PMQs: Nick tackles Gordon on Zimbabwe

by Stephen Tall on June 4, 2008

There was a Cinderella at the ball in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions: Labour’s moves to increase to 42 days the length of time terrorism suspects can be detained without trial. Clearly both Nick Clegg and David Cameron decided there was no point going on the attack and risk uniting those Labour backbenchers who might still have the guts to stick up for civil liberties.

Instead, Mr Cameron went six rounds with Gordon Brown over the Government’s so-called ‘green taxes’ on cars. Mr Brown had a strong defence – the Tories’ attempts to suggest they care about the environment up until the point they actually have to do something is sounding increasingly hollow – yet he sounded tired, and almost unsure of himself. The past few weeks has clearly taken its toll on his confidence.

Nick Clegg led on Zimbabwe and demanded the Prime Minister move to strip Robert Mugabe of his knighthood, and take firmer action to make clear the UK’s abhorrence of his regime. Mr Brown’s answers to both were full of good intentions but, to say the least, opaque. All credit to Nick for asking about such an important international issue, and for proposing tough but constructive action the Government could be taking to stand up for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.

Judge for yourselves how Nick did. You can watch the exchange on YouTube, or read the Hansard transcript, below.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Marine Dale Gostick.
We have all been appalled by the grotesque spectacle of Robert Mugabe lecturing the world on food security just as his Government are blocking the distribution of food aid to his own people. What message does it send that a man who has brought ruin and starvation to his own country continues to be honoured by a knighthood from ours? Will the Prime Minister at least accept that it is difficult to put pressure on other countries to do their bit to bring the Mugabe regime to heel if we do not take this simple, basic step? Will he take immediate action to strip Mugabe of his knighthood?

The Prime Minister:
I am less interested in the symbols than in the substance. We have got to get elections in Zimbabwe that are seen to be free and fair, and we have got to get international observers to be present at those elections so that they are seen by the world as free and fair. Zimbabwe deserves to have a Government who are fully democratically elected and put in place, and that is where I will put my efforts. As for the famine in Zimbabwe, and the loss of lives around the world as a result of famine, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it was important that we were represented at the United Nations conference yesterday.

Mr. Clegg: Of course I agree with the Prime Minister’s tough words, but they need to be translated into action. Will he therefore make it clear that unless minimum standards are met for the conduct of the elections, including the admission of international observers and explicit statements from Zimbabwe’s military leaders that they will recognise the outcome of the poll, the UK will block all foreign currency remittances to Zimbabwe that fund Mugabe’s odious regime, and that he will request our allies in the region, and the world, to do the same?

The Prime Minister: We will of course look at every action that we can take, but the first thing to do is to ensure that these elections are free and fair. We are working with other countries to ensure that there are international observers from other parts of the world, as well as from Africa. There is a need for hundreds of observers because of the geography of the country and the threats of intimidation. I am working with the president of the African Union, the president of the South African Development Community and other leaders around the world to ensure that the offer of international observers is there and is taken up. I hope that the whole House will agree that that is the first priority to ensure that the elections are free and fair.