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 I learnt when my wife and I went to Brexit: the Musical

This week in the media, from laughing as the world order crumbles to what Tristram Hunt got wrong – and Leicester’s big fall.

As my wife and I watched Brexit: the Musical, performed in a tiny theatre above a pub in London’s Little Venice, I thought of the American novelist Lionel Shriver’s comment on Donald Trump’s inauguration: “A sense of humour is going to get us through better than indignation.” It is an entertaining, engaging and amusing show, which makes the point that none of the main actors in the Brexit drama – whether supporters of Leave or Remain – achieved quite what they had intended. The biggest laugh went to the actor playing Boris Johnson (James Sanderson), the wannabe Tory leader who blew his chance. The mere appearance of an overweight man of dishevelled appearance with a mop of blond hair is enough to have the audience rolling in the aisles.

The lesson we should take from Brexit and from Trump’s election is that politicians of all shades, including those who claim to be non-political insurgents, have zero control of events, whether we are talking about immigration, economic growth or the Middle East. We need to tweak Yeats’s lines: the best may lack all conviction but the worst are full not so much of passionate intensity – who knows what Trump or Johnson really believe? – as bumbling incompetence. The sun will still rise in the morning (as
Barack Obama observed when Trump’s win became evident), and multi­national capital will still rule the world. Meanwhile, we may as well enjoy the show.

 

Danger of Donald

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t deny the risks of having incompetents in charge. The biggest concerns Trump’s geopolitical strategy, or rather his lack of one. Great power relations since 1945 have been based on mutual understanding of what each country wants to achieve, of its red lines and national ambitions. The scariest moments come when one leader miscalculates how another will react. Of all figures in recent history, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, with his flamboyant manner and erratic temperament, was probably the most similar to Trump. In 1962, he thought President Kennedy, inexperienced and idealistic, would tolerate Soviet missiles in Cuba. He was wrong and the world only narrowly avoided nuclear war.

How would Trump respond to a Russian invasion of the Baltic states? Will he recognise Taiwan as an independent country? Will he scrap Obama’s deal with Iran and support a pre-emptive strike against its nuclear ambitions? Nobody knows, probably not even Trump. He seems to think that keeping your options open and your adversaries guessing leads to “great deals”. That may work in business, in which the worst that can happen is that one of your companies goes bankrupt – an outcome of which Americans take a relaxed view. In international relations, the stakes are higher.

 

Right job, wrong time

I rather like Tristram Hunt, who started contributing to the New Statesman during my editorship. He may be the son of a life peer and a protégé of Peter Mandelson, but he is an all-too-rare example of a politician with a hinterland, having written a biography of Engels and a study of the English Civil War and presented successful TV documentaries. In a parallel universe, he could have made an inspirational Labour leader,
a more thoughtful and trustworthy version of Tony Blair.

No doubt, having resigned his Stoke-on-Trent Central seat, he will make a success of his new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If nothing else, he will learn a little about the arts of management and leadership. But isn’t this the wrong way round? Wouldn’t it be better if people first ran museums or other cultural and public institutions and then carried such experience into parliament and government?

 

Pointless palace

When the Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire in 1834, thousands gathered to enjoy the spectacle. Thomas Carlyle noted that the crowd “whew’d and whistled when the breeze came as if to encourage it” and that “a man sorry I did not anywhere see”.

Now, with MPs reportedly refusing to move out to allow vital renovation work from 2023, we can expect a repeat performance. Given the unpopularity of politicians, public enthusiasm may be even greater than it was two centuries ago. Yet what is going through MPs’ minds is anyone’s guess. Since Theresa May refuses them a vote on Brexit, prefers the Foreign Office’s Lancaster House as the location to deliver her most important speech to date and intends to amend or replace Brussels-originated laws with ministerial orders under “Henry VIII powers”, perhaps they have concluded that there’s no longer much point to the place.

 

As good as it gets

What a difference a year makes. In January 2016, supporters of Leicester City, my home-town team, were beginning to contemplate the unthinkable: that they could win football’s Premier League. Now, five places off the bottom, they contemplate the equally unthinkable idea of relegation.

With the exception of one player, N’Golo Kanté (now at Chelsea), the team is identical to last season’s. So how can this be? The sophisticated, mathematical answer is “regression to the mean”. In a league where money, wages and performance are usually linked rigidly, a team that does much better than you’d predict one season is likely to do much worse the next. I’d suggest something else, though. For those who won last season’s title against such overwhelming odds, life can never be as good again. Anything short of winning the Champions League (in which Leicester have so far flourished) would seem an anti­climax. In the same way, the England cricket team that won the Ashes in 2005 – after the Australians had dominated for 16 years – fell apart almost as soon as its Trafalgar Square parade was over. Beating other international teams wouldn’t have delivered the same adrenalin surge.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era