Bullying blogs and flying Blair

How blogs can be used by bullies, online political campaigning and a rational Stephen Pollard...

Iain Dale kicked off the week by hosting the first ever episode of the internet TV programme ‘Blogger TV’ through 18DoughtyStreet.com. Guests included the blogger of Recess Monkey and Labour Home, Alex Hilton, who featured in Monday morning’s MediaGuardian. The programme is well worth a watch as it discusses “bullying” on blogs and explores the suggestion that people are more likely to be insulting to other users online but would never dream of doing this face-to-face.

Described as a “grassroots political guru”, Alex Hilton has recently been hired by Hilary Benn, in the run-up to the election for the deputy leadership of the Labour party. John Kerry gained support in the 2004 US presidential election through MoveOn.org which has lent some ideas to Benn’s new web strategy. Interactivity will be the primary focus on his new site – a more conversational approach to politics. His site will be launched closer to the election.

Dizzy did a little digging after a cabinet office report was released which suggests the Government is spending over £200 per person on IT. This figure would be far higher if you removed children, the elderly and the unemployed from the calculation.

An off-the-cuff remark from Liam Fox was picked up by Guido Fawkes after a press briefing this week. It is alleged Fox made a suggestion that Poland and Hungary should have their NATO memberships suspended because their defence budgets are too small.

At Incoherent Thoughts there is a poignant reminder of the effect of the latest US attacks in Somalia.

It remains unclear whether or not any of the US’s intended targets have been killed in a series of bombings in the troubled African state.

The global politics blog Whirled View has an interesting story on the outsourcing of US foreign policy in relation to this week’s announcement of the new Iraqi petroleum law.

In a fine example of what blogs do best, Stephen Pollard, who has managed to get his hands on an email written by the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, picks at Jeremy Bowen’s analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He says: “If this is what passes for high-level analysis at the BBC, is it any wonder its reporting is so poisonous?” But its reporting isn’t poisonous Stephen and many in the blogosphere will no doubt attack your rationale if that's the right word.

In a year when the growth of blogging can only spiral Ellee Seymour looks at how bloggers are using advertising to make a quick buck from their online musings. This will increasingly become the case if British politicians follow the trend of their American colleagues.

And for anyone wanting to know just how much they will contribute to the global carbon footprint in 2007, Mark Lynas tells of a new book which gives you all the tools you need to calculate this. Having said this, cynics may point out that Tony Blair did make it clear this week that he wouldn’t be flying any less this year. Will you?

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
Getty
Show Hide image

The struggles of Huma Abedin

On the behind-the-scenes story of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide.

In a dreary campaign, it was a moment that shone: Hillary Clinton, on the road to the caucus in Iowa, stopping at a Mexican fast-food restaurant to eat and somehow passing unrecognised. Americans of all political persuasions gleefully speculated over what her order – a chicken burrito bowl with guacamole – revealed about her frame of mind, while supporters gloated that the grainy security-camera footage seemed to show Clinton with her wallet out, paying for her own lunch. Here was not the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, known to people all over the world. This was someone’s unassuming grandmother, getting some food with her colleagues.

It might be unheard of for Clinton to go unrecognised but, for the woman next to her at the till, blending into the background is part of the job. Huma Abedin, often referred to as Clinton’s “shadow” by the US media, is now the vice-chair of her presidential campaign. She was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the state department and has been a personal aide since the late 1990s.

Abedin first met Clinton in 1996 when she was 19 and an intern at the White House, assigned to the first lady’s office. She was born in Michigan in 1976 to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. When Abedin was two, they moved from the US to Saudi Arabia. She returned when she was 18 to study at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Her father was an Islamic scholar who specialised in interfaith reconciliation – he died when she was 17 – and her mother is a professor of sociology.

While the role of “political body woman” may once have been a kind of modern maid, there to provide a close physical presence and to juggle the luggage and logistics, this is no longer the case. During almost 20 years at Clinton’s side, Abedin has advised her boss on everything from how to set up a fax machine – “Just pick up the phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up” – to policy on the Middle East. When thousands of Clinton’s emails were made public (because she had used a private, rather than a government, server for official communication), we glimpsed just how close they are. In an email from 2009, Clinton tells her aide: “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed.”

Abedin shares something else with Clinton, outside of their professional ties. They are both political wives who have weathered their husbands’ scandals. In what felt like a Lewinsky affair for the digital age, in 2011, Abedin’s congressman husband, Anthony Weiner, resigned from office after it emerged that he had shared pictures of his genitals with strangers on social media. A second similar scandal then destroyed his attempt to be elected mayor of New York in 2013. In an ironic twist, it was Bill Clinton who officiated at Abedin’s and Weiner’s wedding in 2010. At the time, Hillary is reported to have said: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.” Like her boss, Abedin stood by her husband and now Weiner is a house husband, caring for their four-year-old son, Jordan, while his wife is on the road.

Ellie Foreman-Peck

A documentary filmed during Weiner’s abortive mayoral campaign has just been released in the US. Weiner shows Abedin at her husband’s side, curtailing his more chaotic tendencies, always flawless with her red lipstick in place. Speaking to the New York Observer in 2007, three years before their marriage, Weiner said of his future wife: “This notion that Senator Clinton is a cool customer – I mean, I don’t dispute it, but the coolest customer in that whole operation is Huma . . . In fact, I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human.” In the film, watching her preternatural calm under extraordinary pressure, you can see what he means.

In recent months, Abedin’s role has changed. She is still to be found at Clinton’s side – as the burrito photo showed – but she is gradually taking a more visible role in the organisation overall, as they pivot away from the primaries to focus on the national race. She meets with potential donors and endorsers on Clinton’s behalf and sets strategy. When a running mate is chosen, you can be sure that Abedin will have had her say on who it is. There’s a grim symmetry to the way politics looks in the US now: on one side, the Republican candidate Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country; on the other, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton relies ever more on her long-time Muslim-American staffer.

Years before Trump, notable Republicans were trying to make unpleasant capital out of Abedin’s background. In 2012, Tea Party supporters alleged that she was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its attempt to gain access “to top Obama officials”. In her rare interviews, Abedin has spoken of how hurtful these baseless statements were to her family – her mother still lives in Saudi Arabia. Later, the senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke up for her, saying that Abedin represented “what is best about America”.

Whether senior figures in his party would do the same now remains to be seen.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad