If I were Tory leader and other matters

Goldsmith, the Greens, Miss World, Water Wars plus if one was given the opportunity to rule...

What do you think of Miss World? Is it a bit of a joke? A relic from the sexist past? Or something that enforces a negative stereotype of women? With contestants due to don their bikinis in China this weekend we asked Bea Campbell and Ruth Lea to debate Miss World. Have a read and then why not add your thoughts?

This week we've also had an article on British citizenship. Lord Goldsmith has been asked by Gordon Brown to conduct a review of the issue which will report next March. Writing exclusively for newstatesman.com the ex-attorney general argued diversity needs to combine with a shared sense of belonging.

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas meanwhile hailed a UN report and issued a warning that when it comes to climate change we've got just 10 years.

Professor Liz Kelly revealed some horrific truths about the postcode lottery women face when they seek support in the wake of rape or domestic violence.

Have a look at her article to find the link to the Map of the Gaps.

And Fred Pearce, in association with the World Development Movement (WDM), provided us with a fascinating article on the danger posed to humanity by Water Wars.

Incidentally, look out next week as we work with the WDM to bring you coverage of the Bali conference.

And don't forget Martin Bright's blog for regular updates about the Labour donor crisis

Now turning to other matters...

The other day my wife woke and told me she'd dreamt I'd just been elected Tory leader and, I can't lie, it got me thinking...

Like my predecessors, I would take election as a given - the Conservatives are, after all, the natural party of government and it is a right, not a privilege, to serve.

I'd re-open all the mines just to shut them down again, destroying whole communities then abandoning them to their fate. There's nothing like a little adversity to bring out the spirit of the Blitz.

The nation could indulge in an expensive but unnecessary round of arms buying bolstering our existing reputation as a great country: Falklands + Gibraltar = an empire, as I always say.

Incentives would be put back into some workplaces - I'm particularly thinking of the Square Mile - including the legalisation of tax evasion for those earning more than £120,000 a year - they work hard, so why should the state steal from them?

I'd ban Ken Livingstone, again.

When things begin to pear-shaped with the economy, as they surely will, I'd embark on a round of tax cuts the country can ill afford.

Obviously interest rates would be ratchetted up to 15% in a bid to tackle the aforementioned the effects of my reckless tax cuts and to punish people who have bought property with a mortgage rather than inherited it. Here there would be the additional benefit of rewarding savers or 'legatees'.

Introduce systemic unemployment of no less than 3 million helping to drive down the wages of the wider workforce. All the evidence I'm prepared to listen to suggests poverty pay drives up productivity.

Privatise social services, abolish the NHS, increase illiteracy and ban Scottish and Welsh MPs from voting. At all.

Bring back hanging.

Now there's a programme all Tories can really get behind. You wouldn't catch me hugging a husky, cycling in front of a large Lexus 4x4 or walking unsteadily on the moral high ground. Oh no.

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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The Tories play Game of Thrones while the White Walkers from Brussels advance

The whole premise of the show is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

If you’re a fan of asking “who’s that, then?” and “is that the one who killed the other one’s brother?”, I bring great news. Game of Thrones is back for a seventh series. Its vast assortment of characters was hard enough to keep track of before half of them got makeovers. But now the new Queen Cersei has reacted to the arrival of the long winter by investing heavily in the kind of leather ball gowns sold by goth shops in Camden, and Euron Greyjoy, once a fairly bland sailor, has come back as a Halloween costume version of Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, all eyeliner and epaulettes.

The show’s reliance on British character actors is the only thing keeping me vaguely on top of the cast list: what’s Diana Rigg up to these days in Highgarden? And what about that guy who was in Downton Abbey that time, who now has the scaly arms? (Luckily, the next thing I watched after the Game of Thrones series premiere was the first two episodes of the revived Twin Peaks, which put my confusion into perspective. There, Agent Cooper spent most of his time talking to a pulsating bladder attached to one of those fake trees you get from Ikea when your landlord won’t let you have real plants.)

The day-to-day business of Game of Thrones has always been power – answering the question of who will sit on the Iron Throne, forged by Aegon the Conqueror from the swords of his defeated enemies. But its backdrop is a far bigger threat: the arrival of a winter that will last many years, and the invasion of an army of the undead.

That might seem like an unkind way to think about Michel Barnier and his fellow Brexit negotiators – inexorably marching towards us, briefing papers in hand, while Liam Fox frantically rings a bell at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel – but nonetheless, the whole premise of Game of Thrones is a pretty good metaphor for the current state of British politics.

The current internal Conservative struggle for power might be vicious but it is at least familiar to its contestants; they know which weapons to deploy, which alliances are vital, who owes them a favour. Meanwhile, the true challenge facing every one of them is too frightening to contemplate.

In 2013, this magazine celebrated the early success of the show with a cover depicting one of our terrifying painted mash-ups: “The Tory Game of Thrones.” Our casting has been strangely vindicated. George Osborne was our Jaime Lannister – once the kind of uncomplicated bastard who would push a child out of a window but now largely the purveyor of waspish remarks about other, worse characters. Our Cersei was Theresa May, who spent the early seasons of The Cameron Era in a highly visible but underwritten role. Now, she has just seized power, only to discover herself beset by enemies on all sides. (Plus, Jeremy Corbyn as the High Sparrow would quite like her to walk penitently through the streets while onlookers cry “shame!”)

Michael Gove was our Tyrion Lannister, the kind of man who would shoot his own father while the guy was on the loo (or run a rival’s leadership campaign only to detonate it at the last minute). Jeremy Hunt was Jon Snow, slain by the brotherhood of the Night Shift at A&E, only in this case still waiting for resurrection.

The comparison falls down a bit at Boris Johnson as Daenerys Targaryen, as the former London mayor has not, to my knowledge, ever married a horse lord or hired an army of eunuchs, but it feels like the kind of thing he might do.

We didn’t have David Davis on there – hated by the old king, David Camareon, he was at the time banished to the back benches. Let’s retrospectively appoint him Euron Greyjoy, making a suspiciously seductive offer to Queen Cersei. (Philip Hammond is Gendry, in that most of the country can’t remember who he is but feel he might turn out to be important later.)

That lengthy list shows how Conservative infighting suffers from the same problem that the Game of Thrones screenwriters wrestle with: there are so many characters, and moving the pieces round the board takes up so much time and energy, that we’re in danger of forgetting why it matters who wins. In the books, there is more space to expound on the politics. George R R Martin once said that he came away from The Lord of The Rings asking: “What was Aragorn’s tax policy?” (The author added: “And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?”)

Martin’s fantasy vision also feels relevant to the Tories because its power struggles aren’t about an “endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes”. Instead, everyone is flawed. In Westeros, as in the Conservative Party, it can be difficult to decide who you want to triumph. Sure, Daenerys might seem enlightened, but she watched her brother have molten gold poured down his throat; plucky Arya Stark might tip over from adorable assassin into full-blown psychopath. Similarly, it’s hard to get worked up about the accusation that Philip Hammond said that driving a train was so easy “even a woman” could do it, when David Davis marked his last leadership campaign by posing alongside women in tight T-shirts reading “It’s DD for me”.

The only big difference from the show is that in real life I have sympathy for Barnier and the White Walkers of Brussels. Still, maybe it will turn out that the undead of Game of Thrones are tired of the Seven Kingdoms throwing their weight around and are only marching south to demand money before negotiating a trade deal? That’s the kind of plot twist we’re all waiting for.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder