Will Cheryl Cole return to British X-Factor? We need to know

Thank heavens for the broadsheets, asking the questions to which the British public needs answers.

Cheryl Cole, our dimple-cheeked Queen of Talent Show Hearts, has been dumped. Dumped, I tell you. And a nation mourns. Our transatlantic cousins, we are told, struggle to get their ears around her Geordie diphthongs, and fail to see the attraction of the Cornetto-legged former Girls Aloud warbler.

First, they threw away our tea – now, they throw away our talent show judges! How could the Yanks reject our big-haired Princess of Pop? How could they? How could they eschew the breezy charm of the nation's favourite much-misunderstood songstress?

Well, this means war. No more shirtsleeve barbecues for our great leaders. No more speeches from Barack Obama of such great historical resonance that they cause Ken Clarke to drift into a gentle slumber. (Though, to be fair to him, it wasn't "classic" sleep, where one goes to bed in pyjamas and a nightcap, and therefore shouldn't really be considered sleep at all.) No. We are now at war with the United States. This is Colegate. This is serious.

You might say to me, "Oh come now, Baxter, you and your so-called words in your so-called blog, what are you on about? This isn't a serious business, is it? This isn't worthy of discussion." You might be one of those people who decides that certain subjects are not fit to be talked about beneath certain mastheads, deeming them somehow low culture and unworthy of inspection.

But I am not alone in recognising the seriousness of this event, the magnitude of Ms Cole's ejection from the US X-Factor, the true enormity of the tossing aside of this once-great talent of our fair shores by those ignorant folks on the other side of the Pond.

As ever, the broadsheets take apart the real issues of the day, wondering if she should return to the British X Factor as a nation comes to terms with its grief. But we have moved from denial to anger swiftly, and the highbrow news outlets want to howl over the corpse of Cole's Stateside career. This isn't just a story for Daybreak viewers, but Radio 4 listeners. This is a big deal.

Catherine Gee in the Telegraph wondered: "How could the Americans do this to our national heroine? Was it her hair (too large)? Her voice (too Geordie)? Her personality (too boring)?" Stuart Heritage in the Guardian had similar fears: "Maybe it was the accent, maybe it was the colossal hair, maybe it was the time she wore a dress that was quite similar to Paula Abdul's."

The Independent's Adam Sherwin pointed the finger at Simon Cowell, saying: "When the ruthless music mogul decides the show must go on, but without one of his star protégés, the end is usually swift." But the BBC's Fiona Bailey added a sinister note to proceedings: "As the news spreads across the pond, back home in the UK, some fans are wondering whether her role on the show was a glorified PR stunt."

Rejoice, rejoice!

A PR stunt, you say? Good God. Next you'll be telling me that Denmark hasn't banned Marmite, despite all the acres of newsprint devoted to Denmark having apparently banned Marmite earlier this week, which entirely coincidentally gave a shedload of free publicity to the yeast spread.

Would Simon Cowell really be that sly? Would Cheryl – our Cheryl, the harem-panted angel of our hearts – really be willing to be part of such subterfuge, or is she just a pawn in Cowell's devious masterplan? Oh, Cheryl. Are you merely a tiny cog in Uncle Simon's big machine, or are you his cackling sidekick? We must know. We have to know.

Of course, you see what's happened here. I started off with every intention of avoiding the "why did Cheryl Cole get dumped by America, you heartless brutes?" article, and snidely making fun of people who churned out such pieces for the broadsheets, as if I am somehow better than them even though I'm considerably less successful than they are, yet I've ended up doing it myself. I could try and climb on to a high horse and say that news should just be about Libya or Ratko Mladic, but I know that's not sensible – I'm just as interested in this as everyone else.

So what's my theory? Do I adopt the tinfoil hat and see Cowell twirling his villainous moustache? No, I don't think so. Some people just don't travel well. It's probably not the accent, or the hair, or the dimples, or anything like that; she's just not famous enough, or popular enough, to be as well liked over there as she is here.

Sad, but their loss is our gain. We get to have our Cheryl back. The tabloids (and the broadsheets) rejoice.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear