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.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle