LIVEBLOG: Mitt Romney's horse, Rafalca, goes horse-dancing

How will Rafalca fare? And what does it mean for the Republican candidate's Presidential hopes?

 

12:06
alexhern: Hello everyone, thanks for joining today for the inaugural horse-dancing liveblog.
 
12:07
alexhern: Obviously, we're all very excited to see how Rafalca Romney does. Could be some real clues to how the election will go down in November.
 
12:08
alexhern: 
Psephologists actually refer to this event colloquially as "the election in August".
 
 
12:09
alexhern: A couple of horse-dancing videos to get you pumped for the main event:
 
12:10
alexhern: Firstly, a lovely number from Ireland:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzYzVMcgWhg
 
12:12
alexhern: 
Sorry about the massive picture of Helen Lewis there. She submitted it in haste.
 
 
12:12
Comment From Helen L 
Aha, I see my attempt to include an avatar may not have worked so well there.
 
12:12
alexhern: Another video while we wait for Rafalca to take the stage: http://t.co/CX7SKY6J
 
12:12
Helen L: Here's a video of Stephen Colbert learning about dressage on the Colbert Report
 
12:12
Comment From adamawhite 
and the modern update of that classic Irish tune here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljPFZrRD3J8
 
12:14
alexhern: Some facts about Rafalca: She's 15, which is a tad old for the Olympics, and is a bay Oldenburg.
 
12:14
alexhern: She describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal, although she is steadfastedly opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds.
 
12:14
Helen L: And here, because politics is weird now, is Rafalca herself rebutting Stephen Colbert's mockery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99-0ROz_qbA
 
12:15
alexhern: Despite being owned by Romney, Rafalca has kept the religion of her birthplace, Germany, and is a Catholic horse.
 
12:16
alexhern: Mitt Romney, of course, will not be attending the event. Although he told the press that he "doesn't even know when its happening", most commentators believe that he can't bring himself to watch a performance which could make or break his presidential run.
 
12:17
alexhern: Rafalca off to a good start there
 
12:17
Helen L: Rafalca has just executed a "very good halt"
 
12:18
Helen L: "Into the Piaf"?
 
12:18
alexhern: This horse is dancing exquisitly. Slightly bouncy, which is normal for conservative republicans.
 
12:18
Comment From Mikey Smith 
Is that horse wearing a baseball cap? Cruel.
 
12:18
alexhern: Yes, Mikey, it's an attempt to connect with blue-collar voters.
 
12:19
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
15 is ridiculously old for the Olympic Dressage. Is Rafalca a former racehorse perchance?
 
12:19
Comment From Caroline C 
Doesn't have enough 'lift' apparently. Such a shame...
 
12:19
Helen L: "This horse's hallmark is obedience and accuracy, as opposed to brilliance". Very much like Romney himself. #METAPHOR
 
12:19
alexhern: Mark, Rafalca is essentially being entered to boost her value as a breeding mare.
 
12:19
Comment From Guest 
Are you sure a horse takes its surname from its current owner? Curious political statement there Alex
 
12:19
Helen L: Rafalca is now doing what I believe is known in dressage as "the running man"
 
12:20
alexhern: Guest, if you ask @rafalcaromney herself, I'm sure she'll be able to explain.
 
12:20
alexhern: She breaks into a canter exactly as planned, but seems a bit unhappy at the prospect. Perhaps Romney is planning to pick a female VP?
 
12:21
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
But at 15 - is Rafalca not past her prime age as a breeding mare?
 
12:21
alexhern: 
Mark, Rafalca would like to remind you that Ronald Reagan was president well into his eighties, and that experience really counts in this field.
 
 
12:21
alexhern: This field being horse dancing.
 
12:21
Helen L: "Pirouette there was a little big, could have had a bit more sitting"
 
12:21
Comment From Caroline C 
She's doing funny little panty gallops now. What does this mean for the GOP's chances, Alex?
 
12:22
alexhern: Caroline, Ohio, a key swing state, really hates panty gallops. It doesn't look good.
 
12:22
Helen L: "Good extended Trot". NO ONE TELL RUSH LIMBAUGH
 
12:22
Helen L: BBC commentators don't seem to know if Ann Romney is there to watch, as expected
 
12:23
Helen L: AND IT'S OVER
 
12:23
alexhern: 
I genuninely can't tell if my feed is skipping or if Rafalca's passage has got off centre 
 
 
12:23
Helen L: The rider is 53, which is nice. Must be one of the oldest competitors in the Olympics.
 
12:23
alexhern: 53 points. Romney is in with a fighting chance in November.
 
12:23
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
USA USA USA
 
12:23
Helen L: The slow-motion replay makes the horse look like it's moonwalking
 
12:24
alexhern: Well, that was an astounding performance. Romney has certainly won the Dressage Independents round with his horse.
 
12:24
Helen L: 69.91 points
 
12:24
Helen L: 70.213 per cent now, just been raised
 
12:24
Helen L: Oh, a sighting of ann Romney there
 
12:24
alexhern: (Dressage Independents is a term that pollster Frank Lunz came up with, to describe wealthy voters with horses who nonetheless hate the Republicans almost as much as Democrats)
 
12:25
Helen L: "The world of the horse has people from all walks of life"
 
12:25
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
Useful list of number of horses by state. This'll be crucial come November. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Horse_population_state_by_state
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
A "Halt and rein back" there. Which is a maneuver that Mitt had to carry out on his press staff in London last week...
 
12:25
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Of course this is just the first day of the first dressage stage. And there are three dressage stages. SO it's not over for Rafalca yet
 
12:25
Comment From Caroline C 
What? A controversial recount?
 
12:25
alexhern: The Supreme Court will be unlikely to touch this one, after the negative publicity surrounding Bush v Gore.
 
12:25
Helen L: Does Rafalca have more or less chance of winning than Mitt himself?
 
12:26
alexhern: And that's the question, isn't it? We can but hope.
 
12:26
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
BBC Commentator: "The world of horses has people from so many different walks of life." Let's be clear, that's not REALLY true.... And I say that as someone who partially owns a horse...
 
12:26
alexhern: 
Mark Ferguson of LabourList there, leading light of the British socialist movement and equestrian.
 
 
12:27
Comment From Duncan Weldon 
12 US states have an official state horse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_horses
 
12:27
Comment From adamawhite 
Do you think Rafalca's 'foreign' name is likely to pull in the latino vote, or alienate the WASP block?
 
12:27
alexhern: Adam, this is a key concern of Mittens Romney. Unfortunately, as a family man, he can't just let her go.
 
12:28
alexhern: Anyway folks, that's all from us. This has certainly left us much to mull over. Based on his horse's competition, I'm pegging Romney as picking an African-American VP, but then flunking the second debate as matters turn to foreign policy. It's all signposted in the canter.
 
12:29
Comment From Mark Ferguson 
Correction: Although I may be the partial owner of a very old and often injured dressage horse, I am no Equestrian. As I have never sat on a horse.
 
12:29
alexhern: 
Our apoligies to Mark.
Leida Collins-Strijk of Holland riding On Top at the FEI World Cup Dressage Qualifier in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser