The Tory revolt against Osborne grows

You can't blame the eurozone for our recession, MPs tell the Chancellor.

Labour and Tory MPs might disagree on the solutions to Britain's economic woes but they increasingly agree on one thing: the eurozone crisis is not to blame. That's bad news for George Osborne, who yesterday claimed in the Sunday Telegraph that Britain's economic recovery was being "killed off" by the continent. Yet the eurozone, unlike Britain, is not officially in recession, so it's largely erroneous to blame it for our  double-dip. The collapse of economic growth (in the final quarter of 2010) pre-dated the current crisis. Rather, it was the inevitable consequence of Osborne's austerity measures and his claim that Britain was on "the brink of bankruptcy", a statement that had a chilling effect on consumer confidence

Tory MP Douglas Carswell led the charge against the Chancellor yesterday, declaring in a caustic blog post that "It is not the Eurozone crisis that we should blame for our awful economic performance, but the almost total absence of domestic economic reform, coupled with the Treasury's absurd belief that monetary stimulus can engineer growth." Switzerland, he noted, which does four times more trade with the Eurozone than we manage, grew at two per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2012.

Today he is joined by others from the party, with David Ruffley, an MP and member of the Treasury Select Committee, observing that "We can’t just say the eurozone is destroying confidence in the UK and nothing can be done". Tory peer Michael Forsyth argues: "Of course market conditions are difficult but I think George really needs to address urgently are the tax burden. One of the reasons we are not getting growth is the level of the tax burden and degree of cost imposed on competitiveness by excessive regulation."

While Labour argues for Keynesian stimulus and Tory MPs push for a supply-side revolution, the key is that neither now believes the status quo is tenable. That leaves Osborne, who often appears to have subcontracted the task of promoting growth to the Bank of England ("we are fiscal conservatives, but monetary activists," he is fond of remarking), increasingly isolated. With his reputation as a political strategist also in free-fall after the Budget, it is now hard to find a Conservative MP with a good word to say about the man once touted as a future party leader. In particular, they are rightly infuriated by Osborne's decision to join David Cameron's US junket just a week before the Budget.

Unfortunately for Osborne, who is known in Westminster as "the submarine" for his habit of vanishing when the government is under-fire, he won't be able to avoid scrutiny this week. He will appear at the Leveson inquiry this afternoon (following Gordon Brown's appearance this morning), a chance to remind everyone just who hired Andy Coulson, and will deliver his annual Mansion House address on Thursday. If Osborne's stock is not to plummet any further, then, for once, he will need to provide answers, not excuses.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear