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In this week’s New Statesman | The Summer of Blood

A first look at this week’s magazine.

5 SEPTEMBER 2014 ISSUE

COVER STORY: THE SUMMER OF BLOOD

FROM IRAQ TO AFGHANISTAN: THE BLACK HOLES WHERE THE NASTIEST GROUPS ARE THRIVING

John Simpson: the only credible response is to turn these
places back into proper countries

STEPHEN GLOVER: THE RIGHTEOUS MIND

The Guardian’s Nick Davies was courageous and correct
to expose phone-hacking – but he has crossed the line between reporter and campaigner

THE POLITICS ESSAY: THE TORY SCHISM

Tim Bale: From Robert Peel and the split over the Corn Laws
to the Ukip insurgency

Plus

DAVID PATRIKARAKOS IN UKRAINE: WHEN ONE SIMPLE MISTAKE
CAN LEAD TO CATASTROPHE

LETTER FROM EDINBURGH: ANGUS ROXBURGH BELIEVES SCOTS SHOULDN’T
BE AFRAID TO TALK ABOUT NATIONALISM

HELEN LEWIS: ONLINE ABUSE, LEAKED NUDES AND REVENGE PORN – THIS IS NOTHING LESS THAN TERRORISM AGAINST WOMEN

THE POLITICS COLUMN: SPLITS OVER EUROPE SHOW THAT THE TORIES ARE
LOSING – SO WHY DOESN’T IT FEEL LIKE LABOUR IS WINNING?

And

IN THE CRITICS: RACHEL COOKE ON THE STRANGE, DARK LIFE OF
JIMMY SAVILE
PETER WILBY WISHES THE ESTABLISHMENT
BY OWEN JONES WENT DEEPER TRACEY THORN WATCHES
KATE BUSH’S RETURN TO THE STAGE

 

 

COVER STORY: THE SUMMER OF ANFAL

The BBC’s world affairs editor, John Simpson, reports from Pol-e Khomri in northern Afghanistan, where he talks to Commander Mirwais, the local leader of Hizb-e-Islami, a Taliban group that once murdered a BBC journalist who was filming with them. “I know all about Isis,” the commander says, using the Arabic acronym for the group – “Daish”:

“We have links with some Daish members. Muslims are thirsty for an Islamic caliphate in the world. Daish is expanding, conquering entire parts of Syria and Iraq, and we are waiting to see if they meet the requirements for an Islamic caliphate.

“If they do, then we are ready to join them. They are great Islamic fighters, and we pray for them.”

If Islamic State (IS) were to begin operating in Afghanistan, Simpson writes, it would be harder than ever for the new government to take control of the country. He makes a connection between the campaigns by extreme Islamist groups across the globe. “They have become fiercer, more brutal and considerably more effective” in Libya, Gaza City (where the IS flag has been flying) and Nigeria, and are able to use the internet to follow one another.

“The more complex the population,” Simpson writes, “the greater the opportunity – especially when the existing government is incapable of defending its minorities.”

Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Nigeria: in one way or another they are all in danger of becoming black holes in which the nastiest and weirdest groups can thrive. The only serious answer is to turn them back into real countries once again. But that takes long-term commitment from outside interests, especially (though not exclusively) the US and Europe. It certainly can’t be achieved by firing off a few rounds of missiles.

 

THE RIGHTEOUS MIND: STEPHEN GLOVER, CO-FOUNDER OF THE INDEPENDENT, ON THE REAL ENEMIES OF NICK DAVIES

In a vigorous and provocative essay, Stephen Glover, co-founder of the Independent and founding editor of the Independent on Sunday, says that even though he admires the Guardian journalist Nick Davies for exposing widespread phone-hacking by the tabloid press, Davies’s motivation has little to do with victims of the crime. He also argues that it’s a big mistake to regard Davies as an “unvarnished hero”:

Despite his prowess in unmasking wrongdoing, I see him in many ways as a destructive figure, consumed by unreasonable hatreds, whose motivation was not only to expose malpractice at the NoW but also to weaken much of the British press, in which task he has succeeded pretty well.

Davies’s target first and foremost, Glover writes, was Rupert Murdoch, owner of “the Sunday Times and Times and, more especially, the Sun and the now-defunct News of the World”. Glover defends Murdoch’s decision to move his papers to Wapping, because it “gave the press a vital lease of life”, and he tries to debunk the assumption that the media mogul has the power to throw elections:

Murdoch may have backed the winning side in eight successive elections but there is a strong argument that, with the possible exception of 1992, he was simply jumping on a bandwagon that was already heading in a particular direction.

Glover takes his argument further, suggesting that Davies harbours a “near-total contempt for the British press”:

He despises most journalists and hates most newspapers. He doesn’t express a single word of sympathy for innocent Sun hacks hauled out of bed and arrested by the police at the crack of dawn, or for those who have been kept on police bail for many months without charge. Only the Guardian is on the side of the angels, the chief reason being that it does not have to make money, as it has a huge trust fund behind it.

He highlights Davies’s suggestion that the former Observer editor Roger Alton allowed himself to be bullied by the Blair government into supporting the Iraq war: “the most heinous accusation one could make against an editor”. Glover says the idea is based on “shreds of tittle-tattle or hearsay” – perhaps of the same kind that led the Guardian to announce in a report by Davies that the New of the World had deleted messages left on the missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone, which raised her family’s hopes that she was still alive. The claim turned out to be false but Davies never apologised or retracted.

 

GEORGE EATON: THE POLITICS COLUMN

In his column this week, the NS political editor, George Eaton, argues that the “discipline, pragmatism and ruthless desire to win” that allowed the Conservative Party to govern for 57 years of the 20th century seem to be disintegrating, starting with the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip:

That the Tories are convulsed by an issue [Europe] that does not even feature in the top ten of voters’ concerns is a clear sign that the party has lost its winning instincts. Another was the willingness to relinquish the planned boundary changes in return for the abandonment of House of Lords reform. Another still is the decision of so many new MPs in marginal seats (nine) to stand down rather than take their chances with the electorate.

To understand the enemy better, Eaton writes, “GCHQ staff have been ordered to read Revolt on the Right, Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford’s analysis of the rise of Nigel Farage. But the opposition cannot afford to be sanguine in the face of Ukip’s increasing popularity.

On the micro level, Farage’s party poses an immediate threat in target seats such as Thurrock and a longer-term one in Labour’s northern fortresses. On the macro level, the ascendancy of a party that trades in cynicism and anti-politics creates a culture ever less hospitable to a social-democratic idealist such as Ed Miliband. The Ukip insurgency has robbed Labour of the energy and momentum that ordinarily accrue to an opposition party on the road to Downing Street.

Eaton says that Labour strategists are “alive to the danger of winning the election by default, lacking a mandate for bold change and the popular support necessary to sustain a government through another parliament of austerity”:

“People aren’t yet convinced that we’re prepared to make the changes required. That’s why they’re playing footsie with Farage,” one shadow cabinet member tells me. To others, the Ukip surge is evidence of the need to offer reassurance, above all else, on the issues of the deficit, welfare and immigration.

The tension is greatest in the case of the NHS. The desire to sustain the health service (the issue on which Labour enjoys its largest poll lead) and to carve potent dividing lines with the Tories competes with the fear that a party devoted to reducing the “cost of living” cannot credibly commit to a rise in general taxation. The solution, combined with a definitive and radical policy on tuition fees, will likely form the centrepiece of Labour’s conference.

 

HELEN LEWIS: ONLINE ABUSE, LEAKED NUDES AND REVENGE PORN – THIS IS NOTHING LESS THAN TERRORISM AGAINST WOMEN

In her column – Out of the Ordinary – the New Statesman’s deputy editor, Helen Lewis, identifies a common thread in a series of appalling cases of online abuse, often aimed at women involved in the video-games industry. The cases include the leaking of nude photos of female celebrities, most recently the actress Jennifer Lawrence. “This is a form of terrorism,” Lewis writes.

What we are witnessing are deliberately outrageous acts, designed to create a spectacle and to instil fear in a target population. Where Osama Bin Laden watched in approval as every news network endlessly replayed the footage of a plane hitting a tower, the hackers and harassers must feel thrilled by all the carefully search-engine-optimised headlines above articles decrying the latest leaked pictures. It is a function of successful terrorism that the media become unavoidably complicit in spreading the terror. There is no way to report the story without increasing its potency. We cannot stop looking.

Lewis links the leaking of nude celebrity photos to the impetus behind revenge porn – men use it to “punish women who step out of line”. Online radicalisation is also a factor:

It would be hard to design a better echo chamber than a tightly knit, insular internet forum. We already know that groups tend to drift to extremes as members move with the prevailing wind (and moderates leave). Add a dash of alienation and a sprinkle of resentment and you have the perfect crucible for extremist behaviour.

There is a crucial difference between what has happened to [Anita] Sarkeesian, to Z [a games developer] and to the female celebrities and revenge porn victims, and the reaction to more conventional kinds of terrorism. I bet you no one involved in any of the former will be put under a control order or have their passport taken away. It’s only women living in fear, after all.

 

Plus

In Peter Wilby’s First Thoughts: A Tory-Labour grand coalition, generous
BBC pay-offs and why Isis will probably ignore Britain

Mehdi Hasan: Why is the Muslim world in thrall to conspiracy theories?

Jonn Elledge describes his itchy run-in with London’s bed-bug pandemic

Valerie Grove discusses J B Priestley’s politics with his son, Tom

The Science column: Michael Brooks on a dispute about how far away we are
from the stars that is souring transatlantic relations

Mark Lawson on Philip Seymour Hoffman and posthumous films

Ed Smith scrutinises Alex Salmond’s charm and his bully-boy tactics

Amanda Craig gets to grips with a ripping Arthurian satire – and Christopher Bray considers Marlon Brando’s physical power and intellect

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.