New Hampshire primary: what to look out for

Mitt Romney needs to prove that he can win big but South Carolina may be the real ticket.

Following his narrowest of victories in the Iowa caucus last week, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is under pressure to prove the strength of his presidential bid in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. But according to a tracking poll of Granite State voters his support is slipping here too, however probably not enough to deny him victory.

The six Republican candidates took to the stage together this weekend for the second round of debates. They started in Saint Anselm College, Manchester on Saturday followed by a second debate on Sunday sponsored by NBC News, just 12 hours later. The dialogue quickly turned from policy -- the economy and same-sex marriages -- to personal jibes.

Newt Gingrich, who came fourth in the Iowa race, attempted to embarrass Romney by telling him to "drop the pious baloney" when challenging him about his political history. The former house speaker himself came under fire after Ron Paul called him a "chicken hawk" for not serving in the military during the Vietnam war.

Gingrich -- who is currently placed in fourth in the national opinion polls once again -- has attempted to reach out to minorities during his campaigning in New Hampshire saying in Manchester yesterday:

I think it is very important for us to make a case that we are in favour of many people from many places having the opportunity to become Americans.

He added that while visas should be made easier for "legal people", deportation should also be made easier for people who "are dangerous to the whole community and who threaten the whole community".

Despite the dip, Romney remains a clear winner in the polls, making this a second and third place contest for the other candidates.

Politico's Jonathan Martin argues that New Hampshire is just a stepping stone towards the much more significant South Carolina vote later this month. In a post published this morning, Martin writes:

New Hampshire still matters. But its 2012 relevance is chiefly in how the results will shape South Carolina on Jan. 21.
With Mitt Romney enjoying a wide lead in Granite State polls, the key outcome Tuesday isn't who will finish on top. Rather, it's whether Jon Huntsman places strongly enough to keep going to South Carolina and whether Rick Santorum can outperform Newt Gingrich.

The key is to rally party supporters, and while Romney attempted to show that he had the party's support in Iowa, the eight vote difference between him and Rick Santorum proved otherwise. Santorum's candidacy provides the right with a strong alternative to Romney; if the former Pennsylvania senator can outperform the other candidates again tomorrow night, a strong case can be made in South Carolina that he's the one the right should rally around to stop Romney.

Meanwhile Jon Hunstman, who finished second to last in Iowa, seems to be gaining support following his better-than-usual performance during Sunday morning's debate. According to the New York Times Caucus Blog, Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, is counting on last minute voters tomorrow. The latest WMUR New Hampshire poll, gives Huntsman 11 per cent of the vote, tying him in third place with Santorum.

Ron Paul, who is currently second in the polls with 17 per cent, also reached out to undecided voters stating that he believed he appealed to "independent people who are sick and tired of the two-party system". When asked how he would bridge the partisan divide as president Paul answered:

With difficulty, but with a new approach, completely new... Everybody knows what I'm talking about is different, because I have such a strange, new idea. It's obeying the Constitution.

Rick Perry is almost certainly out of the race with a mere one per cent of the vote, but a last minute confidence burst during the debates may swing some votes in his favour.

Photo: Getty Images
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Meet the remarkable British woman imprisoned for fighting against Isis

The treatment of Silhan Özçelik shows how confused British policy towards the Middle East has become. 

Last week, a British court sentenced a woman to prison for attempting to join fighters in the Middle East. Silhan Özçelik, an 18-year-old from Highbury, London was sentenced to 21 months for her part in “preparing terrorist acts” under the Terrorism Act 2006. The judge called her a “stupid, feckless and deeply dishonest young woman”.  What all of this misses out is the most extraordinary fact: that Özçelik was not convicted for going to fight for the Islamic State, but for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party – better known as the PKK, one of the only effective and consistent opponents of Isis since the war began.

Volunteering to fight in foreign wars – so long as they are long ago enough – is a celebrated tradition in Britain. In the late 1930s, while the Spanish Republic battled on against a fascist coup led by General Franco, tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world went to fight for the International Brigades, including 2,500 from the UK. They included future celebrities such as writer George Orwell and actor James Robertson Justice, and commemorative plaques and memorials can now be seen all over the country

Like the International Brigade volunteers, Özçelik allegedly volunteered to fight for an embattled state facing military defeat at the hands of a far-right insurgency. The combat units she might have joined have been the subject of moving portraits in the Guardian and even praise on Fox News. The PKK is a secular socialist organisation, with a streak of libertarianism and its own feminist movements. But because of its military opposition to the often brutal Turkish treatment of the Kurds, the western powers list the PKK as a terrorist organisation; and would-be heroes like Silhan Özçelik are detained as criminals by the British state.

On one level, what Özçelik’s conviction represents is a change in how the state relates to ordinary citizens who fight. In 1936, the rise of fascism was something on our doorstep, which was opposed most fervently not by official western governments but by ordinary folk, dangerous far left subversives and free spirited writers who sailed to Spain – often in spite of their own governments. In today’s wars in the Middle East, the state is absolutely determined to maintain its monopoly on the right to sanction violence.

What Orwell and other volunteers understood was that while western governments might promote values like liberty and deplore the rise of tyranny, they were also duplicitous and unreliable when it came to prioritising the defeat of fascism over the narrow interests of nation and profit. Then as now, western governments were  deeply uneasy about the idea of ordinary people taking up arms and intervening in global affairs, or deciding – by force – who governs them. If the Terrorism Act 2006 had applied in 1936, Orwell would surely have been arrested at Dover and sent to prison.

More pressingly for the current situation, the persecution of the PKK should make you think twice about the motivations and outcomes for military intervention in Syria. Cameron is on a march to war, and, following the Paris attacks, much of the political establishment is now lining up to support him.

At the same time, our court system is imprisoning and persecuting young women who try to take up arms against Isis. It is doing so at the behest not of our own national security, which has never been threatened by the PKK, but that of Turkey. Turkey’s military is actively targeting Kurdish forces, and has recently stepped up these attacks. There is a wealth of evidence, not least its behaviour during the recent siege of Kobane, to suggest that Turkey – Britain’s only formal NATO ally in the region – is tacitly collaborating with Isis in an attempt to defeat both Assad and the Kurds.

As the government rushes to war in Syria, much of the media attention will focus on Jeremy Corbyn’s awkward task of holding his anti-war line while persuading his party and Shadow Cabinet not to split over the issue. Others will focus, rightly, on the complexity of the situation in the region and the question of who western air-strikes are really there to support: is it Assad, the murderous dictator whose regime has itself been linked to the rise of Isis; Turkey, which is seemingly focussed entirely on defeating Assad and the Kurds; or the soup of organisations – including the Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria – which constitute the anti-regime rebels?

But Özçelik’s conviction should also raise a more fundamental concern: that the contradictions and complications that we are so used to associating with the Middle East lie at the heart of British and western policy as well. If the British state persecutes, rather than supports, the few secular and progressive organisations in the region who are fighting Isis, whose interests is it really serving? And if we don’t trust those interests, how much trust can we really place in it to act on our behalf in Syria?

You can sign a petition calling for Silhan Özçelik’s release here, and a petition calling for the decriminalisation of the PKK here.