By Graham Smith
Labour Party activists might be forgiven for feeling frustrated at their party leadership’s continuing squabble over what is and what is not anti-Semitic – but the row has at least shone a spotlight into how Israel’s occupation of Palestine reaches into every corner of the political world, even Cornwall.
Half of Cornwall’s Tory MPs have accepted free trips to and hospitality in Israel, paid for by the lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI.)
The most frequent flyers were South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray and Newquay & St Austell’s Steve Double, who between them accepted “donations” worth £6,200 in April in order to take part in a “fact finding delegation” to Israel and the occupied West Bank. The trip was organised and paid for by the Conservative Friends of Israel.
Both MPs have been to Israel before. Mrs Murray went in 2012, also at the expense of the CFI, and Mr Double in 2016, to attend a tourism conference in Tel Aviv.
Mr Double recently waded into the Labour Party’s internal woes by Tweeting his support for Barking MP Margaret Hodge, who is facing disciplinary action for swearing loudly and in public at her party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Double described her as “passionate and forthright in her views.”
So keen are the Conservative Friends of Israel to ensure that their point of view is heard that they took St Ives MP Derek Thomas on one of their “fact” finding trips in 2014, even before he was elected at the following year’s general election.
The register of political donations, maintained by the Electoral Commission, reveals that Mrs Murray is by some margin the most enthusiastic of Cornwall’s receivers of overseas travel and hospitality, having accepted no fewer than eight trips since 2011, including some to other Middle East countries, at a total value of £21,490. The benefit this has brought to the development of British foreign policy can only be guessed at.
One estimate puts the value of Conservative Friends of Israel donations to Tory MPs at £10 million over eight years.
John McDonnell wasn’t there- I was and witnessed the whole thing. She didn’t lose her cool. Passionate and forthright in her views yes but she never lost control.
— Steve Double MP (@stevedouble) July 25, 2018
Another group, Labour Friends of Israel, was extremely influential during Tony Blair’s years as Prime Minister but has diminished in importance since Mr Corbyn took over. Labour deputy leader Tom Watson is a member of LFI and has received tens of thousands of pounds in donations from pro-Israel lobbyists. In 2003 he voted in favour of going to war with Iraq.
North Cornwall MP Scott Mann, and Truro & Falmouth MP Sarah Newton, have both accepted trips to China. Only Camborne & Redruth MP George Eustice records no overseas trips on his register entries.
The last Cornwall MP with noted pro-Palestinian sympathies was South East Cornwall’s then Liberal Democrat MP, Colin Breed. In 2007 he attended a conference in the Sudan, organised by the Anglo-Arab Organisation. He paid for the trip himself.