George Bush’s “all-time low”

He’s got to be joking, right? No, he isn’t.

It's been nearly two years since he left the White House with the lowest domestic and global approval ratings of any US president in living memory. But, it seems, we still can't get enough of George W Bush.

This morning's papers lead with extracts, snippets and lines from Bush's new memoir, Decision Points. The Times (£) is serialising the book and has an exclusive interview with "The Decider" himself. The Guardian's front page focuses on how Bush instructed the Pentagon "to draw up plans to attack Iran". The Indie, oddly, leads with a review of the book from the New York Timeschief literary critic, Michiko Kakutani.

One bit from the extracts of the book that stands out to me, and perhaps sums up both the ridiculous and odious nature of George Bush and his presidency, is the section on Hurricane Katrina and the fallout from it. The ex-president describes how upset and angry he was to hear, at the time, how the rapper Kanye West had told television viewers: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

From the Guardian:

"Five years later, I can barely write these words without feeling disgusted. I am deeply insulted by the suggestion that we allowed American citizens to suffer because they were black . . . The more I thought about it, the angrier I felt. I was raised to believe that racism was one of the greatest evils in society," Bush writes. "I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn't like hearing people claim I had lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was a racist, because of the response to Katrina, represented an all-time low. I told Laura at the time that it was the worst moment of my presidency. I feel the same way today."

Hmm. So the botched response by the federal government to Hurricane Katrina itself, the costliest natural disaster in US history, which led to the deaths of 1,836 people, wasn't Bush's "all-time low", it was all the nasty name-calling afterwards.

And even "today", with the benefit of hindsight, the suggestion from a rapper that he might be a "racist" is considered by Dubbya as "the worst moment" of his presidency, not the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; not the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, which killed 3,000 people on American soil; not the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison; not the hundreds of thousands of people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as a direct result of his so-called wars of liberation.

Words fail me . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.