In this week’s New Statesman: What if Romney wins?

Nicky Woolf, Mehdi Hasan, Nicholas Wapshott and Mark Leonard write in our US Election Special. PLUS: Rafael Behr on the death of the middle class dream and Rachel Cusk on "the anorexia statement".

Nicky Woolf: How the Midwest was won

Nicky Woolf writes from America as the impending election looms large, where swing states like Ohio hold the key to election victory on Tuesday. Woolf looks at Obama's 2008 auto industry bailout that saved the livelihood of thousands of Ohio residents. Will it be enough to secure him a victory in this critical battleground state?  

This is the middle of the Rust Belt, a name that came about as the industrial era was waning in the latter half of the 20th century, when the steel and manufacturing industries were beginning to lose out for the first time to cheaper competitors overseas that were faster to adapt to circumstances and less enthralled with unionisation and workers’ rights. The cities built on steel started to decay.

Today, because of the government rescue, the Rust Belt is still the home of the American auto industry. To the north in Michigan, Detroit, Motor City, is its beating heart, and Ohio is its muscle. About 848,000 people here do jobs that are directly dependent on or tied to the auto industry.

One of the players at the tournament is Chris Mendez, an ex-marine who now works at the foundry. Does he feel like Obama saved his job? “There’s no doubt in my mind,” he says. “He saved all our jobs. [Before the bailout came,] over half the people at the plant were laid off. I was laid off. When they happened, when we had word that GM was going to be OK . . . it was great. I was overjoyed. I’ve got three kids; when I was laid off they were terrified. I’ll do everything I can to support him – and make sure he gets re-elected.”

…Romney supporters have been celebrating positive national polling in recent weeks. The first findings after the initial presidential debate on 3 October, by pollsters of the Pew Research Centre, showed Romney leading among likely voters for the first time by 4 points – an extraordinary 12-point swing from their previous poll in September. Gallup, too, found a (less dramatic) shift to Romney after the debate, showing him tied with the president on 47 per cent, and a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed the same.

But in Ohio Obama has held his edge: a CNN poll released on 9 October put him still 4 points clear of Romney.Why is this? The answer can be found in an op-ed article Romney wrote for the New York Times in November 2008, condemning the bailout. “If General Motors . . . and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye,” he declared, with devastating hubris.


Mehdi Hasan: The zombie neocons have risen from the dead and found a new Dubbya

In Lines of Dissent, Mehdi Hasan hashes out the difference between Romney and his Republican predecessor, which amounts to very little. Though the Govenor is keen to put distance between himself and George W, when it comes to foreign policy it looks more like “Romney is running for Bush’s third term”. With a cast of neoconservative advisors on his foreign policy team – 17 out of 24 of whom worked under Bush/Cheney – his case as the next Dubbya looks might strong. Hasan writes:

The Romney campaign is, basically, Neocon Central. Five names on the list of his advisers stand out: Eliot Cohen, Cofer Black, Dan Senor, Eric Edelman and Walid Phares.

Cohen was an adviser to Condoleezza Rice at the state department. In November 2001, he was one of the first neoconservatives to call publicly for a war against Iraq in a column in the Wall Street Journal (in which he bombastically described the west’s conflict with al-Qaeda and its allies as the start of “World War Four”).

Black was head of the CIA’s counterterrorism centre, where is he alleged to have overseen the introduction of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) and “extraordinary rendition” (kidnappings). He went on to work for the Bush administration’s favourite private security company, Blackwater.

…Despite being discredited and humiliated over Iraq, the zombie neocons are back from the dead.


Nicholas Wapshott: What if Mitt Romney wins on 6 November? And how will it affect the rest of us?

Self-proclaimed “severe conservative” Romney may have rebranded himself at "Moderate Mitt" since the primaries, but if his manages to “trick” the American people into electing him President, what will the implications be? Even a watered-down Romney in the Whitehouse means a “rubber stamp” on a radical Republican agenda, Wapshott asserts:

If Romney’s rebranding tricks the people and he wins on 6 November, he will soon discover what it is like to be Obama, a president hemmed in by hostile forces. Since angry Tea Party activ­ists consumed the Republican Party in 2009-2010, candidates and congressmen have lined up to sign pledges promising that, if elected, they will not compromise on introducing tax cuts, public spending caps and a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, and will agree to outlaw abortion, ban pornography and keep women in uniform off the front line.

…There is more. Republicans wish to impose their reactionary social agenda on the half of the US they disagree with. Romney has said he would be happy to sign a law making all abortion illegal in all circumstances, including cases of rape and incest and when the procedure is necessary to protect a mother’s health. If that were to happen, Mexico and Canada (perhaps the UK, too) would become medical refugee destinations for those who can afford the air fare. American women who travel abroad to abort can expect to be arrested for murder on their return.


Mark Leonard: The man with two brains

For our lead books review this week, Mark Leonard – author, and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations – takes at look at The Obamians: the Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power. The book “tries to paint a portrait of the 44th president’s foreign policy through the prism of his relationship with his closest advicers.”

Turns out he is a man of two minds, oscillating between the “realism” and “idealism” embodied by the make-up of his foreign policy team: on the one side are the saged policy makers who cut their teeth on the Cold War, on the other side the youthful “Obamians” who made a career for themselves in his 2008 campaign. As Leonard puts it:

According to Mann, Obama had two foreign policy teams: one, for public consumption, was the “team of rivals” that Obama appointed to cabinet-level positions. These grizzled war­horses gave the young president gravitas but they were kept away from the big decisions on foreign policy. They included figures such as Hillary Clinton at the state department, Robert Gates at the Pentagon, Richard Holbrooke as “AfPak” envoy, General James Jones as national security adviser and General David Petraeus, now director of the CIA. They were mainly people whose world-views had been shaped by the cold war. Yet the advisers who stayed behind after the intelligence briefings and helped Obama make his key decisions were younger, more political appointees who had worked on his campaign or made a career in the Senate rather than the national security apparatus.

… Obama’s Jekyll and Hyde persona extended to the level of ideas as he deliberately straddled the two main ideologies of US foreign policy: idealism and realism. As in domestic policy, he combined an unsentimental realism about the realities of power with progressive goals. On the one hand, he did not close Guantanamo and stepped up the policy of using drones to assassinate potential terrorists. On the other, he intervened in Libya to save lives and asked the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to resign.

Obama’s inner circle reflected the two sides of his brain. Rice, McFaul, Power and Rhodes stood for his idealism (Power describes herself as the administration’s “conscience mascot”). Meanwhile, power-brokers such as Donilon and McDonough saw themselves more in the realist tradition of the first President Bush.


Elsewhere in the magazine


Rafael Behr: The dying of the middle-class dream

“The promise of Britain”, “the great middle class” or “the American Dream” – whatever you call it, it’s falling apart.  In an era where people increasingly feel that the system is rigged against them, Rafael Behr brings us a special report on the slow death of the middle class dream. He begins:

All of British politics since the end of the Second World War has been underpinned by a double promise. The first element is collective – every generation will live better than the one before it. The second component is individual – any citizen’s hard work will be rewarded with wealth and higher social status.

In the US, the equivalent offer is explicit in the idea of an “American dream”. In Britain, we are more reticent about expressing the belief that self-advancement should be a fundamental right and more pessimistic about whether it extends to us. That doesn’t mean the idea lacks currency, nor does it diminish the feeling of betrayal when the contract is broken.

It is breaking before our eyes. The financial crisis did not only disrupt the longest run of economic growth in living memory; it upset assumptions about who the economy was designed to serve. The perception that a super-wealthy elite was both responsible for the crash and insulated from its consequences is profoundly demoralising. It mocks the ambition of those who feel they are working harder than ever for diminishing returns.

And on the political front…

This opens a new chapter in British politics. For the first time, swaths of middle-class voters, who for generations were given to understand that the system was fashioned for their benefit, feel it is rigged against them. In such a climate, the conventional messages – the appeal to aspiration and the promise to reward enterprise – ring hollow. Yet the current generation of party leaders doesn’t know any other kind of middle-class politics.

…Downing Street is under no illusions that politics for the foreseeable future will be shaped by the feeling in many households that the ground is giving way beneath their feet. Senior Tories also know that they will not long get away with blaming the nation’s misfortune on the legacy of the last government. “Answering the question ‘What are you going to do about this?’ will be the dominant theme in politics for the next 30 years,” says a No 10 strategist.


Rachel Cusk: The Anorexia Statement

In a searing essay on anorexia nervosa, author Rachel Cusk examines why women go to war with their bodies. Anorexia has long fascinated as a disease that simultaneously engenders both sympathy and frustration, disgust and admiration. Cusk writes forcefully from her own experiences and encounters, raising a potent question: if the female body carries many messages, what is a woman trying to say when she starves herself? What exactly is “the anorexia statement”?

Without quite knowing why, as I have grown older I have become more interested in – it could even be said, more respectful of – what might be called the anorexic statement. Perhaps it’s because, as the 45-year-old English mother of two children, my body has little power of provocation or utterance; or rather, that what it’s said or tried to say through the years hasn’t seemed to have added up to all that much. Quite what constitutes the anorexic statement I’m not entirely sure. All the same, it has a great power of disruption. It’s a stray spoke under the wheel of things that otherwise have the capacity to hurtle on headlong: family life, fashion, the destiny of the female body. The statement might be: help me. Or it might simply be: stop.

…It may seem superfluous for a 45-year-old mother-of-two to say that she does not exult in the life of the body, but let’s just call it a place to begin. At the very least, as a statement, it raises numerous lines of inquiry. One might be: is it obligatory, or even a moral duty, to take pleasure in one’s own physical being? Leaving aside for a moment the question of what definition of pleasure one could possibly arrive at in this particular hall of mirrors, is the value of the physical quest in any way comparable with that of the artistic, the emotional, the spiritual?

I understand the anorexic’s notion of pleasure far better than the hedonist’s. Sometimes it has seemed to me that the second kind of pleasure is consequent on the first, that the life of sensation can be accessed only from a place of perfect self-discipline, rather as strict religious practices were once believed to constitute the narrow path to heaven. The anorexic, like the ascetic before her, publicly posits the immolation of the flesh as a manifestation of a primary physical discontent she is on her way to escaping: she represents a journey whose starting point is disgust. Body is found to be not only intolerable to but weaker than mind – how, then, can its desires and yearnings be taken seriously? The anorexic statement suggests a second body, one that will be painstakingly encroached on and attained; and hence, a second template for desire. This second body will belong to its owner as the first did not: its desires, therefore, will be experienced as not shameful, but true.


In The Critics

The historian David Priestland reflects on the strange rebirth of Whig history. Andrew Marr’s TV series “History of the World” shows, Priestland argues, “the extent to which the struggle to interpret our history has been won by a complacent liberalism”. This isn’t to say that the BBC shouldn’t be investing in grand histories. “Yet they have to choose the right ones,” Priestland cautions. “For bad history may be worse than no history at all.”

In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to children’s author Anthony Horowitz about the latest book in his Power of Five Series, Oblivion. Horwitz tells Derbyshire that the three main characters in the book “are heavily influenced by the Murdochs” (the novel was written while the phone hacking scandal was at its height). On the public responsibilities of writers of children’s fiction, Horowitz says: “You should not try to proselytise… I do get very nervous when writers like me get vocal about political issues and get up on soapboxes, because the end results can be very messy.”

Also in Books: Sarah Churchwell reviews Michael Gorra’s book Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece; Talitha Stevenson reviews Songs of Innocence, Fran Abrams’s history of British childhood; and Andrew Adonis reviews The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy by Douglas Carswell. PLUS: “The Descent”, a poem by Emily Berry.

Elsewhere in the Critics: Rachel Cooke on Mark Gattiss’s “A History of Horror”; Ryan Gilbey reviews Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and the US cut of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining; Rachel Haliburton goes to Moscow to discover what Chekhov means to the Russians; Kate Mossman is beguiled by a musical collaboration between Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge; and Antonia Quirke rails against cuts to arts programming on the World Service.


Follow the link to purhcase this week's issue of the New Statesman online:


Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.