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In this week’s New Statesman | Why Britain and Germany aren’t natural enemies

A first look at this week’s magazine.

24 OCTOBER 2014 ISSUE

BRENDAN SIMMS: WHAT THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO TEACHES US ABOUT ANGLO-GERMAN RELATIONS

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WILL SELF: LABOUR PEERS ARE A “WALKING SOLECISM” AND SHOULD LEAVE THE HOUSE OF LORDS

NAOMI KLEIN ON MOTHERHOOD AND CLIMATE CHANGE: “I WRITE ABOUT GETTING OFF FOSSIL FUELS AND THEN I PLAY WITH MY SON’S TRUCKS”

HELEN LEWIS MEETS TIM MINCHIN, SATIRIST-TURNED-SUPERSTAR

MEHDI HASAN: WESTERN PROGRESSIVES SHOULD BACK BRAVE KURDS

THE STRONG GROWN WEAK: JOHN BEW REVIEWS WORLD ORDER, HENRY KISSINGER’S “CLARION CALL TO THE WEST”

GEORGE EATON: DAVID CAMERON’S NEW IMMIGRATION PITCH COULD SPELL DOOM FOR THE TORIES

“MAD” TRACEY EMIN v “HOLLYWOOD” STEVE McQUEEN: MARK LAWSON ON A REMATCH OF THE OLD TURNER PRIZE RIVALS

 

COVER STORY: THE FIRST NATO OPERATION

The Cambridge historian Brendan Simms considers the course of Anglo-German interaction from the Hanoverian Succession of 1714 to the antagonism between the two countries in the European Union today. Before the First World War, Professor Simms points out, England and Germany enjoyed a mutual respect and admiration, and shared in a “common project to defend their own freedoms and the ‘liberties of Europe’”. Simms identifies the Napoleonic wars, when the King’s German Legion was part of the regular British army, as the high point of the Anglo-German project:

France represented an existential strategic and ideological threat to both parts of George III’s patrimony. Napoleon’s ambitions on the Continent were incompatible with the independence of Britain and the integrity of the electorate. His domestic programme struck at the heart of the old order in Germany and at parliamentary liberties in Britain. The battle against “French tyranny” thus became a common rallying cry.

Simms shows how the Battle of Waterloo – in which English, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Nassauer, Brunswicker, Dutch, Walloon and Flemish soldiers fought side by side – was “truly the first Nato operation”. The bicentenary of the battle in 2015 will have relevance for the European project today, he argues:

Given the severe challenges the EU faces in eastern Europe and the Middle East, and the collective failure to address them by the eurozone generally and Berlin in particular, the King’s German Legion, and especially the 2nd Light Battalion, could serve as the model for a future European army.

 

THE NS ESSAY: WILL SELF

In a vigorous polemic for this week’s issue, Will Self argues that a misty-eyed affection for our “hazily numinous” constitution has degraded democracy, created an “elective dictatorship” and rendered parliament the “gentlemanly capitalist’s preferred club”. Self finds both sides of the political divide guilty:

It is customary for those on the left to view all the flummery and mummery of the British state as just something we accept as the price of rubbing along. Periwigs and coronets with baubles; black rods and white stockings – these are the froufrous that guarantee our commitment to good old British gradualism rather than the violent regime change that afflicts other countries. For myself, I have always considered anyone who espouses socialism styling themselves as a lord or lady to be a walking solecism – perhaps not on a par with a Holocaust survivor choosing to assume the title SS-Obergruppenführer, but tending in that direction.

Thoroughgoing reform of the principal state institutions is a vital first step towards constitutional change, he argues, and the House of Lords must be abolished without delay:

Why wait? Why don’t all those Labour peers who claim they’ve only taken their seats in the cause of such abolition use this historic opportunity to vote with their feet, renounce their titles and reconstitute themselves as a part of the constitutional convention? I cannot conceive of a more powerful statement in support of democracy; moreover, in so doing, these former lords and ladies would be rejoining the commoners whose rights they say they wish to uphold, and at the same time striking a potentially fatal blow at the elective dictatorship that has progressively degraded democracy, equality, liberty and any semblance of fraternity in this country since the passage of the Parliament Act in 1911.

 

MOTHER EARTH: NAOMI KLEIN ON PARENTHOOD AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Sophie McBain meets Naomi Klein, the left-wing activist and author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, to discuss her campaign to paint the climate-change debate red. In her most recent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism v the Climate, Klein argues that the issue of global warming should be used to deliver a “killer blow” to the free-market world-view:

“I do view free-market ideology as essentially a cover story for greed,” she tells me. “I don’t think it’s an ideology that should be taken entirely seriously. I don’t think people come to it for the most part out of intellectual curiosity.

“I think it is a story that is incredibly convenient to elites because it rationalises extremely antisocial behaviour. It’s an ideology I don’t want to make peace with.”

Klein’s growing interest in climate change has coincided with first-time motherhood and she jokes that the two things are not always compatible:

Klein is married to the TV journalist and film-maker Avi Lewis and has a son, Toma, who is two years old and “absolutely truck-crazy”. She visibly cheers at the mention of him. “It’s been hilarious watching this thing evolve, as I’m writing about getting off fossil fuels and then I go downstairs and play with dump trucks.”

 

THE NS INTERVIEW: TIM MINCHIN ON WHY RELIGION IS THE ONLY TARGET WORTH TAKING ON

The NS’s Helen Lewis meets the composer-comedian Tim Minchin, who has recently broken through as a writer of blockbuster musicals, including the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Olivier-winning stage version of Matilda. Minchin’s aim is to use comedy to encourage a more rational world-view and his stellar success is now allowing him to set his satirical sights on bigger targets. Religion is top of the list:

In religion, Minchin has found the answer to his unique dilemma: that he had run out of upwards to punch [this refers to the satirist’s vocation and duty: to “punch upwards”]. In 2010, he wrote “The Pope Song”, which called the pontiff a motherf***er more than 40 times. This rampant offensiveness is part of the conceit – how dare people be more offended by a swear word than by the Catholic Church covering up decades of paedophilic abuse by priests? The song says, “. . . if you protect/A single kiddie f***er/Then pope or prince or plumber/You’re a f***ing motherf***er”. It’s not subtle, but it certainly makes its point.

Not all of his songs about religion are such brickbats. In 2011, a relatively innocuous Christmas song, “Woody Allen Jesus” (“Short and Jewish and quite political/Often
hesitant and very analytical”), got cut from The Jonathan Ross Show at the last minute. Minchin blamed ITV’s director of television Peter Fincham, writing on his blog: “He did this because he’s scared of the ranty, shit-stirring, right-wing press, and of the small minority of Brits who believe they have a right to go through life protected from anything that challenges them in any way.”

 

MEHDI HASAN: ARMING THE KURDS IS THE ONLY OPTION

In his Lines of Dissent column this week, Mehdi Hasan observes that with even George Galloway now arguing in favour of arming Kurdish fighters in the Middle East, it is time for western anti-war progressives to support intervention in favour of the revolutionaries defending the town of Kobane, in northern Syria, against the “theocratic maniacs” of Islamic State:

It isn’t a contradiction to be anti-war and left-wing at the same time as being pro-Kurd and in favour of arming the Kurds. I have been a long-standing opponent of western military interventions in the Muslim-majority world, almost all of which – from Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 to Libya in 2011 – have resulted in civilian bloodshed and terrorist blowback. But I’m not a pacifist. And to pretend that the response to the beheaders, rapists and slave traders of the self-styled “Islamic State” . . . need not involve an element of brute military force is either ludicrously naive or disgracefully disingenuous.

 

GEORGE EATON: THE POLITICS COLUMN

In this week’s Politics Column, George Eaton argues that David Cameron’s decision to pursue an immigration-centred campaign, both at next year’s general election and in the 20 November by-election in Rochester and Strood, is a high-risk tactic that could cost the Conservative Party votes:

If many Tories welcome this realignment, others regard it as futile. “If we make immigration the problem, people will always view Ukip as the solution,” warns one. Another says: “We tried it with those ghastly posters in 2005. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.” Conservative moderates fear that Cameron has embarked on a battle he cannot win. Ukip’s brutally simple offer of EU withdrawal to regain control of the UK’s borders will trump whatever solution Cameron proposes.

The answer, writes Eaton, is to shift the debate back to the safe Tory territory of the economy:

Outplayed by Ukip on immigration and outgunned by Labour on health, the Conservatives desperately need to move the battle to their home ground of the economy. The most recent YouGov poll puts the party 16 points ahead here, the widest gap since the general election. That this has not translated into an overall poll lead is partly due to the continued fall in real wages and the Tories’ enduring image as the party of the rich, but also due to the diminishing importance that voters attach to the economy. As the UK has moved from rescue to recovery, the public has turned its gaze elsewhere: to immigration, to health, to personal finances rather than the nation’s.

 

Plus

Books: John Gray on the disturbing moral universe of the pioneering American horror writer H P Lovecraft

Public art and personal stories: William Cook on Gillian Wearing’s A Real Birmingham Family

Let there be light: the NS film critic, Ryan Gilbey, on Mr Turner and Effie Gray

Pediment stroking and melodrama: Rachel Cooke reviews the BBC’s Gothic art and architecture season

Ian Steadman talks to the venture capitalist Peter Thiel about dreaming big

Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential: rumours of a safe seat for Euan Blair – and the Ukip interloper on the front bench 

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.