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.
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.
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 . . .
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."
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