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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Why Zac Goldsmith's defeat matters

Today's Morning Call. 

The Liberal Democrats have won a remarkable victory in Richmond Park. The numbers that matter:

Sarah Olney (Liberal Democrat) 20,510 (49 per cent)

Zac Goldsmith (Nominally independent but let’s face it Tory) 18,638 (45 per cent)

Christian Wolmar (Labour) 1,515 (4 per cent)

It’s a 23 per cent swing to the Liberal Democrats and a 30 per cent increase in their vote. It’s a shot in the arm for Tim Farron’s team, and a hammer blow to Theresa May. Yes, Goldsmith may have worn a different rosette for this one, but he had the covert support of the Conservatives nationally and their overt support locally.

What does it all mean? The Richmond result means that Tory backbenchers now know that Brexit is putting jobs at risk: theirs. We now know for certain, that the pattern we witnessed in the Witney by-election and in local results, that the Liberal Democrats are doing well in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote in June, is not a fluke. It is a trend. 

What matters though is perhaps not whether the Liberal Democrats can cohere the 22 per cent of voters who believe the referendum should be overturned behind their flag. What matters is that Brexit appears to have cleansed the Liberal Democrats of the sins of coalition, at least as far as Labour voters are concerned. That party’s vote share, which went up in most Conservative-Liberal battlegrounds in 2015, was well down in Richmond Park last night, with Wolmar losing his deposit. 

And that really should spook Conservative MPs. Because while seats that voted Remain in a landslide are rare, Conservative seats which the Liberal Democrats held in 2010 where the Labour vote in third place is bigger than the Tory majority…aren’t.

FLAN-BYE
French President Francois Hollande has announced that he will not be a candidate in next year’s French presidential election and will not contest the Socialist Party’s primary. In practice, it may mean less than we think for next year’s election. Arnaud Montebourg, the former minister from the party’s left,  looked likely to beat Hollande in the primary any way and starts as the favourite against Manuel Valls, the sitting Prime Minister, and great hope of the party’s right flank. Anne-Sylvaine Chassany has a potted history of Hollande’s rise and fall.

PAY TO PLAY

David Davis has admitted that the government is considering continuing to pay into the EU’s budget after Brexit in order to secure access to the single market, as Morning Call readers first read way back in September.  “Davis backs soft Brexit in blow to hardliners” is the Times’ splash.

IDS’ LAST HORCRUX

David Freud, the Conservative peer and architect of the Universal Credit, has retired from the government. I’m told that Freud’s retirement is genuinely the result of his personal preferences, not a commentary on the troubled UC programme. I explain what its future might be in greater detail here.

ALREADY INTEGRATING, ACTUALLY

93 per cent of British Muslims feel a “fairly” or “very strong” attachment to Britain and, just as with the rest of the population, identify the NHS, unemployment and immigration as the biggest issues facing the country. More than half want to “fully integrate”. The findings are part of a ICM survey commissioned by Policy Exchange, the centre-right think tank. The full Policy Exchange report can be read here.

TONY BLAIR’S INSTITUTE FOR ENDANGERED SPECIES

Tony Blair has launched a new institute to “inform and support the practising politician”, aiming to boost support for the pro-globalisation centre. Julia has the details.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Tom interviews Zadie Smith about multiculturalism, cultural appropriation and her new novel Swing Time.

MUST READS

George on why Richmond Park will scare Tory MPs

Paul Nuttall plans to destroy Labour. Helen asks if he can succeed

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.