The Tea Party movement: five highlights

We pick out the movement's controversies, following Sarah Palin's keynote speech to the first nation

Sarah Palin said last night that the US is "ready for another revolution" and condemned Barack Obama's budget as "immoral" in her keynote speech to the first national Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Tea Party movement is a grass-roots network of conservatives, a protest movement that sprang up in early 2009. But while they are united in their opposition to Obama's health-care programme, public spending and the growth of government, the 600 delegates who gathered at the Gaylord Hotel (I know . . .) are a rather disparate group of angry right-wingers.

So, as Palin calls for a revolution and taunts Obama ("How's that hopey, changey stuff workin' out for ya?" -- a direct quotation), I thought it was about time to pick five highlights from the Tea Party movement's short history.

1. Palin's notes

The more observant among you might have noticed some scribbles on Sarah Palin's palm, in photos of her giving her speech, in which she mocked Obama's use of a teleprompter.

Oh, irony is a beautiful thing. It appears that Palin, while eschewing a teleprompter, has written herself some helpful notes on her hand.

Stefan Sirucek at the Huffington Post provides this blown-up image:

Tea Party Palin 

It's arguable how useful these notes will have been, but then, Palin works in mysterious ways. Ben Smith at Politico translates it thus:

It appears to be an outline:

Energy
Budget Tax Cuts
Lift American Spirits

Fiscal hawks will note that the difference between budget cuts and tax cuts is pretty much the core of the criticism of Republican economics.

2. Opening-night bigotry

This one's not so funny. The convention's opening speech by Tom Tancredo, a former Republican congressman from Denver, focused primarily on illegal immigration. Amid the standard bigotry about "Islamification" and the "cult of multiculturalism" was an even more worrying historical reference to racial segregation.

He said that Obama had been elected only because "we do not have a civics literacy test before people can vote in this country". This refers to the practice -- banned by the 1964 civil rights legislation -- of setting prohibitively difficult tests to prevent black people from getting the vote in segregated Southern states.

Tancredo received a standing ovation for his speech.

3. Money-making

There was controversy around the convention before it even began. It emerged at the end of last month that Palin's fee was in the region of $100,000, while tickets to the weekend were $550 a head.

If that doesn't seem like it's in keeping with the whole "grass-roots" thing, that's probably because it isn't -- the event was also sponsored by corporations, making the whole convention look like a nice little money-spinner.

Palin said she won't benefit from the fee, and told the adoring crowds last night that "This isn't about money", although that's easy to say when you've just been paid more than $1,000 a minute to make a speech.

4. Questionable placards

Tea Party rallies attract a broad range of reactionaries, and the movement has become notorious for the offensive signs displayed. The Huffington Post has photos of some choice highlights, including:

"Obama's plan: white slavery"

"The American taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's ovens"

"Barack Hussein Obama: the new face of Hitler"

5. Tea Party: the Movie

 

Everything about this documentary looks brilliant. What more can I say?

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.