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Strikes against Houthis demonstrate that Tories prefer war-war to jaw-jaw

Rishi Sunak in the House of Commons
Rishi Sunak in the House of Commons

Avast, me hearties! Britain has taken another pop at those salty dogs in the Red Sea, and the PM gave a statement to explain why. Curiously, sitting in the Commons gallery was a woman dressed like a pirate: white blouse, blue bandana, huge gold earring. Down in the stalls, Lucy Powell brushed some fluff from Keir Starmer’s jacket. One must look one’s best for a war.

“At my order overnight,” said Rishi, “the RAF conducted a second wave of strikes against Houthi military targets”, necessary because the first wave didn’t work. Britain’s case for action is built on ironies. We will rebuild Yemen – after helping the Saudis to destroy it. There is no link between this operation and what’s happening in Gaza, insisted the PM – only to pivot to a statement about Gaza.

“We are not seeking confrontation” with the Houthis, rather it is a strategic strike for peace. The other parties triangulated their way around this paradox. Labour, to sound like the Conservatives, is all for it; the Lib Dems, cross-dressing as socialists, called for restraint. And the far-Left demanded a ceasefire in the Middle East, prompting the PM to wearily repeat this has nothing to do with Gaza.

Your bombs, charged Labour’s Aspana Begum, are “threatening civilian populations” – an odd way to describe terrorists, but then I suppose we’re all civilians beneath our suicide belts. Give it time and there’ll be calls to halt this campaign of white privilege against the pirating community, a marginalised group that only wants to rape and pillage in peace. Does having a peg leg not constitute a protected characteristic?

The Tories prefer war-war to jaw-jaw. At 12.59pm – make a note – Bernard Jenkin became the first person on the floor of the House to suggest we “extend [our] strategic objectives” and tackle the Houthi “safe haven”.

I’m not sure what Biden will make of that. Last week, over at that pretty care home the Americans keep on Pennsylvania Avenue, journalists asked his spokesman if the United States is at war with the Houthis or not. “We don’t think we are at war,” she replied – a statement of creative ambiguity, covering for a president who doesn’t think it is 1974, or the Great Depression, but knows it is definitely time for a nap.

Meanwhile, Britain will be “increasing our diplomatic engagement”, said Rishi, and “the foreign secretary will be in the region” asap. On telly, Dave shows worrying signs of going the “full Robert Palmer”, with slicked-back hair and a tan that is very brown for an Englishman in January. But he is in his element. Thus begins a historic tour of Ritz-Carltons in the Middle East, with Lord Cameron greeted lavishly by the local sheikh – a close friend from school, and Samantha knows four of his wives.

As the PM said, for the umpteenth time, “please stop talking about Gaza”, eyes wandered to the lady in the gallery. Was she dressed that way as a political statement? A joke? Or is this what the kids are into now? “I’ve heard the Houthis are popular on TikTok.” Labour, desperate to nail the youth vote, will surely be taking notes – so don’t be surprised if we see the occasional eye-patch on the shadow front bench.

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