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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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.