In this week’s New Statesman: The shadow of Pistorius

PLUS: Sophy Ridge’s diary and the enigmatic life of John Freeman.

Hedley Twidle: History written on a woman’s body

In this week’s cover story, the South African lecturer and prize-winning essayist Hedley Twidle reports from Cape Town on how South Africa today is haunted by history. Twidle argues that the Oscar Pistorius case, following the Valentine’s Day shooting of Pistorius’s girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, has exposed the fragility of the nation’s post-apartheid settlement. The “coincidence of parliament opening and Pistorius falling offered itself all too obviouslyas a national metaphor”, he begins. And in the immediate aftermath of the murder:

Some pundits remarked that such hypermasculine sporting icons are destined to fail. They are fashioned by the media into the carriers of vast social fantasies, even as the competitive, corporate world in which they win fame makes them inadequate to accommodate any national story, let alone one as complex and painful as that of modern South Africa.

Twidle describes the public reaction to the case as a “blame game” that throws a harsh light on the country’s apartheid past, its current inequalities and the ineptitude of SA police – “all that unfinished business buried in the South African body politic”.

The epidemic of sexual violence against South Africa’s women also continued, exemplified by the horrifying gang rape and mutilation of Anene Booysen,a 17-year-old found disembowelled at a construction site near Bredasdorp in the rural Western Cape on 2 February . . .

Some commentators mentioned Booysen and Steenkamp in the same breath, remarking that violence against women was an “equal opportunity” affairin this country . . .

Perhaps, some gender experts suggested, the task was rather to trace two variants of toxic masculinity in the country: one that acts out of powerlessness and humiliation, another that acts out of privilege and impunity. Increasingly, the media themselves came in for criticism, because a glamorous white couple were getting the kind of global attention that black victims never do.

. . . in South Africa, a life such as Oscar Pistorius’s can’t just be a life. It inevitably becomes enmeshed in a story of national exceptionalism. Yet if there is to be a wider allegory, perhaps it should be more concerned with the rush to judgement.

 

Sophy Ridge: The Diary

Sophy Ridge, political correspondent for Sky News, shares the highlights of her week, with George Osborne at No 11, the Lord Rennard scandal, sexism in Westminster and the Conservative MP Michael Fabricant’s tweets from Eastleigh.

On being a woman in the lobby:

Writing of the allegations against Lord Rennard, I can’t help but feel that the Lib Dems would benefit from having a few more women on the airwaves. They are hampered by having a meagre seven female MPs – and it’s not just the Lib Dems with that problem. Images of fusty gentlemen drinking whisky in smoky corridors are wide of the mark but, in some aspects, Westminster can still feel like an old boys’ club . . .

I remember being introduced to an MP by a male colleague when I had recently joined the lobby as a newspaper hack. “Nice to meet you,” he said, sticking out his hand. “Do you work for the fashion pages?” I was dressed in a suit and was walking through Portcullis House with a lobby pass. Most people would have thought these were pretty good hints as tomy job description.

(Click here to read article in full on our website.)

 

Hugh Purcell: Face to face with an enigma

In the first of a series of articles to celebrate the NS centenary – coming up in April – we explore the remarkable life of John Freeman: war hero, Labour MP, diplomat and former New Statesman editor. Now in his nineties, Freeman combined celebrity with impenetrable privacy. Hugh Purcell begins:  

“I wish everybody would forget I was alive,” he said. And most people did. But John Freeman, now in his 99th year, is still living a very private life at a nursing home in south London. He is one of the most extraordinary public figures of the postwar period; an achiever and thrower away of high office after high office; a celebrity who sought anonymity. “John Freeman,” said an old friend, “has spent his life moving through a series of rooms, always shutting the door firmly behind him and never looking back.”

...The paradox of Freeman the private celeb­rity was symbolised by the TV series that made him famous from 1959 onwards, Face to Face. The viewer never saw his face. He sat with his back to the camera, in the shadow, smoke from a cigarette curling up between the fingers of his right hand. “John is the only man who has made himself celebrated by turning his arse on the public,” said Kingsley Martin, the then editor of the New Statesman. Freeman was the Grand Inquisitor, exposing the person behind the public figure, but never his own.

ELSEWHERE:

 

Rafael Behr: Balls vs Osborne – who will fall?

In the Politics Column this week, Rafael Behr says it’s hard to see how Ed Balls and George Osborne can both survive the next Budget. The “Treasury generals”, Behr argues, have “fought each other to a bloody standstill, unloved by their parties and scorned by voters”, and it’s hard to see who will fare worse now in a head-to-head . . .

(Click here to read this article in full on our webiste.)

 

David Blanchflower: The Underemployment Index

In the Economics Column this week, David Blanchflower decodes George Osborne’s unemployment figures and exposes the truth behind the coalition’s spin. "The government’s claim that it has created a million private-sector jobs is false."

It turns out that the news on the labour market isn’t very good. In fact, the unemployment rate no longer captures the full picture of spare capacity in the market, as many workers are employed but say they would like to work more hours and well over a million part-timers want to go full-time. These workers are “hours-constrained” . . .

Blanchflower unveils his new “underemployment index”, devised with David Bell, professor of economics at the University of Stirling. This is based on a formula that weighs the desired working hours of unemployed or part-time employed people against those of people in employment who wish to cut down on their hours, concluding "our latest research also suggests that this group is almost as unhappy as the unemployed."

(Click here to read this article in full on our website.)

 

Laurie Penny: How the “Lord Grope” allegations turned into men scoring points off each other

For In The Red this week, Laurie Penny writes about “Lord Grope” (the Liberal Democrat peer Chris Rennard) and argues that the “small revolution” now taking place against sexual abuse in the corridors of power isn’t just a “lady problem”, but a serious political issue with an “uncomfortable answer”. Penny writes:

Systematic abuse happens when the system is abusive. It happens when those in power are allowed to exploit and dehumanise the less powerful without facing any consequences. And it won’t change until it is challenged .

 

In the Critics

  • Our lead book reviewer, John Gray, reads The Locust and the Bee: Predators and Creators in Capitalism’s Future by Geoff Mulgan.
  • The novelist and critic Philippa Stockley reviews Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s
  • biography of the former American Vogue editor Diana Vreeland.
  • Leo Robson reviews new novels by J M Coetzee and Jim Crace.
  • Ryan Gilbey reviews Park Chan-wook’s new film, Stoker
  • Jason Cowley reviews Jamie Lloyd’s production of Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios in London
  • Will Self ventures into the Wetherspoon’s pub chain and tries tododge a man called Tim.

This and much, much more in our full “In The Critics” blog post.

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at: subscribe.newstatesman.com

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

Photo: Justin Tallis/Getty Images
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If Jeremy Corbyn does win, the Greens should shut up shop

If self-described socialists continue to organise outside of the Labour party, they risk depriving the left's main outlet of both talent and voters, warns Michael Chessum.

It could all be rash complacency, but for much of left thoughts have already begun to focus on the reality of a Corbyn-led Labour Party. In the Labour left, the air is swirling with new projects – to back Corbyn up as leader, to organise the membership against parts of the PLP if necessary, to bring Labour into social movements and social movements into Labour. But outside Labour, too, the wider left is waking up to discover the entirely different reality that could be posed by a sharp left turn in leadership. In the Green Party, and especially among those on the left of the party, there is increasing pressure to find a formal working arrangement with Corbyn’s Labour, much of which is reflected in Caroline Lucas’s open letter in the Independent last week. An electoral pact is, apparently, already on the table.

Lucas’s call for an electoral pact is a pretty honest gesture, and will not be entirely uncontroversial in her own party; it is certainly worth much more than, as some more cynical onlookers in Labour have put it, “please don’t run against me in Brighton Pavillion”. It could also be significant in terms of electoral arithmetic: after boundary changes, and in any tight election, Labour will need the 3.8 per cent of the vote that the Greens got at the last election.  But while Lucas and other leftwingers in the Green Party are at least acknowledging the issue, there is a danger that they will avoid a more fundamental question: if Corbyn wins, does it really make sense for self-described socialists in the Green Party to continue a separate existence outside of Labour at all?

Corbyn represents the undeniable arrival of a wider political trend. Across Europe, democratic socialism is undergoing a split: yesterday’s “realists”, who argue for an accommodation with neo-liberal economics and the austerity politics that follows it like clockwork, are on one side; on the other is an assortment of socialists and social democrats who argue for something else. Mass anti-austerity politics has not been a one-party affair in the UK: it was built from the ground up by students, workers and community campaigns; it was road-tested in Scotland; and it has been formulated into policy from a variety of angles, as well as by the Corbyn campaign itself. But now, in the face of the realities presented by five more years in opposition, the vital political expression of the anti-austerity movement seems to have come to fruition in the Labour Party.

This fact will leave one of the largest sections of the organised left – the Green left – disorientated and unsure of what to do. Some socialists and leftwingers in the Green Party are there on the basis of a genuine conviction that the green movement, rather than the labour movement, is their political home. But for the vast bulk of those drawn to the Green left – many of them freshly recruited from recent social movements, others exiles from Labour under Blair – the purpose of the Green left is premised largely on the idea that a credible party-political alternative was needed, and that an anti-austerity surge would be impossible inside the Labour Party. This premise is now ebbing away.

The race is now on for the true believers to convince their periphery of the virtues of remaining in the Green Party after Corbyn wins. Many may yet be convinced, and the Labour left should not be complacent about recruiting a sudden tide of departing Greens.  But for those who joined because they wanted to intervene into mainstream politics from the left, there should be no doubt as to where the big fights will now happen, and where those committed to having them should go.

The incorporation of elements of the radical left’s core constituency into the Greens was always a peculiarity of recent British history. Had it become a sustainable arrangement and grown into a faint British Syriza, it would have made the Green Party of England and Wales unique in Europe, where ecologist and green parties usually sit distinctly and uneasily next to their far-left counterparts.

Much of the uneasiness that characterises the relationship between green parties and radical left groupings in other countries is about ideas, but much of it is also about tribalism – the simple fact that they have separate organisations which need to be different, and which breed differences in approach as often as they reflect them. If either the Green left or the Labour left are not careful, this tribalism will replicate itself, weakening everyone and dividing the left for no particularly coherent political reason.

That is why it is so significant that figures as senior as Caroline Lucas are already making overtures to Corbyn’s Labour. However, there is a danger that behind the positive gestures lie a serious of less friendly assumptions: that any electoral pact is temporary, is designed to build and promote the existence of the two separate parties, and would end upon the introduction of a proportional voting system – a move which, although positive in itself, would further entrench the fault lines between the Green and Labour lefts.

There are numerous ways that this could be overcome which would avoid the Greens simply dissolving themselves or quietly surrendering their politics. If it carried majority support in the party, the Green Party could reach the same arrangement with Labour that the Co-operative Party has: it would have its own structures, and would run Green-Labour candidates in places where it won the selection inside the local Labour Party. If there is no majority for such an arrangement, socialist Greens who want a higher degree of unity with Labour could form a faction, first within the Greens, and, if they continued to lose the argument, they could break away to form a platform in Labour.

As the seemingly impossible becomes a reality, there will be all kinds of realignments in the political space that the Labour left and Green left both claim to occupy – not to mention a potential split on Labour’s right wing. The best hope for a healthy realignment of the British left lies in an honest exchange of ideas; a newly democratised and pluralistic Labour Party which embraces – rather than excludes – political energy formerly to its left; and a willingness on the part of external political forces to orientate themselves towards Labour as the political expression of a mass movement. Those forces should involve the left wing of the Green Party.