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The Martyr Complex: Rafael Behr on Nick Clegg
In the New Statesman Cover Story, Rafael Behr travels up to Nick Clegg’s Sheffield constituency to investigate whether the Deputy Prime Minister is vulnerable to leadership decapitation by the Liberal Democrats. As Labour and Conservative MPs “gloat in private that Clegg cannot possibly fight the next general election as Lib Dem leader”, Behr finds members of Clegg’s own party increasingly speculating along the same lines:
“It is the topic that people talk about most in the party,” says a prominent activist. “But it’s a whispered conversation because people find the whole thing a bit difficult.”
Behr looks back on the weight of expectation that British voters attached to Clegg in the run-up to the 2010 general election to explain how he has become the emblem of weakness and false promises in politics:
[T]he act of compromise, without which two-party government is impossible, reinforces the Lib Dems’ reputation for weakness and cynicism. It is a terrible fix – the device that defines coalition has become, in Clegg’s hands, also the practice that debases it.
Richard J Evans: Europe on the verge of a nervous breakdown
In the NS Essay, Richard J Evans, Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and author of The Third Reich in Power 1933-39, asks whether soaring youth unemployment and a resurgence of the far right signal that Europe is on the brink of repeating the catastrophe of the 1930s:
Where extremism flourishes, political violence is never far away, and the desire for a restoration of public order can often play into the hands of right-wing politicians who, as Hitler did, promise to end the chaos on the streets, even though, like Hitler, they were one of the main forces behind it in the first place. It is no surprise to learn that a large proportion of the police force in Athens – perhaps as much as 50 per cent – voted for Golden Dawn in the 6 May election.
Top independent school headmaster attacks Gove
In the Politics Interview, the Master of Magdalen College School in Oxford, Tim Hands, talks to Alan White and slams Michael Gove’s plans for education reform:
“I simply don’t understand what Michael Gove is doing. He seems to be stuck on a Scottish moor, shooting off rockets in different directions which look brilliant in the night sky but are actually beacons of distress.”
With which reforms does he have a problem? “Gove seems to be a reversionist . . . The idea we have to go to terminal exams is wrong. That’s not how you’ll be judged at work or at university. So, almost de facto, you should have continuous assessment in school.” He shakes his head sadly. “Idiotic.”
Tim Montgomerie: Cameron needs a new emblem
The editor of the ConservativeHome website, Tim Montgomerie, offers a view of David Cameron in this week’s NS Politics Column. Unlike Margaret Thatcher, who chose to brandish a shopping basket to show that she understood the needs of ordinary families, and John Major, with his little wooden soapbox, the current Tory Prime Minister, Montgomerie notes, chose a “very different defining moment”:
Climate change was just one of the metrosexual issues that Cameron chose to suggest that the Conservative Party had changed. More women candidates and the concept of the “big society” were two others. The [danger] for Cameron was always that he wouldn’t be as committed to these changes as he needed to be and that he would run the risk of Tory modernisation appearing shallow and inauthentic. And so it has come to pass. Cameron has in fact played fast and loose with each of his great change factors.
Montgomerie warns that, as the next general election approaches, Cameron needs a new defining image – something like that of his predecessors – which will “pull him closer to blue-collar Britain”.
Elsewhere in the New Statesman
- In Observations, Laurie Penny warns that David Cameron risks incurring the wrath of Britain’s young people; Dan Hodges on the change in Ed Miliband’s fortunes, brought about by his “moody and acerbic spin doctor” Tom Baldwin; and, following last week’s New Statesman cover story, Mark Leonard argues that Germany, led by Angela Merkel, is Europe’s only possible saviour.
- In the Diary, the Irish comedian Patrick Kielty offers some words of advice to his “mate” Jimmy Carr and considers the Queen’s handshake with Martin McGuinness (“For the jubilee girl, it’s just another backstage meet-and-greet on the ‘Sorry one’s ancestors came’ world tour”).
- Grayson Perry talks rubbish art, cross-dressing and running around with guns in the NS Interview with Jemima Khan.
- In Lines of Dissent, Mehdi Hasan asks if the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt should worry us.
- In the Critics, poet Craig Raine writes about Tate Liverpool's exhibition of late work by J M W Turner, Monet and Cy Twombly; Helen Lewis is engrossed in Breasts: a Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams and Andrew Adonis reviews The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of Robert A Caro’s monumental biography of Lyndon B Johnson.
For all this and more pick up a copy of this week's New Statesman, available from today on newsstands around the country. Single issue copies can also be ordered online here