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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The three big mistakes the government has made in its Brexit talks

Nicola Sturgeon fears that the UK has no negotiating position at all. It's worse than she thinks. 

It’s fair to say that the first meeting of the government’s Brexit ministers and the leaders of the devolved legislatures did not go well.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon told reporters outside that it had all been “deeply frustrating”, and that it was impossible for her to undermine the United Kingdom’s negotiating position as “I can’t undermine something that doesn’t exist, and at the moment it doesn’t seem to me like there is a UK negotiating strategy”.

To which cynical observers might say: she would, wouldn’t she? It’s in Sturgeon’s interest to paint the Westminster government as clueless and operating in a way that puts Scotland’s interests at risk. Maybe so, but Carwyn Jones, her Welsh opposite number, tends to strike a more conciliatory figure at these events – he’s praised both George Osborne and David Cameron in the past.

So it’s hard not to be alarmed at his statement to the press that there is still “huge uncertainty” about what the British government’s negotiating position. Even Arlene Foster, the first minister in Northern Ireland, whose party, the DUP, is seen as an increasingly reliable ally for the Conservative government, could only really volunteer that “we’re in a negotiation and we will be in a negotiation and it will be complex”.

All of which makes Jeremy Corbyn’s one-liner in the Commons today that the government is pursuing neither hard Brexit nor soft Brexit but “chaotic Brexit” ring true.

It all adds to a growing suspicion that the government’s negotiating strategy might be, as Jacqui Smith once quipped of Ed Miliband’s policy review, something of “a pregnant panda – it's been a very long time in the making and no one's quite sure if there's anything in there anyway”.

That’s not the case – but the reality is not much more comforting. The government has long believed, as Philip Hammond put when being grilled by the House of Lords on the issue:

"There's an intrinsic tension here between democratic accountability of the government and effective negotiation with a third party. Our paramount objective must be to get a good deal for Britain. I am afraid will not be achieved by spelling out our negotiating strategy."

That was echoed by Theresa May in response to Corbyn’s claim that the government has no plan for Brexit:

 “We have a plan, which is not to give out details of the negotiation as they are being negotiated”

Are Hammond and May right? Well, sort of. There is an innate tension between democratic accountability and a good deal, of course. The more is known about what the government’s red lines in negotiations, the higher the price they will have to pay to protect. That’s why, sensibly, Hammond, both as Foreign Secretary during the dying days of David Cameron’s government, and now as Chancellor, has attempted to head off public commitments about the shape of the Brexit deal.

But – and it’s a big but – the government has already shown a great deal of its hand. May made three big reveals about the government’s Brexit strategy it in her conference speech: firstly, she started the clock ticking on when Britain will definitely leave the European Union, by saying she will activate Article 50 no later than 31 March 2017. Secondly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would control its own borders. And thirdly, she said that Brexit meant that Britain would no longer be subject to the judgements of the European Court of Justice.

The first reveal means that there is no chance that any of 27 remaining nations of the European Union will break ranks and begin informal talks before Article 50 is triggered.

The second reveal makes it clear that Britain will leave the single market, because none of the four freedoms – of goods, services, capital or people – can be negotiated away, not least because of the fear of political contagion within the EU27, as an exit deal which allowed the United Kingdom to maintain the three other freedoms while giving up the fourth would cause increased pressure from Eurosceptics in western Europe.

And the third reveal makes it equally clear that Britain will leave the customs union as there is no way you can be part of a union if you do not wish to accept its legal arbiter.

So the government has already revealed its big priorities and has therefore jacked up the price, meaning that the arguments about not revealing the government’s hand is not as strong as it ideally would be.

The other problem, though, is this: Theresa May’s Brexit objectives cannot be met without a hard Brexit, with the only question the scale of the initial shock. As I’ve written before, there is a sense that the government might be able to “pay to play”, ie, in exchange for continuing to send money to Brussels and to member states, the United Kingdom could maintain a decent standard of access to the single market.

My impression is that the mood in Brussels now makes this very tricky. The tone coming out of Conservative party conference has left goodwill in short supply, meaning that a “pay to play” deal is unlikely. But the other problem is that, by leaving so much of its objectives in the dark, Theresa May is not really laying the groundwork for a situation where she can return to Britain with an exit deal where Britain pays large sums to the European Union for a worse deal than the one it has now. (By the way, that is very much the best case scenario for what she might come back with.) Silence may make for good negotiations in Brussels – but in terms of the negotiation that may follow swiftly after in Westminster, it has entirely the opposite effect. 

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