Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The New York Times's Paul Krugman argues that the Democrats should abandon health-care reform if the bill is diluted by Republicans:

It would be disastrous if health care goes the way of the economic stimulus plan, earlier this year. As you may recall, that plan -- which was clearly too weak even as originally proposed -- was made even weaker to win the support of three Republican senators. If the same thing happens to health reform, progressives should and will walk away.

In the Guardian, Nick Clegg and Lord Ashdown say that Britain needs to change gear in Afghanistan and they call on Gordon Brown to form a war cabinet:

You cannot win a war on half-horsepower. The prime minister needs to make it clear that this struggle is now the nation's first priority and we will strain every sinew to win it. In most of our recent wars, prime ministers have formed a special war cabinet. Why not now? Why not a minister for Afghanistan? Why have we not assembled the very brightest in the FCO, DfID, MoD and Cabinet Office to form a co-ordinated team to see this thing through?

In the Daily Telegraph, David Elstein, the former chief executive of Channel 5, argues that the BBC should respond to its critics by replacing the licence fee with voluntary subscription:

[T]here is a way in which the BBC could, with one bound, be free. What gives all its critics leverage is the licence fee. It is unpopular, regressive, inflexible and inefficient, yet leaves all who pay with a spurious sense of entitlement. If the BBC announced that it was going to replace the licence fee with a voluntary subscription, what it paid its talent and executives, and what services it provided, would cease to be anyone's business but its customers'.

The Independent's Johann Hari calls for international action against "vulture funds" -- which buy the debt owed by poor countries for a small sum and then take them to court to demand that the full amount be paid:

Most people, when they hear about this, ask -- why is this lawful? Of course it's important for countries to repay their debts when possible so they can continue to borrow for investment where necessary -- but not if the debts were taken out by thieving dictators generations ago, and not at a loan-shark profit rate of 500 per cent.

The Economist's Bagehot column predicts that the Liberal Democrats will surprise their detractors at the next election:

A sound election platform, plus a powerful national urge to throw Labour out, may allow the Lib Dems to hang on to most of the southern seats that look vulnerable to the Tories, while taking a few from Labour elsewhere. Even if the outcome is not the Lib Dem nirvana of a hung parliament, with its mythical potential for coalitions and pacts, the party may emerge stronger than the carpers predict.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear