The barbarism of Ahmadinejad’s Iran

What is it these fanatics fear about their women?

In my column in the Sunday Mirror today -- as well as a little bit of politics, as Ben Elton used to say -- I write about the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani. She is the unfortunate woman who has been convicted of adultery and condemned to death by stoning by the Iranian state.

She has already received 99 lashes of the whip from a regime that delights in cruelty, human rights abuses and wilful provocation -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disqualified himself from being taken seriously as a world leader after he said in 2005 that Israel was a "disgraceful blot" and should be "wiped off the face of the earth". Since then, he has done all he can to live down to expectations.

There has been international outrage at the treatment by the Iranian state of Ms Ashtiani, and it looked at one point as if she would be offered asylum in Brazil. But Ahmadinejad, like Robert Mugabe, likes nothing more than to defy reasonable expectation, and now, in a disturbing twist in events, Ms Ashtiania has allegedly confessed on national television to murdering her husband as well. This is months after she expressed her innocence of all charges.

The whole thing has the sinister feel of an old-style Soviet show trial. Only China executes more people each year than Iran. Unless something can be done for her, it looks as if the tragic Ms Ashtiani will still be executed. Her death would be yet another symbol of the powerlessness and mistreatment of women in Islamic theocracies.

What is it these fanatics fear about their women? Their superiority, perhaps?

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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