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.

Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to fight anti-Semitism - now he needs to deal with Jackie Walker

The vice-chair of Jewish Labour and the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn on the party's need to tackle anti-Jewish feeling. 

For all those who have a stake in Labour’s future, the deterioration in the party's support from the Jewish community has been painful to watch.

How did we get to the point where incidents of anti-Jewish hate are being unearthed on a weekly basis? How did we get to the point at which an official rally against anti-Semitism within our own party was necessary?

Far too many individuals have been made to feel unwelcome. When one Jewish member feels hostility towards them for being Jewish, it should be a concern for us all. When the overwhelming majority of a community’s leaders, institutions and membership tell us they collectively feel affronted, deep soul-searching must take place.

In his conference speech, Jeremy Corbyn was passionate on the need to tackle all forms of bigotry. By using his platform to demand that Labour “fights hatred against Jewish people with every breath in our body”, he has set a new standard that all levels of the party must adhere to. He has talked the talk, now he must help Labour walk the walk.

The standard he has set must be applied without fear or favour. It can begin with the vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker.

At conference, she told an event: "In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?” and stated that "still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with". She also questioned why Jewish schools need special security.

It cannot be permissible for Labour members to allege that Holocaust Memorial Day has somehow become the sole preserve of the Jewish community at the expense of others. Similarly, Jeremy must act to distance the party from the slightest hint of complacency over the security of Jewish schools and community institutions.

Individuals such as Walker cannot be allowed to tar Jeremy and our party with a weak attitude towards minority rights. To allow such a situation to pass would be at total odds with the history and purpose of the Labour Party.

At the Jewish Labour Movement’s Rally against anti-semitism, colleagues from across the parliamentary Labour party were unequivocal in their message that things must change for good.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis spoke for many when he said “socialism is the emancipation of all people, or none at all”. He is close to the leadership, so we hope his voice is heard loudly by those with the power to rebuild relations. It was also heartening to hear Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West - formerly suspended comments she admits were anti-Semitic - speak about her experiences. She deserves huge credit for her engagement with the Jewish community over their fears and concerns, and the strength of reconciliation was there for all to see.

Most of all, Jeremy must be true to his words by offering reassurances to Labour stalwarts such as Louise Ellman, who has experienced dreadful episodes of harassment over the past year. For a veteran Labour MP to be targeted for her religion is insufferable and it cannot continue.

Our experiences in our diverse home of Hampstead and Kilburn means we understand the importance of non-Jews taking up the fight against anti-Semitism.

There have been further issues at conference, including heckling and abuse targeted at stalls. These incidents must be dealt with, but conference’s huge show of support for this fight must be acknowledged above all else. It will provide the impetus in the weeks and months ahead.

Ultimately, however, impetus will not be enough.

Jeremy Corbyn, rightly or wrongly, has been accused of dithering on this issue. He must now follow his conference speech with genuine action. Only then will his seriousness in repairing the relationship with the Jewish community become clear. Only then can we begin our road to convincing the public that Labour can once again be a party worthy of Government.

Tulip Siddiq is the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. Mike Katz is the national vice-chair of Jewish Labour. 

Jackie Walker responded:

"A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement. As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored. A film of this session was leaked to the press unethically. I did not raise a question on security in Jewish schools. The trainer raised this issue and I asked for clarification, in particular as all London primary schools, to my knowledge, have security and I did not understand the particular point the trainer was making. Having been a victim of racism I would never play down the very real fears the Jewish community have, especially in light of recent attacks in France. 

"In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of anti-semitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I support David Schneider's definition and utterly condemn anti-semitism. 

"I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise."