Goodbye and good riddance to the Dalai Lama

Here’s hoping, anyway...

News that the Dalai Lama may retire in the next year is to be welcomed by all those sick of the cant, flattery and new age-type nonsense that have long surrounded this former guest editor of French Vogue magazine - however much his followers, such as the distinguished thespians Steven Seagal and Richard Gere, or his friends in the CIA might vouch for him.

It's not that the cause of Tibet does not deserve international sympathy and attention. But it would be served far better by a purely political leadership, not one whose "mystical" aura allows for next to no examination or criticism about its aims and its strategies. I've posted before asking why it is that we think the current Dalai Lama is a living saint.

For a longer look at "His Material Highness", who due to the "blissful, thoughtless exceptionalism" with which the West regards Buddhism, "combined with a Hollywood cult that almost exceeds the power of Scientology... fused with weightless Maharishi and Bhagwan-type babble" is thought of as "a saintly god-king" exiled from "an idealised Tibet", I heartily recommend this article from Salon by Christopher Hitchens. "Far from his Holier-than-all image, the Dalai Lama supports such questionable causes as India's nuclear testing, sex with prostitutes and accepting donations from a Japanese terrorist cult," begins the introduction.

Read it and see if you don't agree with me that it's time to say good bye and good riddance to this worldly prelate. As for his retirement: there's one show I'm sure he'd always be welcome on (just think of the fee he could command). As Nigel Havers exits, who's next for the jungle? Welcome, the Dalai Lama, to "I'm a celebrity... Get me out of here!".

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.