmark’s burka ban set the front pages alight, with today’s Daily Mirror especially punchy – using the headline, “The Pariah”, next to a picture of Mr Johnson’s head.

Accusations continue to fly that the former foreign secretary is guilty of “dog-whistle politics” and Islamophobia, in spite of the fact that he argued the ban was an erroneous move by the Danish government and has since been defended by a prominent Iman.

So why the fuss you might ask? Well, as is so often the case with Mr Johnson, it comes down to semantics. His description of burkas as “oppressive” and suggestion that those who wear them look “like letter boxes” has left quite a few red in the face and calling for him to apologise.

Among those to throw the boot in is Ruth Davidson,widely seen as a future Tory leader,  who described Mr Johnson’s comments as “gratuitously offensive”. Tory peer Lord Sheikh has called for the whip to be removed, Dominic Grieve has threatened to quit the party, and Labour has cited the comments as evidence of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

In 2013, Conservative MP and BoJo adversary Anna Soubry said on Question Time that while she wouldn’t ban burkas she found them “a peculiar concept”, and  wished people didn’t choose to wear them.

Meanwhile shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said on the same programme that she “wouldn’t want [her] four-year-old looked after by someone wearing a burka”.

So is the criticism just naked opportunism by those who simply don’t like BoJo? As some have pointed out, most of Mr Johnson’s critics are ardent Remainers, while those who have pitched in to defend him are dyed-in-the-wool Brexiteers. It seems, as with most political arguments these days, that one has to filter this through the prism of Brexit and the new tribal lines of allegiance that has forged.

Mr Johnson continues to resist calls to apologise, insisting he is “speaking up for liberal values” – and his recalcitrance might not just be a desperate move to save face.

A Sky poll revealed that 60 per cent of Brits favoured a ban on the burka and, as we discuss later in this email, a sizeable proportion of the population feel as if their political views in general are not represented by the main parties.

With BoJo currently the firm favourite among Tory members to be their next leader, could this all be part of an effort to shore up support and appear in tune with everyday Joe Bloggs? As with most things in the unpredictable and tempestuous storm of politics, only time will tell.

The anti-Semitism scandal just won’t go away for the Labour Party. Despite Jeremy Corbyn releasing an apology video on Sunday to say he was “sorry for the hurt that has been caused to many Jewish people”, the party continues to be battered by further allegations and criticism.

Importantly the powerhouses behind his leadership — the grassroots campaign Momentum and at least one trade union — have turned against Corbyn’s stance and refusal to back the full international definition of anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, compromising leaks about the senior leadership’s past behaviour continue to emerge. Yesterday saw old video footage of Jeremy Corbyn suggesting the BBC was guilty of biased reporting over Israel.

Today’s Telegraph reports that in an address to a far-Left rally in 2012, John McDonnell claimed Israel was attempting to carry out “genocide” against the Palestinians. Separately, it has also emerged that Mr McDonnell ignored vocal calls to boycott a meeting with a woman who erroneously described Jews as “financiers of the slave trade”. The shadow chancellor’s vow to fix the scandal by next month’s party conference is starting to look rather ambitious.

This week saw Ian Paisley’s political demise become ever more likely, after a “recall petition” was launched in his constituency to trigger a by-election. The petition follows a Telegraph investigation exposing Mr Paisley’s failure to declare £100,000 of  luxury holidays from the Sri Lankan government. While not disclosing the trips, he later lobbied the government on behalf of Sri Lanka.

The petition will be open for six week and was made possible by a Commons vote to suspend Mr Paisley for a record 30 days. Legislation introduced by the coalition government after the 2009 MPs’ expenses scandal allows constituents to petition for a by-election in cases of serious misconduct — including cases where an MP is suspended for ten days or more.

— Man in a van — 

It’s not a week in British politics without some wacky Brexit-related antics. Today’s has been brought to you by 28-year-old Andy Pardy.  The New European reports that adventurous Mr Pardy  jacked in his job, forked out thousands of pounds on a van, and is currently making his way across an elaborate route of Europe to spell out “Stop Brexit” on a GPS tracking app. Utter madness did you say? Mr Pardy admits it’s a “crazy idea”, but said he wanted to “make the point” (and see some places on his bucket list). Map-lovers can follow his progress on Twitter.

— Travel spotting — 

Conservative MP Johnny Mercer has upped the stakes for politicians’ holiday snaps. On Tuesday he tweeted a picture of himself enjoying a pedicure, courtesy of his daughter, onboard a boat. Who knew pink was his colour?

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