Mehdi Hasan: Dan Hodges. The Truth. And me.

I am tired of the online conspiracy theories and false accusations. This is my last comment on the subject.

I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next man (did man really land on the moon? I mean, really?) but I'm sorry to have to tell you that Dan Hodges wasn't "axed", "pushed" or "forced out" from the New Statesman. By me -- or anyone else.

I'm repeatedly asked if I had him "sacked". I didn't even know he'd "quit". I'm bemused by the number of people who have bought into this nonsense. I mean, come on: this is Dan Hodges we're talking about here. This is the guy who gleefully admitted to being the brains behind an anti-AV poster that suggested electoral reform might lead to the deaths of newborn babies; who hubristically announced, four days ahead of the result of the Labour leadership election, that "David Miliband has won"; who grandly declared that "the next general secretary of the Labour Party is set to be Chris Lennie" less than a month before Lennie lost.

Lest we forget, here is a man who describes himself as a "neo-Blairite" and as the "Blairite cuckoo in the Miliband nest" but who has also written:

As no one in the Labour Party appears willing to admit their part in the plot to bring down Tony Blair, I'll cough. I was up to my neck in it.

I briefed and span. Placed stories. Sowed seeds of confusion and dissent.


(He "briefed and span" [sic] and "sowed seeds of confusion and dissent". Hmm, little has changed, I see...)

Let me deal with some of the conspiratorial claims that have been made, starting with the David Ray Griffin of "Hodgesgate", Guido Fawkes. His ludicrous blog post, published on 10 October and based on a briefing from (who else?) Dan himself, and written without the aid of New-Yorker-style fact checkers, claimed:

In the Thursday edition published during party conference Dan Hodges' article about the booing of Blair was spiked and didn't appear in the magazine

But Dan didn't have an article scheduled to run in the post-Labour-conference issue of the NS. Why? Because Dan was a guest blogger.

Guido continued:

Hodges was told he would be rested from the magazine for a few months

Um, er, how can I put this delicately for the conspiratorially-minded? Dan Hodges did not write for the magazine. He was a freelance, guest blogger -- one of several -- who contributed a sum total of four freelance articles to the magazine over the course of his 11-month-relationship with the NS. How do you "rest" someone from something they didn't do?

Other (non-Tory) allies of Dan included (surprise surprise!) disgruntled ex-employees of the NS such as Nick Cohen and Martin Bright. You couldn't make this stuff up.

But back to Dan Hodges. A few weeks ago, a shadow cabinet minister who has known him for several years turned to me and said:

When the time is right, Dan will screw you over. He is using you.

Who says the current Labour shadow cabinet doesn't contain visionaries? The anonymous (see what I did there, Dan?) shadow minister's prophesy turned out to be true.

Hodges, having published four blog posts in a row slamming Ed Miliband (and in the headlines, too!), decided to "flounce" off from the NS earlier this month. Asked by the New Statesman's deputy editor to perhaps consider writing the occasional blog post on an issue other than his monomaniacal obsession with the Labour leader -- a rather common and reasonable request made by commissioning editors across the land to their reporters, columnists and bloggers -- he claimed censorship, invented a conspiracy theory involving Ed Miliband himself (woo-hoo!) and migrated to that bastion of free speech, the Telegraph blogs, where he will now perform the role of the right's useful idiot and join Damian "Indulgence of Islam is harming society" Thompson.

Just to conclude, it is worth noting that Dan himself has backtracked on his original Guido-aided spin: asked by Paul Waugh on Twitter whether he was "really being axed by the @NewStatesman", he replied:

Is so

Yet, in his colour-filled blog post for the Telegraph, he wrote:

Unless he heard from me, he should take it I'd resigned.

And resign I did.

Yes, he resigned. Of his own volition. Without being pushed by Ed Miliband. Or Jon Bernstein. Or me.

It's boring, I know. But it's also true.

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.

Getty
Show Hide image

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.