Preview: NS Interview with Gore Vidal

On David Cameron, Barack Obama and why he thinks America is heading for dictatorship.

On David Cameron, Barack Obama and why he thinks America is heading for dictatorship.

Melvyn Bragg has interviewed the American author Gore Vidal many times over the years – including for three separate South Bank Show films.

For his guest-edit of this week's New Statesman, Bragg called Vidal at his home in Los Angeles, where Vidal claimed to be working on perfecting "the telephone essay".

The resulting interview is a wide-ranging conversation, replete with Vidal's usual wit, that covers his life and career. But perhaps – as always – his political views are the most striking.

Here is what he had to say about the Republican Party:

These are the small-town enemies of everybody. They just dislike everyone. They couldn't come out and say: "We don't want a black president" – we've finally got past that roadblock. So what they did was set out to slaughter the opposition party, the Democrats.

Vidal's contention is that Obama's opponents, motivated by racism, have set out to discredit him:

Repetition. They keep saying he's really a terrorist and they even deny he's black. He's obviously brown in some way – a vicious way – because we know what they are like; those are terrorists.

This febrile political atmosphere, combined with economic turmoil, is a recipe for disaster:

I should not in the least be surprised if there were a kind of dictatorship at the end of the road, which seems to be coming more and more quickly as we lose more and more wars.

Vidal also gave his verdict on Britain's current Prime Minister:

Have you any opinion on our new Downing Street tenant, Mr Cameron?
You do like to adjust to types. You've got all the right types you should have for government in this adorable Tory. He's everything we thought Bertie Wooster was – and God knows we worship Bertie Wooster, in the form of Hugh Laurie.

And there is a warning for Britain, too, over the direction of its foreign policy:

Anybody who tries to hang on to America's coat-tails is going to find himself up to his eyeballs in, well, deceit and corruption. This is the crookedest place on earth – and I never thought I would go that far, having been to many other countries at least south of our borders.

You can read the full interview in this week's magazine.

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Inside a shaken city: “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city’s residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station – which backs on to the arena – was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. On Monday night, with a capacity crowd of 18,000, the venue was packed with young people from around the country – at least 22 of whom will never come home. At about 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents – the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swaths of police descended, shutting off the main city-centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street – closed off at Exchange Square – was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground as officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island when an alert came over the Tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door on to the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me. “We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack. “We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city. We were watching it all this morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “We were too young to really understand.”

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“There's nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before – but so long ago that the stunned city-dwellers are at a loss. In a city that feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat.

“We saw armed police on the streets – there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say, “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and at a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the north.

But the community values that Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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