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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The Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election shows Labour has more than Ukip to fear

The party has a Liberal Democrat problem as well. 

Brexit giveth, and Brexit taketh away. The Conservatives have won a thumping victory in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election. The numbers that matter:

  • Caroline Johnson (Conservative)  53.5%
  • Victoria Ayling (Ukip) 13.5%
  • Ross Pepper (Liberal Democrat) 11%
  • Jim Clarke (Labour) 10.2%

It's one of the Tory party's best by-election performances while in government - their vote share still above 50 per cent and miles ahead of their nearest competitors. What will make the victory even sweeter is what's happened to the Labour vote - a seven point fall in their share of the vote, and a collapse from second place to fourth. 

But for all the hype around Paul Nuttall and how he was set to transform Ukip into a Labour-killer, that party's vote share is down too - it's only the collapse in Labour's vote that has allowed them to take second, rather than any great uptick in that party's fortunes. 

The only party with anything to cheer about - other than the Conservatives - are the Liberal Democrats, continuing their post-referendum pattern of astonishing revival. What many seem to have misunderstood: even in places like Hykeham, which backed Brexit by a heavy margin, the Remain vote is significantly larger than the Liberal one. If they can hold onto to their 2015 vote and add Remain votes from Tory and Labour, they can hope for real gains at the next election. (Of particular significance - in the South West, the Labour and Green vote they need to take back seats from the Conservatives, tends to have voted Remain on 23 June.)

What's increasingly clear: the further anti-immigration turn of Theresa May's government has fixed the Conservatives' Ukip problem, but they've acquired a Liberal Democrat one.  Labour, meanwhile, hasn't fixed its Ukip problem and now as a Liberal Democrat one to match. 

Blairites used to worry that Ed Miliband was pursuing a 35 per cent strategy (the Labour vote in 2010 topped up with disgruntled Liberal Democrats). It's fairly clear that Theresa May has decided to pitch her tent towards the 52 per cent who voted Leave, while Tim Farron is going for the 48 per cent who decided to Remain. What Labour wants is to talk about their plans to fix the British economy and negotiate a better Brexit than the Conservatives can. That has the advantage of not putting further pressure on the splits in the parliamentary Labour party and the divide in the party's electoral coalition. The real risk, however, is what they've ended up with is a zero per cent strategy.

Downing Street has disavowed remarks made by Boris Johnson, this time about the Middle East. The Foreign Secretary said Saudi Arabia was "twisting and abusing" Islam and acting as a "puppeteer" in the region. It's a further rift between Downing Street and the FCO. "Saudi row wides Boris rift with May" is the Telegraph's splash.

HELPING HANDS

Greg Hands and Mark Field have been tasked with secretly wooing other centre-right parties and MEPs ahead of Brexit talks, the FT reveals.

DR FRANKENSTEIN TO VILLAGERS: I'VE GOT THIS

Jon Lansman has vowed to stay and fight for the future Momentum, the pro-Corbyn organisation he founded, which has split into open division over its rules and structures. Rajeev Syal has the details in the Guardian.

HEY! THERESA! LEAVE THEM KIDS ALONE!

Children from families that are "just about managing" (earning £18-21k a year) are significantly less likely to gain entrance to a grammar school than their wealthier peers, a new report by the Sutton Trust has found. Julia has the details.

YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME, I'M WITH THE UNION

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, a civil service union, has chastised Theresa May for criticising civil servants in a recent interview, saying that "few definitions of leadership include criticising your overworked and underpaid staff".

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Amelia finds out what it's like to share a name with a hate figure online.

CHRISTMAS APPEAL

This year's NS Christmas charity is Lumos. JK Rowling, its founder and the author of the Harry Potter books, talks about its work with Eddie Redmayne here. If you can, please donate here.

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This originally appeared in today's Morning Call: get it in your inboxes Monday through Friday - sign up here.

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