In this week's New Statesman: European Crisis

Britain and Europe: Heading for the exit?

With the turmoil in the European Union, the emerging consensus in Westminster is that Britain will hold a referendum on its membership of the EU within a decade. In this week’s New Statesman cover story, Rafael Behr asks: will anyone dare make the pro-EU case?

Within the Tory party “pro-Europeanism is moribund” , Behr writes, even though David Cameron has in the past presented Conservative hatred of the EU “as a dangerous obsession”. The Prime Minister’s decision to veto a pan-European deal, thus leaving most EU members to press ahead without Britain, was a “watershed moment”: 

It showed that the opposition culture of righteous anger is stronger in the Conservative Party than the governing tradition of diplomatic pragmatism. That places Britain’s ruling party outside the European mainstream, which further diminishes Cameron’s ability to shape events. The sceptics’ prophecy is thus self-fulfilling: the tighter the Prime Minister’s hands are tied at home, the harder it is to exert influence abroad – and the likelier it becomes that the EU will evolve in a direction that really does look like a conspiracy against UK interests. And so on, towards the exit.

Mehdi Hasan: Where are the Labour leader's cheerleaders?

As the Labour Party enjoys a double-digit lead in the opinion polls and Ed Miliband finds he is less unpopular than the Prime Minister, Mehdi Hasan wonders where the Labour leader’s cheerleaders and loyalists are – in his party, in the press, and in parliament:

Aides of the Labour leader like to draw an analogy with Margaret Thatcher’s spell in opposition in the late 1970s: an inexperienced, underrated leader trying to smash the political and economic consensus and take her party back to government in the space of a single term.

But if Miliband wants to be Thatcher, where is his Keith Joseph? His Airey Neave? Which think tanks can he call on for ideological support? The Tory leader had Ralph Harris’s Institute of Economic Affairs, Madsen Pirie’s Adam Smith Institute and, most important of all, Alfred Sherman’s Centre for Policy Studies.

In his next big shadow cabinet reshuffle, Hasan argues, Miliband must consider bringing in more of the new, talented MPs because “politics works in cycles and he will come under sustained fire again soon enough”. It is not as if the Labour leader is unaware he is lacking his own version of the Thatcherites, Blairites or Cameroons, Hasan says:

Miliband has been heard wistfully telling friends: “I guess I am my own outrider.”

John McDonnell MP calls for inquiry into the policing of protest

In December 2010, two students were arrested and charged with violent disorder for apparently dragging a police officer from a horse during the tuition fee protests in London. The brothers Chris and Andrew Hilliard both faced five years in prison and an unlimited fine. The following day, the Prime Minister declared:

“When people see . . . police officers being dragged off police horses and beaten . . . I want to make sure that they feel the full force of the law.” 

Eighteen months later, however, the Hilliards were found not guilty. As Jane Fae writes in the New Statesman this week,

Under examination, their “victim”, PC Cowling, agreed that he had failed to tighten the strap that held the saddle on to his horse and that he had later pulled off the young men’s masks and pulled Christopher’s hair. The defence argued that the brothers were the ones subject to assault.

The Legal Defence and Monitoring Group has found that 11 of the 12 students who pleaded not guilty to charges arising from the main demonstration on 9 December have since been acquitted. This high rate of acquittals, writes Fae, suggests that violent disorder charges are brought against people to deter them from taking part in future protests.

The “demonisation of protest”, as Fae puts it, has led the Labour MP John McDonnell to call for an independent inquiry into the wider injustice. McDonnell says:

“Many have been appalled at the way young people like the Hilliard brothers have been dragged through the courts and had their futures put at risk simply to make an example of them to deter others from protest. We need an independent inquiry into what is being exposed as a clear abuse of our policing and judicial system.”

In the Critics

Jason Cowley reviews The Big Miss: My Years Coaching Tiger Woods by Hank Haney. Haney’s book, Cowley writes, is the “most devastating portrait yet of Woods by anyone who has worked closely with him”.

In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to the French author Laurent Binet about his Prix Goncourt-winning debut novel, HHhH, which describes the assassination in 1942 of the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich. This week's Critic at Large is the novelist and academic Rebecca Stott, whose latest book follows Charles Darwin’s attempts to pay his respects to his intellectual forebears following the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species. 

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

In an NS Essay on the rise of the “Evil Genius”, Charles Leadbeater asks how cold, brilliant and seemingly amoral figures – from Simon Cowell to José Mourinho – took over our culture.

In Observations, Rhiannon and Holly, editors of the Vagenda and the new NS blog the V Spot, question the pernicious “vagenda” of bestselling women’s magazines; Sophie McBain reports from Libya on the plight of migrants as post-revolutionary euphoria in the country subsides; and from Rochdale, the local MP, Simon Danczuk, and Myriam Francois-Cerrah offer two perspectives on whether race was a factor in the recent case of underage girls groomed for sex.

The Sierra Leone-based Reuters correspondent Simon Akam reports from Senegal on the elections held there recently and the battle against dictatorship.

Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect and founding partner of OMA – the practice responsible for the CCTV building in Beijing and the new Rothschild headquarters in the City of London – talks to Samira Shackle in the NS Interview.

In the Nature column, the poet Alice Oswald celebrates bees in spring.

 

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron vs the shires

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.