Soon Alan Rusbridger will be looking through this window from the other side. Photo: Muir Vidler/New Statesman
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Staff ballot for next editor is causing untold angst at the Guardian

The staff at the Guardian get a chance to vote on who they think the next editor should be. But how can they do that when they don't know who all the candidates are?

Word reaches the Mole of yesterday's NUJ chapel meeting at the Guardian to discuss the staff ballot on the next editor, due to take place later this month. The ballot is causing much angst in Kings Cross, due to the fact that democracy often produces inconvenient results - i.e. the Scott Trust is worried that the staff won't agree with their choice for an heir to Alan Rusbridger.

The word among the comrades was that headhunters approached the BBC's Robert Peston as an external candidate, although no one knows whether he showed any interest. 

Internally, the contest is between Janine Gibson, recently returned to London after winning a Pulitzer for the US web operation, and Katharine Viner, who replaced her in America after setting up a Guardian outpost Down Under. (Gibson was described by Michael Wolff in GQ as "rather a Fleet Street character - messy, crude, unread and gossipy to an invariably trouble-making end", although he declined to mention that she sacked him as a columnist, which may colour his judgement). Comment supremo Jonathan Freedland has not applied, although the architect of the Guardian website's redesign, Wolfgang Blau, may have thrown his hat into the ring.

The key point from yesterday's meeting was that the staff ballot will be open to regular freelancers - anyone who earns more than half their salary from Guardian commissions. That means a lot more votes from contributors to, say, Weekend Magazine, the Review pages and G2. And which of the candidates came up through features rather than news? Viner. 

The other great unspoken in the room yesterday was the King Across the Water - Newsnight's Ian Katz. "What if the editor of, say . . . Newsround applied?" said staff, hypothetically. Would he - OR SHE - be part of the ballot? No one knows if former Guardian lifer Katz has applied for the job, but it would certainly undermine his position at the BBC if word got out he wanted to jump ship.

When the ballot was held last time, there were four candidates, but all were from the Guardian. The voting system, aptly for the Guardian, is slightly confusing - it's single transferable vote, meaning the candidates with the lowest support in each round is knocked out and their voters' second choices are given to the remaining contenders. Last time - as many of the hacks present remembered - Rusbridger won by a landslide in the first round. 

The big problem this time is what to do if there is an external candidate who doesn't want to publicise their application. Is it fair if they're not on the ballot? What's the point of the staff voting if the Scott Trust could appoint someone who was never even put to a public vote? Such questions were left undecided, although there was talk of an emergency chapel meeting if the staff vote and board decision were not the same. 

After a few rousing renditions of the Red Flag and a hearty quinoa buffet, the meeting broke up. The hustings will take place at the end of the month - but who knows whether all the candidates will be there, or just the internal ones?

I'm a mole, innit.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war