In this week's New Statesman: President Newt

Gingrich: America's most dangerous man | Scottish Labour leader: Salmond is anti-English | David Shr

newt cover

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Why are they rooting for Newt?

In this week's New Statesman, following the former House Speaker's win in the South Carolina primary over the front-runner, Mitt Romney -- the least likely twist so far in the Republican race to become presidential candidate -- Mehdi Hasan profiles Newt Gingrich, new hope of the American right.

In "Why are they rooting for Newt?" Hasan lists the ten things we should all know -- but don't -- about the man who could become president of the United States in ten months' time, including:

Family values aren't his strongest suit
He cheated on his first wife with the woman who became his second wife, and on his second wife with his third. According to his former campaign treasurer L H Carter, Newt said of his first wife, Jackie: "She's not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the president. And besides, she has cancer."

He makes George W Bush look like a peacenik
Neoconservative Newt pushed long and hard for a war with Iraq . . . These days his focus is on Iran's nuclear programme, which he hyperbolically describes as a Nazi-like "mortal threat".

He has issues with ethics
[Whilst Speaker of the House of Representatives, between 1995 and 1999], a record 84 ethics charges were filed against him, and in 1997 he was reprimanded by colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives and ordered to pay a fine of $300,000. It was the first time in the 208-year history of the House that a Speaker had been disciplined for ethical wrongdoing.

Newt likes to claim that the charges were a partisan attack on him by opposition Democrats; yet the House voted against him by a margin of 395-28.

Also in this Cover Story, Alec MacGillis describes the Gingrich bloodlust that fires up America's conservative heartlands -- but not the Republican Party.

The cover illustration of Newt Gingrich is by Ralph Steadman, one in a continuing series of portraits created exclusively for the NS. Steadman is famed for his illustrations for works by the American gonzo writer Hunter S Thompson.

Scottish Labour leader: Salmond is chauvinist and anti-English

For the Editor's Note, Jason Cowley travels to Edinburgh to meet Johann Lamont, the new Scottish Labour leader, who denounces First Minister Alex Salmond for his "chauvinism" and for being an anti-English opportunist. She tells Cowley:

"We did not recognise what was happening to the Labour vote nor the way in which the SNP were positioning themselves, being both left, right and centre. And actually, they were putting a triple block virtually on the question of independence. It is their only policy, but that wasn't their message."

Of the Scottish National Party, she says:

"So there is no politics there actually. This is all about identity and who is Scottish."

Of Alex Salmond, the SNP leader:

"Are they a social-democratic party? Some of them are. Alex Salmond isn't."

However, according to Lamont, Salmond is anti-English:

"What is my problem with David Cameron? He is a Tory. What is Alex Salmond's problem with him? He's English. I don't mind people being nationalists. I worry when it trips over into chauvinism and I'm frustrated when it becomes a substitute for arguing about real politics."

The MP Denis MacShane calls for an inquiry into Britain's offshore press barons

Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham and one of the politicians involved in the high court settlement of phone-hacking cases on 19 January, uses a reflective piece to call for a proper inquiry into the "power and arrogance" of the offshore-owned press in Britain. He writes:

The time has come to insist that ownership of the media should be in the hands of citizens who live and pay taxes in our nation, as is the norm in the US and most other democracies . . . Last summer, Ed Miliband won dividends by taking a huge risk and ditching 15 years of Blair-Brown genuflection before Rupert Murdoch . . . [and] has got David Cameron and Vince Cable dancing to his tune on responsible capitalism and high pay. Can he now make it Labour policy that our press is part of Britain and not the plaything of offshore proprietors?

MacShane describes an intrusive story about his personal life by the offshore-owned Daily Mail. It is just one example of "the tabloids' culture of destroying the private lives of politicians", he writes. The invasion of his ministerial privacy by a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper was another matter:

The police showed me details about a confidential government mission I was undertaking as minister for Europe to try to solve a problem that bedevilled relations with an important European state.

In those pre-BlackBerry days ministerial private offices left messages on mobile phones, which Murdoch's minion hacked. It was as if a Murdoch man had wondered into the Foreign Office and stolen papers off my desk.

Laurie Penny on the end of Occupy

With eviction imminent for the St Paul's protesters and with the struggle across 102 days spent sleeping rough taking its toll, Laurie Penny reports on whether there is a future for the global Occupy movement:

Many of those who have remained at the camps and squats over the winter cannot or will not return home. Some have been living on the streets for years; others have lost their jobs and homes only recently because of rent hikes and austerity measures . . . Traumatic as they will be, the evictions need not signal the end of Occupy. As the last few camps are forcibly broken up, Occupiers all over the world are moving into indoor spaces and squats, with a particular focus on "dead" real estate owned by big banking firms.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus a feature by the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator, Peter Oborne, on the Tunisian dissident falsely accused by Interpol and the press of terrorism; Helen Lewis suggests a new way to take on page-three sexism; Sophie Elmhirst has a deep encounter with the actor Ralph Fiennes in the NS Interview; to coincide with his new Hayward Gallery exhibition Brain Activity we print an exclusive new illustration by former NS cartoonist David Shrigley, and the poet Craig Raine considers the work of David Hockney in the first of a series of essays for New Statesman on the visual arts.

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Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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