Lords taking liberties?

The best of the politics blogs brought to you by Paul Evans. This week read about the Geert Wilders

Liberty and Lords

Thursday 12th was an unlucky day for Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose absurd hairdo and appalling film-making skills were sent packing at Heathrow.

While few had any time for 'Fitna,' the crude and offensive film that Wilders was hoping to screen in the House of Lords, as a liberty-loving bunch, bloggers were almost universally dismayed by the decision to ban him from entering the UK. The role of Lord Ahmed (a man who merrily hosted the European racist Jöran Jermas) in persuading the Home Office to refused him entry came under particular scrutiny.

On Pickled Politics, Sid contrasted his response with that of the Quilliam Foundation, which: “believes that although many of Wilders’ public statements are bigoted, ill-informed and offensive to people of all faiths, this is not an adequate reason to prevent him from coming to the UK”. He noted:

“Lord Ahmed’s reaction is most certainly a robust denouncement of Wilders. But it resembles too closely for comfort, the ugly gesture of a rabble-rousing feudal oligarch, threatening mob violence against the House of Lords.”

And for Cranmer this was a serious matter indeed. “Lord Ahmed,” he contested, “must be prosescuted for treason”. He sets out the case that Ahmed's indication that he may he rouse a large group of Muslim protestors to prevent the screening of 'Fitna' amounted to the gravest crime in the land:

“There appears to be prima facie evidence of an attempt ‘to intimidate or overawe both Houses or either House of Parliament’ by an ‘overt act or deed’,” he explained.

The Wardman Wire's Carl Gardner also had law on his mind – arguing that the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 have been incorrectly applied, since they refer to the conduct and not the presence of an individual. And on his own blog, Head of Legal, Gardner noted: “I've not heard any comment about this either from Liberty, or from David Davis. Why not? It's a major free speech issue.”

Of the blogs more sympathetic to the government position (and there are precious few), even The Osterley Times could not endorse Wilders' ban, though it accepted that: “...the government were probably concerned about the level of anger he might generate as he did so. So one can find many arguments for and against him being allowed entry”.

The film was screened, despite Wilders' absence.

What have we learned this week?

Much glee from Guido and Dizzy, at David Hencke's revelation that Derek Draper phrased details of his Berkeley education with what appeared to be calculated ambiguity. Draper has now set up his own personal blog to deal exclusively with the endless pisstaking. I wonder whether he was at Wellington with Lord Archer?

Around the World

Lester Ho is a Malaysian student studying in Japan. This week his blog carries photos of a protest in Shinjuku against the economic policies of prime minister Taro Aso. “Back in my country, Protesting is illegal and you need a special permit (which you hardly can obtain one from the government or police),” he writes.

Video of the Week

On Playpolitical you can watch Sky News' head to head between Lords Pearson and Ahmed.

Quote of the Week

“Without open debate, falsehood and bigotry can fester in dark nether-regions, safe from the severe scrutiny of mainstream society. Once subjected to free debate, most of the most odious ideas will wither and die.”

Stephen Farrington.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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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