Hitler's head

Goodbye Sian Berry, the 150th anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst plus Tom Quinn, our Mormon correspon

First my thanks to Sian Berry who has been a regular contributor on newstatesman.com since we relaunched on 30 November 2006.

Having spent a great deal of the past 18 months in the public eye as Green co-principal speaker and then as their candidate in the London mayoral elections, she is off to work in a key role in her party's press office. We wish her well. You can read her final blog entry here.

Another farewell goes to Tom Quinn who came over here from California to do a work placement. Tom is an excellent writer who turned his wry gaze on both his own religion, Mormonism, but also on a number of other subjects including the curious tale of Stuart Hill
who declared his remote island in the Shetlands to be independent of the United Kingdom to the Voodoo-esque religion of Umbanda.

Look out too for our article on the suffragettes. To mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Emmeline Pankhurst we asked author Frances Pugh to write on the contribution of the Women's Social and Political Union and that of Mrs Pankhurst in particular.

Now, news someone ripped the head off Hitler's figure in the Berlin Tussauds put me in a brief reverie.

hitler

Hitler's head was ripped off at the Berlin branch of Madame Tussauds

For, a few years ago, I spent some time working at the more famous London branch of the waxworks museum.

It was 1993 and, thanks to the combined efforts of John Major and Norman Lamont, the only job I could find after graduating was as a 'guide'.

This basically meant standing for hours on end saying 'Don't touch that' to irritating tourists as they tried to feel up Kylie Minogue. Every half an hour someone would come up to you and prod you in the ribs saying: "Are you real?". It was really, really funny.

In the Baker Street Tussauds was a Hitler too but he was kept behind a glass case for fear of people spitting on him.

In another room there was a likeness of Yasser Arafat and one day a party of Orthodox Israelis came round the museum and lined up to be photographed throttling him and - despite my best efforts - Yasser looked quite dishevelled by the end.

He kept his head though.

Of course the Berlin episode continues because the ever-adept marketing lot at Tussauds are insisting on courting more controversy by sticking the fuhrer's head back on.

I think they should stop counting euros for a few minutes and consider the remark by a German MP, Frank Zimmermann, who said the decapitation was of much more artistic value than putting it on display in the first place.

There's not much room for art in a waxworks museum though.

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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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.