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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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder