Is Sarah Palin's tea party over?

It will be if nobody turns up

Reports in the New York Times and on the Think Progress blog suggest that next month's National Tea Party Convention in Nashville is unravelling due to infighting among grass-roots groups. A number of activists are accusing the corporate Tea Party Nation of trying to profit from the convention -- and are particularly exercised over the $549-a-ticket cost of attending. (Check out the Tea Party Nation website: TICKETS TO THE BANQUET WITH GOV PALIN ARE STILL AVAILABLE!!!!! These guys are selling, hard.)

But now groups are actually pulling out. Philip Glass, national director of the National Precinct Alliance, issued a statement as he withdrew from the jamboree:

We are very concerned about the appearance of TPN profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement. We were under the impression that TPN was a non-profit organisation like NPA, interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.

One of the possible reasons for the exorbitant cost of attending the convention is Sarah Palin's reported speaking fee of $100,000. This is yet to be confirmed, but if it's true it places her not that far off Tony Blair in the unbelievably-overpaid-speakers-who-really-know-the-meaning-of-personal-profit category. (Maybe Blair and Palin should team up -- as a sort of political double act -- where gullible audience members turn up and stuff their pockets with hard cash as they pirouette to the tune of "Money Money Money" on a vast golden stage.)

According to Think Progress, however, the Tea Party rebels are not going to let the so-called exploitation continue without a fight, and demonstrations are being planned outside the convention. It wouldn't exactly be a sign of great unity in the grass-roots movement:

"It would really look bad for tea parties to be out there protesting the Tea Party," said former Tea Party Nation member Anthony Shreeve.

And that's where you get to the beauty of the tea party situation, with official Tea Parties versus independent tea parties and the overriding sense that this is one elaborate tea party spinning wildly out of control. As for a tea party protest -- it sounds so genteel, so very decorous. Of course, it will be anything but . . . Beware the fury of a Tea Party scorned.


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Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.