Kirst when it comes to TV talent

A nomination, a load of new content and the perils of indulging in nepotism

Such a long time has elapsed since I wrote my last blog that I scarcely know where to begin. So let's start with some blatant self-congratulations.

A few days back we were told newstatesman.com is up for an award at the British Society of Magazine Editors annual bash in November.

We're up against the websites of the Radio Times, GQ, Now and various others. All very gratifying and a recognition of how much our very small team has achieved in the space of little more than a year.

Meanwhile we're not resting on our laurels - there's been something of a commissioning frenzy here at Terminal House, home of the NS.

In the past week alone we've published articles from SDP founder turned Lib Dem peer Bill Rodgers. He warned his party not to become a pressure group. We've had debate going on about the Turkish genocide of Armenians. It began with the Armenian ambassador saying there was one. Someone from the Turkish embassy then replied saying there wasn't. Either way it provoked a lot of responses from our readers.

Brian Coleman, meanwhile, has been at it again. This time he's been upsetting the Turkish Cypriot population of North London after writing a blog in wholehearted support of the Greek perspective on the divided island.

It's been quite a week for the Nobel Laureates what with Doris Lessing's remarks about the Twin Towers and James Watson comments on race and genetics.

We asked Open University and UCL academic and genetics expert Steven Rose to dismantle Watson's assertions.

Heard of Arigona Zogaj? She's a 15-year-old Albanian Kosovan who went into hiding when her father and siblings were deported from Austria. Her case had the most extraordinary effect with media across the political spectrum condemning her treatment. At the heart of the campaign was Austrian Green Party chairman Alexander Van der Bellen.

Alexander kindly wrote us an article about Arigona and what her experience demonstrates about the way we approach immigration policy in Europe.

We’ve also had articles about the Swiss elections, class, the Chagos Islands and more.

Next week we're joining up with the Fabians for their Not the general election night - we've done a ring around asking a range of people what they think Gordon Brown should put in his manifesto so have a look out for that.

Anyway I was watching a bit of a TV the other night. It was a programme to find out the worst place to live in Britain.

It was live and presenters Phil and Kirsty fluffed their lines throughout and then - just when you thought it couldn't get any worse - we were whisked off to Middlesbrough to meet Kirsty's sister.

It turned out the north eastern town was the worst place to live. However, it was unclear how much things would improve once Kirst II finished patronising the locals and headed back to Fulham.

I wrote in an earlier blog about how, with so many actors out of work at any given time, it was amazing they managed to find the desert of talent that makes up the Eastenders cast. Talk about deja vu!

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.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ken Livingstone says publicly what many are saying privately: tomorrow belongs to John McDonnell

The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as a frontrunner should another Labour leadership election happen. 

“It would be John.” Ken Livingstone, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal allies in the media, has said publicly what many are saying privately: if something does happen to Corbyn, or should he choose to step down, place your bets on John McDonnell. Livingstone, speaking to Russia Today, said that if Corbyn were "pushed under a bus", John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would be the preferred candidate to replace him.

Even among the Labour leader’s allies, speculation is rife as to if the Islington North MP will lead the party into the 2020 election. Corbyn would be 71 in 2020 – the oldest candidate for Prime Minister since Clement Attlee lost the 1955 election aged 72.

While Corbyn is said to be enjoying the role at present, he still resents the intrusion of much of the press and dislikes many of the duties of the party leader. McDonnell, however, has impressed even some critics with his increasingly polished TV performances and has wowed a few sceptical donors. One big donor, who was thinking of pulling their money, confided that a one-on-one chat with the shadow chancellor had left them feeling much happier than a similar chat with Ed Miliband.

The issue of the succession is widely discussed on the left. For many, having waited decades to achieve a position of power, pinning their hopes on the health of one man would be unforgivably foolish. One historically-minded trade union official points out that Hugh Gaitskell, at 56, and John Smith, at 55, were 10 and 11 years younger than Corbyn when they died. In 1994, the right was ready and had two natural successors in the shape of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in place. In 1963, the right was unprepared and lost the leadership to Harold Wilson, from the party's centre. "If something happens, or he just decides to call it a day, [we have to make sure] it will be '94 not '63," they observed.

While McDonnell is just two years younger than Corbyn, his closest ally in politics and a close personal friend, he is seen by some as considerably more vigorous. His increasingly frequent outings on television have seen him emerge as one of the most adept media performers from the Labour left, and he has won internal plaudits for his recent tussles with George Osborne over the tax bill.

The left’s hopes of securing a non-Corbyn candidate on the ballot have been boosted in recent weeks. The parliamentary Labour party’s successful attempt to boot Steve Rotheram off the party’s ruling NEC, while superficially a victory for the party’s Corbynsceptics, revealed that the numbers are still there for a candidate of the left to make the ballot. 30 MPs voted to keep Rotheram in place, with many MPs from the left of the party, including McDonnell, Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John Trickett, abstaining.

The ballot threshold has risen due to a little-noticed rule change, agreed over the summer, to give members of the European Parliament equal rights with members of the Westminster Parliament. However, Labour’s MEPs are more leftwing, on the whole, than the party in Westminster . In addition, party members vote on the order that Labour MEPs appear on the party list, increasing (or decreasing) their chances of being re-elected, making them more likely to be susceptible to an organised campaign to secure a place for a leftwinger on the ballot.

That makes it – in the views of many key players – incredibly likely that the necessary 51 nominations to secure a place on the ballot are well within reach for the left, particularly if by-election selections in Ogmore, where the sitting MP, is standing down to run for the Welsh Assembly, and Sheffield Brightside, where Harry Harpham has died, return candidates from the party’s left.

McDonnell’s rivals on the left of the party are believed to have fallen short for one reason or another. Clive Lewis, who many party activists believe could provide Corbynism without the historical baggage of the man himself, is unlikely to be able to secure the nominations necessary to make the ballot.

Any left candidate’s route to the ballot paper runs through the 2015 intake, who are on the whole more leftwing than their predecessors. But Lewis has alienated many of his potential allies, with his antics in the 2015 intake’s WhatsApp group a sore point for many. “He has brought too much politics into it,” complained one MP who is also on the left of the party. (The group is usually used for blowing off steam and arranging social events.)

Lisa Nandy, who is from the soft left rather than the left of the party, is widely believed to be in the running also, despite her ruling out any leadership ambitions in a recent interview with the New Statesman.However, she would represent a break from the Corbynite approach, albeit a more leftwing one than Dan Jarvis or Hilary Benn.

Local party chairs in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is profiling should another leadership election arise. One constituency chair noted to the New Statesman that: “you could tell who was going for it [last time], because they were desperate to speak [at events]”. Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall all visited local parties across the country in preparation for their election bids in 2015.

Now, speaking to local party activists, four names are mentioned more than any other: Dan Jarvis, currently on the backbenches, but in whom the hopes – and the donations – of many who are disillusioned by the current leadership are invested, Gloria De Piero, who is touring the country as part of the party’s voter registration drive, her close ally Jon Ashworth, and John McDonnell.

Another close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell, who worked closely on the leadership election, is in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is gearing up for a run should the need arise.  “You remember when that nice Mr Watson went touring the country? Well, pay attention to John’s movements.”

As for his chances of success, McDonnell may well be even more popular among members than Corbyn himself. He is regularly at or near the top of LabourList's shadow cabinet rankings, and is frequently praised by members. Should he be able to secure the nominations to get on the ballot, an even bigger victory than that secured by Corbyn in September is not out of the question.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.