When Ron Paul met Piers Morgan

"Once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

Despite his poor performance in the Republican primaries thus far, Ron Paul spoke to Piers Morgan with characteristic optimism and enthusiasm. Arguably more self-assured than Rick Santorum who appeared on the show two weeks ago, Ron Paul refuted claims that he can't win the nomination, telling Piers Morgan: "I have steady growth -- once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

In his interview with Rick Santorum, Morgan referred to Ron Paul as "barking". While the Texas Congressman has been criticised for his slightly eccentric views, the one thing he cannot be accused of is flip-flopping, unlike fellow candidate Mitt Romney.

Despite being the oldest candidate in the field at 76, Paul has a significant youth following. "My principles of liberty are inviting to young people," he told Morgan. "Their minds are more open; they won't just accept the status quo."

Morgan went on the attack about health care, telling the Congressman that his view -- that if you can't afford health insurance you should essentially fend for yourself -- is uncompassionate. In his defence, Paul argued that the Soviet system wasn't actually able to medically care for its people because it ended up totally bankrupt. In this respect, for Paul, the worst thing possible would be to depend on the government. Speaking as a child of the Great Depression, he said: "You have to assume responsibility for yourself."

However, he failed to mention quite how people should afford backbreaking insurance prices without government assistance. So, what would vulnerable people have to do in Ron Paul's society to get healthcare? The Congressman dodged the question with the sweeping generalisation that "to produce the best middle class you have to do it through freedom, not through redistribution of wealth."

Morgan asked Paul what he thought about Romney's comment that he "isn't concerned about the very poor" -- a statement that has been taken wildly out of context. Refusing to take the talk show host's bait and go on the attack, which is undoubtedly what Newt Gingrich would have done, Paul said: "I don't have many agreements with Mitt on policy - not on foreign policy, spending policy, bailout policy - but I've ended up defending him on this." Unlike the other Republican candidates, Paul doesn't play dirty politics.

Paul did, however, sum up his political ideology: "Sound currency, limited government, contract rights, don't bail out anyone -- that's when the poor get benefits and jobs will come. I'm as concerned about the poor as much as anyone else, but I don't think robbing from one group works."

On foreign policy, Paul is a stark contrast to the views Rick Santorum expressed on the show a few weeks ago. He categorically denies that he is pacifist, but says he only believes in war when it's justified. "From a strict constitutional viewpoint I don't want to fight any wars that aren't declared and, since World War II, nothing has been justifiable because we haven't gone through the proper process." Paul said that he did not support US forces in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks because "the country didn't attack us -- a bunch of thugs did."

His foreign policy views stand in particular contrast to the other Republican candidates' with regard to Iran. Santorum, speaking to Morgan a number of weeks ago, said that he would have no qualms about bombing Iran. However, Ron Paul said that a pre-emptive strike would be aggression and "aggression is for dictators." His view on the pre-emptive issue has caused him to appear weak on national security. He said: "Iran is the same principle as Iraq. We were wrong to go in there and we lost 8,500 US lives."

He confirmed his isolationist philosophy by saying that the British should be the ones to "take care of Israel," not America. "Why is it assumed that we are the policemen of the world, that it's our moral obligation? Besides, we're broke!"

Paul's non-interventionist policies are certainly seen as radical and, in many ways, deeply un-Republican. Fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich said that Paul's views "are totally out of the mainstream," although this is a little rich coming from the man who is planning a moon colony.

Morgan bizarrely asked the Congressman whether he was "a spanker" with his children. Comparing his parenting and foreign policy views, Paul told him: "I reject the use of force and intimidation with children, as I do with politics."

The interview made for uncomfortable viewing as Morgan rarely let Paul finish a sentence. While his rigidity and firmness in his policy ideas has been praised, Paul did demonstrate a willingness and ability to modify his opinions and bend where necessary. However, the self-proclaimed "conservative liberal" is perhaps the man you want as your grandfather, not your president.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Five things we've learned from Labour conference

The party won't split, Corbynite divisions are growing and MPs have accepted Brexit. 

Labour won't split anytime soon

For months, in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the media had speculated about the possibility of a Labour split. But the party’s conference confirmed that MPs have no intention of pursuing this course (as I had long written). They are tribally loyal to Labour and fear that a split would prove electorally ruinous under first-past-the-post. Many still expect Theresa May to hold an early general election and are focused on retaining their seats.

Rather than splitting, Corbyn’s opponents will increase their level of internal organisation in a manner reminiscent of the left’s Socialist Campaign Group. The “shadow shadow cabinet” will assert itself through backbench policy committees and, potentially, a new body (such as the proposed “2020 group”). Their aim is to promote an alternative direction for Labour and to produce the ideas and organisation that future success would depend on.

MPs do not dismiss the possibility of a split if their “hand is forced” through a wave of deselections or if the left achieves permanent control of the party. But they expect Labour to fight the next election as a united force.

Neither the Corbynites nor the rebels have ultimate control 

Corbyn’s second landslide victory confirmed the left’s dominance among the membership. He increased his winning margin and triumphed in every section. But beyond this, the left’s position is far more tenuous.

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives to the National Executive Committee handed Corbyn’s opponents control of Labour’s ruling body. Any hope of radically reshaping the party’s rule book has ended.

For weeks, Corbyn’s allies have spoken of their desire to remove general secretary Iain McNicol and deputy leader Tom Watson. But the former is now safe in his position, while the latter has been strengthened by his rapturously received speech.

Were Corbyn to eventually resign or be defeated, another left candidate (such as John McDonnell) would struggle to make the ballot. Nominations from 15 per cent of MPs are required but just six per cent are committed Corbynites (though selection contests and seat losses could aid their cause). It’s for this reason that allies of the leader are pushing for the threshold to be reduced to five per cent. Unless they succeed, the hard-left’s dominance is from assured. Were an alternative candidate, such as Clive Lewis or Angela Rayner, to succeed it would only be by offering themselves as a softer alternative.

Corbynite divisions are intensifying 

The divide between Corbyn’s supporters and opponents has recently monopolised attention. But the conference showed why divisions among the former should be interrogated.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an early Corbyn backer, was enraged when his speech was amended to exclude a line announcing that Labour’s pro-Trident stance would not be reversed. Though Lewis opposes renewal, he regards unilateralism as an obstacle to unifying the party around a left economic programme. The longer Corbyn remains leader, the greater the tension between pragmatism and radicalism will become. Lewis may have alienated CND but he has improved his standing among MPs, some of whom hail him as a bridge between the hard and soft left.

Elsewhere, the briefing against McDonnell by Corbyn allies, who suggested he was an obstacle to recruiting frontbenchers, showed how tensions between their respective teams will continue.

Labour has accepted Brexit

Ninety four per cent of Labour MPs backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. But by a similar margin, they have accepted the Leave vote. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both long-standing eurosceptics, confirmed that they would not seek to prevent Brexit.

Owen Smith called for a referendum on the eventual deal during his leadership campaign. But with some exceptions, such as Angela Eagle, most of his backers have rejected the idea. Though 48 per cent of the electorate voted Remain, MPs emphasise that only 35 per cent of constituencies did. Some still fear an SNP-style surge for Ukip if Labour seeks to overturn the outcome.

The debate has moved to Britain’s future relationship with Europe, most notably the degree of free movement. For Labour, like Theresa May, Brexit means Brexit.

Corbyn will not condemn deselections 

The Labour leader could have won credit from MPs by unambiguously condemning deselection attempts. But repeatedly invited to do so, he refused. Corbyn instead defended local parties’ rights and stated that the “vast majority” of MPs had nothing to fear (a line hardly reassuring to those who do). Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Peter Kyle are among the rebels targeted by activists.

Corbyn can reasonably point out that the rules remain the same as under previous leaders. MPs who lose trigger ballots of their local branches face a full and open selection. But Labour’s intensified divisions mean deselection has become a far greater threat. MPs fear that Corbyn relishes the opportunity to remake the parliamentary party in his own images.  And some of the leader’s allies hope to ease the process by reviving mandatory reselection. Unless Corbyn changes his line, the issue will spark continual conflict. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.