The Shard, Mordoresque. Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: Clegg learns the Shard way

Rees-Mogg's history, taxation mystery - and an early warning from South Thanet.

The donors’ and tax avoiders’ ball held by the Tories at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London may raise more cash, but no constituency blowout is likely to attract a bigger crush than the party thrown for Virendra Sharma. The fundraiser to re-elect the Indian-born former bus driver as Labour MP for Ealing Southall was attended by 1,200 people. The guest of honour was Tom Watson, who, back when class politics was fashionable (that’s 2007), sent limos and activists dressed as waiters with silver trays to hound David Cameron in the by-election won by Sharma. Watson’s a heavyweight in more ways than one in the eyes of local Sikhs. Last year, he exposed evidence suggesting that the Thatcher government’s hands weren’t entirely clean of the 1984 massacre at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Tessa Jowell also spoke. I’m told that Sadiq Khan wasn’t formally invited but turned up. Surprisingly, David Lammy didn’t gatecrash the throng. Those present will have votes to pick Labour’s candidate for mayor of London.

No votes have been cast yet but an informant says the clerk’s office is preparing for a possible Ukip triumph in South Thanet. Should Nigel Farage be elected, he’ll be buddied up with a senior official to teach him the ropes. Word has now reached nervous Commons staff.

A Tory grandee grumbled after MPs were given 15-minute “Tesco time slots” in the robing room of the House of Lords to admire surviving copies of Magna Carta. The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, ribbed Jacob Rees-Mogg at the opening ceremony by suggesting that the young fogey was at Runnymede when King John and the barons agreed on peace. Rees-Mogg took it with good grace. This human relic from a bygone political era sounds as though he’d have been in long trousers 800 years ago, having fought William the Conqueror in 1066 and greeted Julius Caesar when he came ashore in 55 and 54BC.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander were wrong to think they’d gone up in the world when they held a Lib Dem press conference on the 52nd floor of the Shard. The party’s failure to check if people could broadcast live from such a height proved problematic. The correspondents who’d trudged over from Westminster, including the BBC’s Norman Smith, were forced to descend to street level to deliver the Yellow Peril’s news. What goes up must come down, as Lib Dem polling since 2010 makes clear.

“She won’t shed any tears if he loses.” Of whom was a prominent figure in the Tory firmament speaking? Sam Cam. Millions of Britons would share her reaction, should Call Me Dave be granted more time to reminisce about his days in the Bullingdon Club.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 13 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Assad vs Isis

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."