Take that Marks and Spencers...

A one-man consumer boycott, Tony Benn, Zac Goldsmith, the BBC cat and other issues...

We've got rather a lovely little spat underway here at newstatesman.com. It all stems from Sian Berry's reaction to the Conservative Party's Quality of Life review put together by Tory A-lister Zac Goldsmith and ex-cabinet minister John Gummer.

A few days after we posted Sian's blog Zac responded accusing her of not even reading the report.

Well NS blogger and Green Party London mayoral candidate wasn't taking that lying down and was soon tapping away at her keyboard. Why not have a read of her retort? Obviously I've offered ZG a right of reply so watch this space in case there are more developments....

Next I'd like to highlight the very welcome return of Simon Munnery. He's back and on first rate form pondering the role of the telly chef in modern Britain.

"Chefs always use 'the finest ingredients'. Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t a great chef be able to create a decent meal out of mediocre ingredients? Where do chefs get off anyway taking the credit for food; they didn’t make it after all - they only heated it up, chopped it and slapped it on a plate," he writes.

This week we've also had fantastic contribution to our Faith Column from Onkar Ghate. He writes on Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.

Now, in the closing weeks of September parts of Britain erupt into something of a frenzy as the politicians return from their (very) long summer breaks and, presumably to recoup from time with their families, head to the seaside.

Actually the whole thing begins with the TUC sometime in September and finally ends in the first week of October with the Tories.

Well throughout all of this we've been running the New Statesman Conference Blog.

Next week Labour descends on Bournemouth so look out for a mixture of MPs, union members and activists in the coming days. Tony Benn kicks off our coverage on Sunday...

Finally, I had some extremely upsetting news this week. You may (or may not) have read my article in the mag on Pavarotti and how no-one slept in 1990. Well towards the end I cite Take That as one of the reasons the nineties didn't live up to their early promise.

Now I've just discovered that Marks and Spencer are to use the far from fabulous four in an advertising campaign so I'm afraid I shan't be able to shop there anymore.

Mind you I don't anticipate a huge downturn in M&S profits. I've been boycotting Crunchie bars for about 16 years - ever since the commercial featuring a peculiarly annoying chap wearing a ginger wig - and so far as I know the Cadbury company still flourishes.

Finally, viewers wanted to call the new Blue Peter cat 'Cookies'. The BBC fixed it so the animal was named Socks. Now heads have rolled and the corporation is making amends by getting a kitten that will be called Cookies. Oh the seamless art of PR.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era