Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Keep plugging away. The brand is a winner (Times)

The Tories think that the job of changing their party's image is complete, says Daniel Finkelstein. It isn't -- they must continue to reinforce their new brand. Complacency could be fatal.

2. The Innocent smoothies of politics are still the party of the rich (Guardian)

Jonathan Freedland agrees that the Conservative Party rebranding was an early success. But, he says, the Michael Ashcroft tax scandal plays into the public's expectations of the party -- the new Tory brand can't survive many more ugly revelations.

3. Charisma can only go so far for Cameron (Financial Times)

All the charisma in the world can't sort out the contradictions in the new Conservative message, says Matthew Engel. At the end of the day, politics is about beef as well as beefcake.

4. An appeal to the better nature of the baby boomers -- and Boris Johnson (Daily Telegraph)

The Tory front-bencher David Willetts responds to the Mayor of London's column in Monday's Telegraph, which challenged the argument of his new book. Willetts reaffirms that the contract between the generations is broken.

5. Belfast: this deal is a big deal (Guardian)

Devolution completes the Northern Irish jigsaw, but, says Denis Murray, in two years no one will remember that it was an issue. The DUP's main problem now is the formation of an ultra-traditionalist party that will split the unionist vote three ways.

6. Don't write off the US economy (Independent)

China and India may be growing much faster, says Hamish McRae, but in technical innovation there's no contest: the rest of the world looks to the United States for innovation.

7. Where have all the female firebrands gone? (Times)

In 1997 a record number of women MPs got into parliament, says Suzy Jagger. But their biggest achievement was getting elected -- women are not making heavyweight policy on the front benches, or causing trouble from the back benches.

8. Straw has left justice to the tender mercies of the press (Guardian)

The chief enemy of British freedom today is the British press, according to Simon Jenkins. Under the banner of transparency, ministers have allowed a frenzy of blame to develop around the Jon Venables case. This is a decline from the rule of law back towards the lynch mob.

9. Europe must confront its real economic problems (Independent)

Blaming speculators for the eurozone's woes is a displacement activity, says the leading article. Europe needs fundamental reforms to its labour markets and a big shift in internal demand.

10. Rob rich bankers and give money to the poor (Times)

Jeffrey Sachs makes the case for a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions; after all, Wall Street and the City did so little to deserve their record profits.

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter.

Getty
Show Hide image

The struggles of Huma Abedin

On the behind-the-scenes story of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide.

In a dreary campaign, it was a moment that shone: Hillary Clinton, on the road to the caucus in Iowa, stopping at a Mexican fast-food restaurant to eat and somehow passing unrecognised. Americans of all political persuasions gleefully speculated over what her order – a chicken burrito bowl with guacamole – revealed about her frame of mind, while supporters gloated that the grainy security-camera footage seemed to show Clinton with her wallet out, paying for her own lunch. Here was not the former first lady, senator and secretary of state, known to people all over the world. This was someone’s unassuming grandmother, getting some food with her colleagues.

It might be unheard of for Clinton to go unrecognised but, for the woman next to her at the till, blending into the background is part of the job. Huma Abedin, often referred to as Clinton’s “shadow” by the US media, is now the vice-chair of her presidential campaign. She was Clinton’s deputy chief of staff at the state department and has been a personal aide since the late 1990s.

Abedin first met Clinton in 1996 when she was 19 and an intern at the White House, assigned to the first lady’s office. She was born in Michigan in 1976 to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother. When Abedin was two, they moved from the US to Saudi Arabia. She returned when she was 18 to study at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Her father was an Islamic scholar who specialised in interfaith reconciliation – he died when she was 17 – and her mother is a professor of sociology.

While the role of “political body woman” may once have been a kind of modern maid, there to provide a close physical presence and to juggle the luggage and logistics, this is no longer the case. During almost 20 years at Clinton’s side, Abedin has advised her boss on everything from how to set up a fax machine – “Just pick up the phone and hang it up. And leave it hung up” – to policy on the Middle East. When thousands of Clinton’s emails were made public (because she had used a private, rather than a government, server for official communication), we glimpsed just how close they are. In an email from 2009, Clinton tells her aide: “Just knock on the door to the bedroom if it’s closed.”

Abedin shares something else with Clinton, outside of their professional ties. They are both political wives who have weathered their husbands’ scandals. In what felt like a Lewinsky affair for the digital age, in 2011, Abedin’s congressman husband, Anthony Weiner, resigned from office after it emerged that he had shared pictures of his genitals with strangers on social media. A second similar scandal then destroyed his attempt to be elected mayor of New York in 2013. In an ironic twist, it was Bill Clinton who officiated at Abedin’s and Weiner’s wedding in 2010. At the time, Hillary is reported to have said: “I have one daughter. But if I had a second daughter, it would [be] Huma.” Like her boss, Abedin stood by her husband and now Weiner is a house husband, caring for their four-year-old son, Jordan, while his wife is on the road.

Ellie Foreman-Peck

A documentary filmed during Weiner’s abortive mayoral campaign has just been released in the US. Weiner shows Abedin at her husband’s side, curtailing his more chaotic tendencies, always flawless with her red lipstick in place. Speaking to the New York Observer in 2007, three years before their marriage, Weiner said of his future wife: “This notion that Senator Clinton is a cool customer – I mean, I don’t dispute it, but the coolest customer in that whole operation is Huma . . . In fact, I think there’s some dispute as to whether Huma’s actually human.” In the film, watching her preternatural calm under extraordinary pressure, you can see what he means.

In recent months, Abedin’s role has changed. She is still to be found at Clinton’s side – as the burrito photo showed – but she is gradually taking a more visible role in the organisation overall, as they pivot away from the primaries to focus on the national race. She meets with potential donors and endorsers on Clinton’s behalf and sets strategy. When a running mate is chosen, you can be sure that Abedin will have had her say on who it is. There’s a grim symmetry to the way politics looks in the US now: on one side, the Republican candidate Donald Trump is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country; on the other, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton relies ever more on her long-time Muslim-American staffer.

Years before Trump, notable Republicans were trying to make unpleasant capital out of Abedin’s background. In 2012, Tea Party supporters alleged that she was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and its attempt to gain access “to top Obama officials”. In her rare interviews, Abedin has spoken of how hurtful these baseless statements were to her family – her mother still lives in Saudi Arabia. Later, the senator and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain spoke up for her, saying that Abedin represented “what is best about America”.

Whether senior figures in his party would do the same now remains to be seen.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad