Tories sail into stormy waters

What's going on on newstatesman.com plus devastating news of a Tory split. Or is it just a big Camer

This week on newstatesman.com the Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov writes exclusively on Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who related the terrible truth about Soviet totalitarianism in his Gulag Archipelago.

Kurkov observes: "Alexander Isaevich outlived his era and never truly accepted the new ‘post-soviet’ epoch.

"Having sincerely dedicated his life to a desperate struggle against communism, in 1991 Solzhenitsyn suddenly found himself without a battle to fight."

We hear from the great AL Kennedy who has been collecting the Austrian State Prize for European Literature...

"The Austrian Minister for Culture is charming and actually cares about culture and the Austrian prime minister gave me cake – while I tried to assure him my own prime minister would have taken my cake and told me it would be given to the destitute and cake-needy before sneaking it into the cake trough of a cake-spattered man in a mink cake-eating suit. Poor Gordon, though - perhaps soon to be replaced by one or another Miliband. They’re twins, after all. What happens if we get the evil twin? I’ve watched more than enough Hammer horror films to know this is surely a risk."

Only time will tell.

By the way you can see AL Kennedy in person at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Oh and don't miss Hugh O'Shaughnessy having fun with the Colombian statisticians who have elevated their country's president to similar popularity ratings as former Albanian dictator Enva Hoxha.

And check out our series on what Labour needs to do to put itself back on the path to popularity. We've already had contributions from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, plus ex-ministers Denis MacShane and Barbara Roche.

Coming up Nick Raynsford, Iain Gibson and more.

Moving on to a Tory split...

It's being widely reported that the beautiful relationship between Lexus Dave Cameron and George 'Oik' Osborne has sailed into stormy waters over the thorny issue of marriage.

The Tory leader favours tax breaks for married couples, the shadow chancellor does not. The Times - and others - report a substantial disagreement.

Let's just examine this for a minute. Dave Cameron voiced his support for tax breaks for the legally bound (through marriage and civil partnerships) in a nod to tradition in his first speech as Tory leader. He's keen on research that indicates half of those who simply shack up split up before their child's fifth birthday. That's compared to one in 12 married people.

George Osborne reportedly takes the line it's not the state's job to tell people how to live their lives and that all parents should be supported regardless of family structure.

Of course the state (unless the Tories are planning some really sinister changes) wouldn't be telling people how to live their lives but merely encouraging them in a particular direction. But wouldn't it have to be a pretty fantastic tax break to get otherwise unwilling people to tie the knot?

Call me cynical but I smell a bit of a Tory PR cook-up here. Lexus Dave - much photographed family man and hero of traditional values. Oik Osborne - all that is fresh and libertarian about the Conservatives (really, all) but ultimately not in charge. And a policy proposal which is ultimately more gimmick than anything else. They publicise a stand-off. Oik in the end caves in. The leader and tradition prevail.

Is Dave Cameron is hugging the family values husky?

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 most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland