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.

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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.