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 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'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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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbott and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.