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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How should Labour's disgruntled moderates behave?

The price for loyalty looks like being long-term opposition. Sometimes exiting can be brave.

When Albert O. Hirschman was writing Exit, Voice, Loyalty: Responses to decline in Firms, Organizations, and States he wasn’t thinking of the British Labour Party.  That doesn’t mean, though, that one of the world’s seminal applications of economics to politics can’t help us clarify the options open to the 80 to 90 per cent of Labour MPs who, after another week of utter chaos, are in total despair at what’s happening under Jeremy Corbyn.

According to Hirschman, people in their situation have essentially three choices – all of which stand some chance, although there are no guarantees, of turning things around sooner or later.

The first option is simply to get the hell out: exit, after all, can send a pretty powerful, market-style signal to those at the top that things are going wrong and that something has to change.

The second option is to speak up and shout out: if the leadership’s not listening then complaining loudly might mean they get the message.

The third option is to sit tight and shut up, believing that if the boat isn’t rocked it will somehow eventually make it safely to port.

Most Labour MPs have so far plumped for the third course of action.  They’ve battened down the hatches and are waiting for the storm to pass.  In some ways, that makes sense.  For one thing, Labour’s rules and Corbyn’s famous ‘mandate’ make him difficult to dislodge, and anyone seen to move against him risks deselection by angry activists.

For another, there will be a reckoning – a general election defeat so bad that it will be difficult even for diehards to deny there’s a problem: maybe Labour has to do ‘déjà vu all over again’ and lose like it did in 1983 in order to come to its senses. The problem, however, is that this scenario could still see it stuck in opposition for at least a decade. And that’s presuming that the left hasn’t so effectively consolidated its grip on the party that it can’t get out from under.

That’s presumably why a handful of Labour MPs have gone for option two – voice.  Michael Dugher, John Woodcock, Kevan Jones, Wes Streeting and, of course, John Mann have made it pretty clear they think the whole thing’s a mess and that something – ideally Jeremy Corbyn and those around him – has to give.  They’re joined by others – most recently Stephen Kinnock, who’s talked about the party having to take ‘remedial action’ if its performance in local elections turns out to be as woeful as some are suggesting.  And then of course there are potential leadership challengers making none-too-coded keynote speeches and public appearances (both virtual and real), as well as a whole host of back and frontbenchers prepared to criticise Corbyn and those around him, but only off the record.

So far, however, we’ve seen no-one prepared to take the exit option – or at least to go the whole hog. Admittedly, some, like Emma Reynolds, Chuka Umunna, Dan Jarvis, Yvette Cooper, and Rachel Reeves, have gone halfway by pointedly refusing to serve in Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet.  But nobody has so far declared their intention to leave politics altogether or to quit the party, either to become an independent or to try to set up something else.

The latter is easily dismissed as a pipe-dream, especially in the light of what happened when Labour moderates tried to do it with the SDP in the eighties.  But maybe it’s time to think again.  After all, in order to refuse even to contemplate it you have to believe that the pendulum will naturally swing back to Labour at a time when, all over Europe, the centre-left looks like being left behind by the march of time and when, in the UK, there seems precious little chance of a now shrunken, predominantly public-sector union movement urging the party back to the centre ground in the same way that its more powerful predecessors did back in the fifties and the late-eighties and nineties. 

Maybe it’s also worth wondering whether those Labour MPs who left for the SDP could and should have done things differently.  Instead of simply jumping ship in relatively small numbers and then staying in parliament, something much bolder and much more dramatic is needed.  What if over one hundred current Labour MPs simultaneously declared they were setting up ‘Real Labour’?  What if they simultaneously resigned from the Commons and then simultaneously fought scores of by-elections under that banner?

To many, even to ask the question is to answer it. The obstacles – political, procedural, and financial – are formidable and forbidding.  The risks are huge and the pay-off massively uncertain.  Indeed, the whole idea can be swiftly written off as a thought-experiment explicitly designed to demonstrate that nothing like it will ever come to pass.

On the other hand, Labour MPs, whether we use Hirschman’s three-way schema or not, are fast running out of options.  The price for loyalty looks like being long-term opposition.  Voice can only do so much when those you’re complaining about seem – in both senses of the word – immovable.  Exit, of course, can easily be made to seem like the coward’s way out. Sometimes, however, it really is the bravest and the best thing to do.

Tim Bale is professor of politics at QMUL. His latest book, Five Year Mission, chronicles Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour party.