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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.