Weekend Round-Up -- 8 September 2008

Following Charles Clarke's intervention in the New Statesman last week, the commentariat turned up t

Alastair Campbell used an appearance on Newsnight to call on Charles Clarke to stop acting like a newspaper pundit and rally to the cause of the Labour Party. It may be the case that the former Home Secretary's intervention did not lead to open insurrection, but it certainly led to a flurry of further commentary.

Matthew Parris was devastating in The Times on Saturday. For those of us on the centre-left this is his most cutting paragraph:

And yet even outside the formal confines of the Labour movement - in the universities, in the newspapers, in the broadcast media - where are the voices raised from the Left, prepared to acknowledge this spasm, and distinguish between the failure of an individual, and the failure of an ideology? Is Polly Toynbee almost on her own? Has the whole centre left project lost its self-belief, taking refuge only in days, hours and minutes left profitlessly in office?

Actually those voices are everywhere. As a Tory, I wouldn't expect him to hear them. Perhaps Polly Toynbee is the only person on the left Mr Parris listens to or reads. However, this is an article that everyone on the left should read because it is a challenge to us to help save the Labour Party from the impending cataclysm.
Parris could not have known that Polly Toynbee was preparing another broadside, but she chose Saturday for another full-frontal attack on the Prime Minister. From a woman who treated Gordon Brown as a god when he took over a year ago, this is terribly damaging. The title, "Unseating Gordon Brown may be Labour's last hope", pretty much says it all. This is her killer paragraph:

Soon Cameron's lead will be gold-plated, his succession virtually inevitable. Another year effectively unchallenged by Labour, his contradictions and vacuities unridiculed and unexposed, will gift him an almost unopposed victory. Already at conferences the lobby groups and voluntary organisations hang on every word of shadow ministers, yawning through mere ministers on their way out. Already power, money, glamour, foreign interest and attention flock to Cameron in a political tide whose undertow knocks Labour off its feet with every wave.

On Sunday, Matthew d'Ancona was on form in the Telegraph. He has identified the dangerous return of sectarianism in Labour politics:

In the spirit of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Tony Blair is becoming the Emmanuel Goldstein of today's Labour party, the fabricated enemy, and his followers - or imagined followers - the seditious "Brotherhood". Can it be long before huge tele-screens appear in public places to beam out pictures of the grinning former Prime Minister for the daily "Two Minutes Hate"?

John Rentoul was saying the opposite of what you'd expect (as ever) in calling for a show of loyalty from Charles Clarke and other Labour Party critics.
Today Jackie Ashley couldn't bring herself to call for the Prime Minister to go again. Instead, she suggests the beginnings of a way forward, not just for the Labour Party, but for politics in general:

What is needed is the arrival in the Commons of people who have not learned professional politics, have never served as advisers and have no idea what Populus means. Local parties need to start taking risks - I'm not talking about quotas but about sparky individuals, with the odd skeleton, the occasional surprising view. The media has to celebrate different voices and faces where they appear, and not pick on every unexpected remark as a "gaffe". For all that the mainstream media seized on Alastair Darling's pessimistic assessment of the economy as a stupendous own goal, the general public seem to like the fact he "told the truth".

Perhaps not quite the reassessment Matthew Parris is calling for, but hats off to Jackie Ashley for trying.

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In her first interview of 2017, I pressed the Prime Minister for Brexit clarity

My week, including running out of cat food, reading Madeleine Thien – oh, and interviewing Theresa May on my show.

As the countdown to going live begins in your ear, there’s always a little rush of adrenalin. Especially when you’re about to launch a new Sunday morning political programme. And especially when you’re about to conduct the Prime Minister’s first interview of 2017. When you hear the words, “Cue Sophy,” there’s a split-second intake of breath – a fleeting moment of anticipation – before you start speaking. Once the show is under way, there’s no time to step back and think; you’re focused on what’s happening right now. But for that brief flicker of time before the camera trained on you goes live, you feel the enormity of what’s happening. 

My new show, Sophy Ridge on Sunday, launched on Sky News this month. After five years as a political correspondent for the channel, I have made the leap into presenting. Having the opportunity to present my own political programme is the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s a bit like having your own train set – you can influence what stories you should be following and which people you should be talking to. As with everything in television, however, it’s all about the team, and with Toby Sculthorp, Tom Larkin and Matthew Lavender, I’m lucky enough to have a great one.

 

Mayday, mayday

The show gets off to a fantastic start with an opportunity to interview the Prime Minister. With Theresa May, there are no loose comments – she is a cautious premier who weighs up every word. She doesn’t have the breezy public school confidence of David Cameron and, unlike other politicians I’ve met, you don’t get the sense that she is looking over her shoulder to see if there is someone more important that she should be talking to.

In the interview, she spells out her vision for a “shared society” and talks about her desire to end the stigma around mental health. Despite repeated pressing, she refuses to confirm whether the UK will leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. However, when you consider her commitment to regaining control of immigration and UK borders, it’s very difficult – almost impossible – to see how Britain could remain a member. “Often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU,” she said. “We are leaving. We are coming out. We are not going to be a member of the EU any longer.” Draw your own conclusions.

 

Women on top

This is probably the kind of thing that I should remain demurely quiet about and allow other people to point out on my behalf. Well, screw that. I think it’s fantastic to see the second female prime minister deciding to give her first interview of the New Year to the first woman to front a Sunday morning political show on television. There, I said it.

 

Escaping the bubble

In my view, every journalist should make a New Year’s resolution to get out of London more. The powerful forces that led to the political earthquake of 2016 came from outside the M25. Every week, I’ll be travelling to a different part of the country to listen to people’s concerns so that I can directly put them to the politicians that I interview. This week, it was Boston in Lincolnshire, where the highest proportion of people voted to leave the European Union.

Initially, it was tricky to get people to speak on camera, but in a particularly friendly pub the Bostonians were suddenly much more forthcoming. Remain supporters (a minority, I know) who arrogantly dismiss Leave voters as a bunch of racists should listen to the concerns I heard about a race to the bottom in terms of workers’ rights. Politicians are often blamed for spending too much time in the “Westminster bubble”, but in my experience journalists are often even worse. Unless we escape the London echo chamber, we’ll have no chance of understanding what happened in 2016 – and what the consequences will be in 2017.

 

A room of one’s own

Last December, I signed a book deal to write the story of women in politics. It’s something I’m passionate about, but I’ll admit that when I pitched the idea to Hachette I had no idea that 2016 would turn out to be quite so busy. Fitting in interviews with leading female politicians and finding the time to write the damn thing hasn’t been easy. Panic-stricken after working flat out during the EU campaign and the historic weeks after, I booked myself into a cottage in Hythe, a lovely little market town on the Kent coast. Holed up for two weeks on my own, feeling a million miles away from the tumultuous Westminster, the words (finally) started pouring on to the page. Right now, I’m enjoying that blissful period between sending in the edited draft and waiting for the first proofs to arrive. It’s nice not to have that nagging guilty feeling that there’s something I ought to be doing . . .

 

It’s all over Mao

I read books to switch off and am no literary snob – I have a particular weakness for trashy crime fiction. This week, I’ve been reading a book that I’m not embarrassed to recommend. Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by the Canadian author Madeleine Thien, tells the haunting story of musicians who suffered during the Cultural Revolution in China. It’s also a chilling warning of what happens when anger towards the elite is pushed too far.

 

Political animals

However busy and exhilarating things are at work, my cat, Ned, will always give me a reality check. In the excitement of the first Sophy Ridge on Sunday, I forgot to get him any food. His disappointed look as he sits by his empty bowl brings me crashing back down to earth. A panicked dash to Sainsbury’s follows, the fuel warning light on all the way as I pray I don’t run out of petrol. Suddenly, everything is back to normal.

“Sophy Ridge on Sunday” is on Sky News on Sundays at 10am

Sophy Ridge is a political correspondent for Sky News.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge