Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

The Independent's Johann Hari explains why state spending should be increased, not cut:

The cut-cut-cut chorus appears not to have heard of what John Maynard Keynes called "the paradox of thrift". In a recession, it is rational for you and I to cut back on our spending. You holiday at home, put any spending plans on ice and save what you can. So it seems instinctively right to expect governments to do the same. But Keynes showed that if governments cut back at the same time as its citizens cut back, the recession gets even worse. Nobody is buying anything; demand collapses. More people are laid off, and the state has to spend even more in the end.

If only Gordon Brown could argue like that.

Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times that the ugly town hall demonstrations against Obama's healthcare reforms reflect cultural and racial prejudice:

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that's behind the "birther" movement, which denies Mr. Obama's citizenship.

He invokes Yeats's The Second Coming to describe the muted state of the American left:

But right now Mr. Obama's backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn't living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.

Steve Richards argues in The Independent that neither Harriet Harman nor Peter Mandelson will be the next Labour leader. Of Mandelson he writes:

Personally he has enjoyed the best media ever. All would change if he were to change from king-maker to king-seeker. If Labour loses the election, the focus will be on the next generation even if the party does not have a single credible younger candidate yet.

Earlier this week I explained why Mandelson, an obedient courtier, would wither like a salted snail in power.

Richards also reveals that Gordon Brown was planning to announce during his party conference speech that he was willing to take part in live debates with Cameron.

The Daily Telegraph's Con Coughlin explains how Bill Clinton's failures as president allowed North Korea to achieve full nuclear capability.

The Clinton administration handed over millions of dollars in aid, food, oil and even a nuclear reactor in the hope of persuading the North Koreans to ditch their military programme. They simply took the aid and carried on with nuclear development regardless, so that by 2006 they were able to detonate a device.

Jenni Russell on Comment Is Free eloquently rails against a TUC motion calling for "extremely sexist" high heels to be banned from the workplace.

It's been one of the great mistakes of the left in Britain to confuse equality with sameness, and to think that if we can just eliminate sexual differences, or sexual awareness in the workplace, the world would be a better, happier, more egalitarian place. Well, it's nonsense. People's minds and skills should all be taken seriously, and treated equally, but not at the cost of a sexless uniformity.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.