God and gays: the rise of Michele Bachmann

"Late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy" she may be, but Michele Bachmann could be the next President, says <e

For now Michele Bachmann is the main show in the race for the Republican candidacy. Bachmann is the only fascinating candidate in a field that is otherwise populated by dreary, white Mormon guys (and Herman Cain). Matt Taibbi has penned an astonishing 5,000 word profile of the Congresswoman from Minnesota in this month's Rolling Stone.

In a profile stuffed full of potentially libellous comments -- at one point Taibbi accuses Bachmann of "pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying" -- a bizarre portrait of Bachmann's rise to fame and relative power emerges.

A few highlights include:

The moment when she hides behind a bush during a gay rights rally in 2005:

A photo shows Bachmann, only the top of her Stepford head visible, crouched alone in an extreme catcher's squat behind the Capitol shrubbery. She later insisted she wasn't hiding at all, but resting because her heels hurt.

The moment when Bachmann claims that she was attacked by two lesbains in a toilert.

Depending on whom you believe -- and by that I mean which of Bachmann's own competing versions of the story you believe -- Bachmann either left the meeting to avoid the activists, or excused herself to "use the restroom" only to be "held against her will" there by what may or may not have been a pair of angry lesbians. She reported the incident to the Washington County sheriff: "Sen. Bachman [sic] stated that when she was trying to leave, 2 women blocked her in and told her they wanted to continue talking. Sen. Bachman stated she was afraid and screamed for help. The 2 women let her leave the restroom when she screamed."

Taibbi makes the case - as do I - that Bachmann is a potentially strong candidate, despite her frankly bizarre career so far. Ezra Klein described Bachmann as the candidate Sarah Palin was "supposed to be", and Taibbi agrees, sort of:

Here's the difference between Bachmann and Palin: While Palin is clearly bored by the dreary, laborious aspects of campaigning and seems far more interested in gobbling up the ancillary benefits of reality-show celebrity, Bachmann is ruthlessly goal-oriented, a relentless worker who has the attention span to stay on message at all times. With a little imagination, you can even see a clear path for her to the nomination.

Indeed, he continues, Bachmann has incredible strengths as a politician:

The public has become acquainted with some of Bachmann's other excellent qualities as a politician -- her TV-ready looks, her easy confidence in public speaking, her quick command of a mountainous database of (frequently bogus) facts -- but often overlooked is her greatest quality, the gigantic set of burnished titanium Terminator-testicles swinging under her skirt.

According to Taibbi, then, Bachmann is a lying, gay-obssessed, Bible-nut who has rose to power thanks to chutzpah and a pair of over-sized testicles. She could also easily be the next Republican candidate for President.

Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy -- crazy in the sense that she's living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she's built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies.

Read it. It's long, but it's brilliant.

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Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.