Not Ben's Blog

What next after the Blairs and the Bee Gees? The Rooneys and the Camerons?

Actually Ben’s not here this week – his nerves are shot so he’s taking an extended Christmas holiday to recuperate. Instead you’ve got me, Simon Hooper. I’m a freelance journalist, a very infrequent and undistinguished New Statesman contributor, and can be found more regularly online working and writing for CNN.com and The First Post.

In the way of the media world, I got this gig after bumping into Ben at a mutual friend’s birthday soiree (Thanks Victoria). A couple of afternoons of cursory training later and here I am in Ben’s seat, flying the ship. Actually a more accurate analogy might be a caretaker, flicking the lights on and off occasionally and generally keeping an eye on things.

That's not to say it's not been a busy week for our bloggers. With Ban ki-moon taking charge this week at the United Nations, Oliver Postgate recalls the rise and fall of the League of Nations and urges serious reform to prevent its successor going the same way. Meanwhile Green Party co-leader Sian Berry reports on the confused and chaotic state of the Government's policy on renewable energy and James Medhurst considers how technology could be utilised to make democracy more accessible to disabled voters.

Jonathan Dawson reflects on a carnivorous Christmas at Findhorn. And if you've ever watched orange-clad Hare Krishna devotees singing and dancing their way down Oxford Street and wondered what it's all about then Kripamoya Das is here to explain all in our daily Faith Column. Striking a more flippant tone, Richard Herring wonders what's so funny about road rage and agony aunt Marina Pepper offers some cheeky advice for jilted weathergirls.

As for Ben, in keeping with his solid leftist credentials, he’s no doubt sunning himself as we speak on the pool terrace of some past-it pop star’s tropical pad. Perhaps it's just me but I was relieved to hear the Blairs would be spending New Year at the Miami holiday home of Bee Gee Robin Gibb. In an odd way it's a sign of New Labour's egalitarian streak. After all, for decades prime ministers and politicians would have been more likely to spend their social lives in the company of the aristocracy or super-rich industrialists or press magnates. Things have come a long way since then. It's only a matter of time before we read about the Camerons holidaying with the Rooneys.

And if the thought of the Blairs seeing in the New Year with a glass-shattering falsetto chorus of Auld Lang Syne gives you the shivers, just think what the alternatives could have been, given some of Tony's other friends. Silvio Berlusconi's villa again? George Bush's Texas ranch? Pebble Beach, California, where Blair was booked last year as the entertainment for various of Rupert Murdoch's senior executives? At least Robin Gibb's jive talking is unlikely to persuade him to start any new wars or shut down the BBC in his final months in office. In fact, on past form, it could be the least dangerous trip he's taken in a while.

Anyway, Ben's back next week, so normal service - whatever that involves - resumes then.

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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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