Assessing the media reaction

Much of Fleet Street’s coverage of the Budget focuses on the introduction of the new 50p top tax rate, no doubt partly because newspaper editors are among those affected.

The Daily Telegraph’s front page depicts Gordon Brown as Lenin and howls that Labour has reignited the ‘class war’. The paper’s flagship columnist Simon Heffer rather counter-intuitively declares that the Budget was an assault on “Middle England”, despite the fact that the new top rate will only hit the richest 1 per cent.

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, the most visible champion of progressive taxation in recent years, hails the decision to “soak the rich” but laments that it has come so late. “This last social democratic flag may be drowning, not waving,” she writes. While the same paper’s leader warns that the rises in income tax will produce all too little revenue since they were “not combined with measures on property or capital.”

Far from a budget for the people, this was a budget for Switzerland, declares the Times’s leader . While some bankers will cough up, many more will be sent “scurrying to Geneva”, it claims. The decision to tear up the manifesto pledge not to raise income tax marks the death of “Mr Blair’s political project”, it adds. But the Independent’s reliably contrarian Steve Richards detects a quintessentially “new Labour dimension” to the decision. He notes that new Labour “never acted without checking the opinion polls and the focus groups first”, and suggests that Brown was persuaded to act after surveys showed the move would be popular.

However, it is one policy likely to swing Fleet Street against Labour come election time and Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, declares that the Budget marks the end of new Labour’s romance with the Murdoch press. There is now “no doubt” that the Times and the Sun will back David Cameron at the next election, he writes on his blog. Elsewhere, the Financial Times’s political columnist Philip Stephens says that Cameron’s Budget response was “that of a politician on the threshold of Downing Street.”

A recent survey of senior editors and journalists by the ConservativeHome blog found that only the Daily Mirror was likely to offer unambiguous support for Labour at the next election and the press reaction does little to dispel this suggestion. Though few go as far as the Daily Express, whose front page flatly declares “They’ve Ruined Britain”.

Some rare words of comfort come from the influential economist Will Hutton in the Guardian, who writes that Alistair Darling’s “considered calmness is becoming a considerable economic and political asset.” But Peter Oborne's withering dismissal of the Chancellor is far more typical. “Darling ducked the challenge. He ran away from the sound of gunfire. He failed the nation and he failed himself,” he declares in the Daily Mail.

Darling’s admission today that “the headlines were never going to be good…I was reconciled to that”, reflects a stoicism that will be much needed over the coming months.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear