US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Can Europe's left rebound? (Washington Post)

There is still skepticism about the 42-year-old Miliband's capacity to win, though I confess a certain sympathy for him as the only leading British politician who is an ardent baseball fan -- and a Red Sox fan to boot, writes E.J. Dionne Jr.

2. The uses of polarization (New York Times)

The power of campaigns to create and motivate new swing voters dovetails with the political strategy of driving polarization, writes Thomas Edsall.

3. A lion in winter (Washington Post)

What's riveting about the documents taken from Osama bin Laden's compound, beyond the headline items about plots to kill American leaders, is the way they allow the reader to get inside the terrorist mastermind's head, writes David Ignatius.

4. France's race to the bottom (Wall Street Journal) (£)

Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent president, whom polls see gone for good in a few weeks, is courting the voters of France's far-right party, the National Front, says Pierre Briancon.

5. Death, by order of your president (Boston Globe) (£)

If you are a US citizen, the president of the United States can issue an order to have you killed without review or approval from any other branch of government. No president has ever asserted such authority, writes John E. Sununu.

6. Romney's car problem (LA Times)

By insisting that the auto industry bailout was a mistake, he hands Obama a clear line of attack, writes this editorial.

7. Iraq a testament to Barack Obama leadership (Politico)

The Iraq episode says a great deal about Obama's approach to national security: He is committed to charting a strategic, pragmatic course that safeguards American interests and values, writes Michele Flournoy.

8. Searching for Archie Bunker (New York Daily News)

Ever since Santorum's February resurgence, talking heads have said Santorum's working-class appeal spells trouble for Romney. In fact, that is a myth. Romney doesn't do that badly with working-class voters in the primaries, says John Stoehr.

9. No more Fukushimas: U.S. plants still face risks (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Twenty-seven reactors have not made adequate provisions for earthquake protection, including Indian Point, the nuclear reactor within 25 miles of New York City, says Gwen L. Dubois.

10. To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements (New York Times)

The Israeli government is erasing the "green line" that separates Israel proper from the West Bank, says Peter Beinart.

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The problem with grammar schools – and the answer to Labour's troubles

This week's news, from Erdogan the despot, to memories of Disraeli, and coffee and class.

Whom should we be cheering in Turkey? Coups are by their nature ­anti-democratic, whatever the rhetoric of their instigators, but Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist president, is about as much of a democrat as Vladimir Putin. Once he regained power, he dismissed several thousand judges, putting some under arrest. A large number of journalists were already in prison.

As recently as 1990, nearly half of Turkey’s employed population worked on the land and, even now, the proportion is more than a quarter. Erdogan has ruthlessly exploited the pious, socially conservative instincts of his people, who are rarely more than a generation away from the peasantry (and therefore politically “backward” in the Marxian sense), to win elections and push through economic liberalisation and privatisation. His foreign affairs ministry claims that the aim is to confine the state’s role to health, basic education, social security and defence. That is good enough for most Western governments. Provided he also co-operates in limiting the flow of Middle Eastern migrants into Europe, Erdogan can be as Islamist and authoritarian as he likes.

 

Quick fix for Labour

I have an answer to Labour’s problems. Its MPs should elect their own leader while Jeremy Corbyn continues as party leader. The former, recognised by the Speaker as the leader of the parliamentary opposition, would get the usual state aid for opposition parties. Corbyn would control Labour Party funds and assets.

He and his hardcore supporters should welcome this arrangement. Their aim, they say, is to build a new social movement. Relinquishing the burden of parliamentary leadership would leave them free to get on with this project, whatever it means. Corbyn could go back to what he enjoys most: voting against the Labour front bench. He would no longer have to dress up, bow to the Queen or sing the national anthem. This, I grant you, would not be a satisfactory solution for the long term. But the long term is more or less extinct in British politics. If Labour had peace for a few months, it might be enough. The situation would be resolved either by Corbyn falling under a bus (preferably not one driven by a Labour MP) or the Tory government collapsing in the face of a mass people’s uprising demanding Corbyn’s installation as supreme ruler. Don’t tell me that neither is likely to happen.

 

Divide and rule

The choice of Birmingham as the location to launch Theresa May’s leadership campaign, combined with proposals such as worker representation on company boards, has drawn comparisons between the new Prime Minister and Joseph Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, who as mayor of Birmingham in the mid-1870s tore down slums, brought gas and water supplies under public control and opened libraries, swimming pools and schools, was a screw manufacturer. There was an Edwardian joke – or, if there wasn’t, there ought to have been – that he screwed both major parties. He became a Liberal cabinet minister who split the party over Irish home rule, putting it out of power for most of the next 20 years. He and his followers then allied themselves with the Tories, known at the time as the Unionists. He duly split the Unionists over tariff reform, excluding them from office for a decade after the Liberals won the 1906 election.

Chamberlain was a populist who brilliantly combined patriotic imperialism with domestic radicalism, proposing smallholdings of “three acres and a cow” for every worker. One can see the appeal to some Brexiteers but he was also divisive and volatile, making him an odd role model for a supposedly unifying leader.

 

Mind your grammar

Justine Greening, the new Education Secretary, is the first to be wholly educated at a mainstream state secondary comprehensive. Pro-comprehensive groups were almost lyrical in praise of her appointment. Yet, unlike her predecessor-but-one, Michael Gove, she declines to rule out the ­return of grammar schools.

To understand how iniquitous grammar schools were, you need to have attended one, as I did. Primary-school friendships were ruptured, usually along lines of social class. The grammars were rigidly stratified. I was in the A stream and do not recall any classmates from semi-skilled or unskilled working-class homes. They were in the C stream and left school as early as possible with a few O-levels. No minister who wants a “one-nation Britain” should contemplate bringing back grammar schools.

 

Living history

Simon Heffer’s recent account in the NS of how his father fought in the Battle of the Somme led one letter writer to ask if anyone alive today could have a grandparent born in the 18th century. Another NS reader replied with an example: John Tyler, a US president of the 1840s, born in Virginia in 1790, had two grandsons who are still alive. Here is another possibility. “As Disraeli said to my husband . . .” If you hear a 94-year-old say that, don’t dismiss her as demented. Disraeli died in 1881. A 71-year-old who married a 24-year-old in 1946 (not impossible; the actors Cary Grant and Anthony Quinn both married women 47 years younger) could have spoken to Disraeli as a boy.

The past is not as far away as we think, though many politicians and journalists behave as though anything before 1980 happened on another planet.

 

Milk money

The class system is alive and well in parts of England. On a family weekend walk, we came across a small village with two adjacent pubs – one clearly for the toffs, the other more plebeian. This was most evident when ordering coffee. The downmarket pub told us that it served only UHT milk with its hot drinks. The other was ostentatiously horrified at the suggestion that it might serve any such thing. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt