The Presidential Inauguration (explained using only the ten hundred most used words)

The White House for kids who can't read good.

(Up-goer five lets you try to explain a hard idea using only the ten hundred most used words. It takes its idea from this picture. This piece is written with it.)

Today is the day the head man in the most important state in the world gets to promise that he will stay the head man for another four years. Because of the things which the people who made that state agreed on over two hundred years ago, the most important man — and it has always been a man — has made this promise in almost the same way every four years without a break since the year the whole thing began.

The real promise, though, was made with just the important man and a few other important men the day before today in a room in the White House. It is not always done like this — the first time the man made his promise he did it in front of everyone — but there is no reason not to. In fact, since the promise has to be made on day twenty of the first month, if he wanted to have the party on the first day of the week he would have to have done it this way.

(Last time, if you remember, he made the promise in front of everyone but did it wrong and had to do it again in his new house.)

The promise has not always had to be made on day twenty of the first month. Until 1937 it had been made on day four of the third month, but then it was moved forward. This is because the way the important man is picked used to take a lot longer. It is a very big place, after all, and before they had things like cars it would take a long time for all the people who had been picked to go to the head city and pick the important man. That is still why there is a three month wait between everyone writing who they want the head man to be on little pieces of paper and the head man actually getting his job.

But anyway.

Today may not be the day the head man really gets his job, but it is the day he makes his promise in front of everyone else. And, more to the point, it's the day everyone has a big party to show how happy they are that their home has not broken down into a bad place.

Last year that party had a well known man playing music, another well known woman making music with her mouth, and lots of people reading from a very important book about god. This year, there will be more of the same.

But there has already been a sad thing which might make the big party look bad. The day before today, a man who made music at a small party for the head man's promise-making was thrown out of the party for not agreeing with the head man. He played one piece of music — called "Words I Never Said", which is sort of about how bad the head man is — and made it last half an hour, then was made to leave by six big men.

That news might make everyone remember that the head man has a lot of people who don't like him on the left as well as the right. It is something which he doesn't like to point out, a little bit because the way the fights work in the city where all the important men and women go to tell everyone what to do is that they are between people on the middle-left and people on the very far right. In the short run, it is more important for the head man to come out on top of those fights. But in the long run, it might be telling that the very first fight of his second four years was with someone he did not think would be a problem.

The last time the head man made his promise. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses