Pope Laurie I. Well, that's one way to get white smoke to come out of the chimney.
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Laurie Penny on a career move: Dear Vatican, I would like to be Pope, love Laurie Penny

Laurie Penny has GCSE Latin and a collection of ridiculous hats, plus years of experience dealing with in-fighting and intrigue (on the British Left). There is literally no reason she couldn't be Pope. Except for the Catholic thing. And the woman thing.

To: the Head of Recruitment, Vatican City

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’ve become aware of a vacancy in your organisation, and in these straitened times I thought I’d get ahead of the game in my application for the role of Pontifex.

I understand that the job of God’s Representative on Earth is likely to be a challenging and demanding one. It requires careful wardrobe management, judicious hand-waving, showmanship and the ability to spend a lot of time smiling politely around some very strange people without getting cramp in your facial muscles. As a queer woman of Jewish descent I might not be the obvious choice to spread the Lord’s message to millions of Catholics worldwide, but just give me a chance and I’m sure I can transubstantiate with the best of them.

The fact that I don’t believe in God might be considered an impediment. However, lack of personal faith in the existence of a supreme being has never stopped world leaders from, for example, waging Holy War in His name. Indeed, some might consider the basic principles of compassion and charity for all men and women an obstacle to the vital duties of discouraging condom use, opposing women’s right to choose and providing cod-spiritual justification for the persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Not being a Christian, all I have to stop me spreading dogmatic misogyny and homophobia in the name of morality is my own personal sense of what’s right and wrong, and we all know how that goes, don’t we?

I admit that I have no previous experience in promoting life-threatening medical misinformation to millions. I do, however, have GCSE Latin, a collection of ridiculous hats and a talent for getting on with old ladies. Other qualifications: I love babies, and I’m happy to kiss any number of them, as long as they’re not colicky. I’m great at hand-waving - in fact, I can actually vogue, a skill I picked up in Trannyshack in Soho.

The previous holder of the position got an early start in the vital disciplines of vicious, arbitrary prejudice, ritualised shuffling and far-out workplace fashion. While I have never been in the Hitler Youth, I was a member of the Woodcraft Folk, also known as “the militant wing of the co-op”, during which time I learned how to make spaghetti on a camp stove and was savaged by a badger. I also once drew stigmata on my hands and face in felt-tip to freak-out my Catholic classmates - face it, I’m essentially perfect for the job. If selected, I would re-institute the tradition of the Papal Succubus, a practice that has sadly died out since the days of Pope Sylvester.

As Pope, I would work hard to expand the brand-recognition of the Vatican, which has struggled to maintain its grip on the global market in quasi-ecstatic hogwash in the 21st century. I already spend most of my time on Twitter and Facebook, in addition to which I actually know how to accessorise a white onesie.

As the philosopher Will Smith commented in the contemporary spiritual manual Men In Black, the difference between me and the other guy is that I make this look good. Of course, there’s no need to do away with the secrecy, in-fighting and conspiracy-mongering, an aspect of the role for which my several years of experience on the British left have prepared me amply.

I understand that you’re likely to have a lot of interest in this position. If my application is unsuccessful I plan to try out for a job as the next Doctor Who, a role in which the prospect of a female incumbent has proved just as rabidly unpopular.

Yours hopefully,

Laurie Penny



Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things .

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.