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In this week’s New Statesman | The Arsonist

A first look at this week’s magazine.

Cover story Nigel Farage: I’d do a deal with Labour if it got me what I wanted

The Ukip leader tells Jason Cowley that his party has now won all the Tory votes it can – but what does the purple insurgency mean for Labour?

Plus

Leading article: Ed Miliband’s wounds are deep but not fatal – now the Labour front bench must rally round

Letter from Sochi: Robert Skidelsky on Russia’s struggle to find its place in the world

John Simpson remembers the miraculous fall of the Iron Curtain 25 years ago

Helen Macdonald on a whirlwind week as she won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize

Helen Lewis in Barcelona: it’s just one independence referendum after another

Kevin Maguire on the Blairite big money backing a Chuka Umunna Labour leadership bid

Books of the Year: Alex Salmond, Michael Gove, A S Byatt, Jon Snow, Jesse Norman, Alexander McCall Smith, Lionel Shriver, Vince Cable, Hilary Mantel and many more share their top reads of 2014

 

Cover story: Nigel Farage on what the Ukip insurgency means for Labour

In an in-depth interview with the NS editor, Jason Cowley, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, says he believes his party has made maximum inroads with the Tory vote, declares he is “coming after Labour voters”, and reveals that he would do a deal with Labour if it “got him what he wanted”.

Jason Cowley “Would you go into coalition with Labour?”

Nigel Farage “I’d do a deal with the Devil if it got me what I wanted.”

JC If Miliband said to you, “Look, Nigel, can I have your eight to ten MPs in the coalition and we give you an in-out referendum?” would that be enough?

NF That would depend when the referendum was, and the terms.

JC But you’re not ruling it out.

NF Of course not. There is no left and right any more. Left and right’s irrelevant.

JC So there could be a Ukip-Labour-Lib Dem rainbow coalition.

NF Sounds extremely unlikely.

JC Or a Ukip-Labour coalition.

NF Why coalition? There are other ways of doing things.

JC Tell me how. Confidence and supply?

NF Absolutely.

JC Would that suit you better?

NF To be honest, the way I look at it now, I can’t see Ukip wilfully going into formal coalition with anybody.

JC But you support Labour on confidence and supply . . .

NF Confidence motions and primary legislation of certain kinds, yes.

JC And because there’s no left and right, you’d be comfortable supporting Labour?

NF I’d be very comfortable supporting anybody that gave me an opportunity to get my country back.

Farage on peaking with the Tory vote and setting his sights on Labour:

“One gets the feeling that, at about the 30 per cent mark, barring more embarrassments from Brussels or whatever it may be, we are nearing the tribal base of the Conservative vote [. . . ] The Conservatives are down to their middle-class core now . . . wouldn’t matter who the leader was, they feel Conservative, and they feel Conservative because they’ve got some assets and a reasonably good life, and they see that as their tribal means of [identity] . . . that will probably erode as the years go by, because the age profile of that dynamic is pretty alarming for the Conservative Party.

“The Labour Party’s different. Everybody thought that people’s tribal allegiance to Labour was as strong, if not stronger, than the tribal allegiance to the Conservative Party. What we’re actually finding is, they don’t even recognise the tribe”.

Farage on Ukip’s success in Wales and in Labour’s northern heartlands:

“The real surprise is Wales,” he says. “There was an opinion poll the other week that had us in the lead. In Wales! There’s something happening in Wales that I don’t fully understand. Maybe it’s to do with devolved powers and Labour seeming to have failed badly, as they have.”

[. . .]

“We are now the only party that can challenge Labour in the north,” Farage says. “The Lib Dems have gone. I think we can come second in every seat in the north of England. The question is: how many can we win? We’re targeting our resources. We’re going to target Heywood and Middleton pretty heavily. And Rotherham. And we’re doing very, very well in Doncaster [Ed Miliband’s seat].”

Farage on his favourite Tories . . .

“If you’d asked me six months ago, I’d have said Douglas Carswell. [Laughs] Well, I have to be slightly fond of Philip Hollobone, because he and I were in the same year at school together [. . .]

“I’ve always admired Michael Gove, who did me a big favour once that he didn’t need to . . . He was at the Times, and I got myself into a bit of a legal tangle and he mediated . . . I have admiration for Iain Duncan Smith, someone who was almost crushed publicly by politics, went away, studied a subject, and came back with real passion and conviction. Socially, I enjoy David Davis’s company. Share a glass with him and it’s quite fun.”

. . . and the best and worst of Labour:

NF Can’t name most of them. Don’t know who they are. I mean, they’re just so bland it’s not true.

JC Alan Johnson?

NF Yeah, but he’s out now, isn’t he? Whenever I’ve met him, I’ve liked him. Jon Cruddas is somebody who I think gets it; I think he understands what the Labour Party ought to be . . . Again, if I meet someone like [Douglas] Alexander, I mean, he almost can’t bear being in the room [with me], I’m so lower-order compared to him. But people like Jon Cruddas, they want to talk to you; they can see politics is changing. And Kate Hoey is wonderful, obviously.

 

Leading article: Ed Miliband’s wounds are deep but not fatal

This week’s editorial reflects on the leadership crisis in the Labour Party triggered by last week’s NS cover story:

The febrile events of the past week at Westminster have wounded Ed Miliband deeply but not fatally. The Labour Party is very reluctant to topple its leaders, even when it knows it is destined to lose a general election, as it was under Michael Foot in 1983 or Gordon Brown in 2010 but is not in the present circumstances. Yet so fragile is the confidence of Labour MPs and so jittery is their general mood that one issue of the New Statesman seemed to shake the very foundations of the party and precipitated a leadership crisis.

It is nonsense to suggest that the Labour leader is a victim of a conspiracy led by the right-wing press. It is true that much of the press despises him and the Labour Party; but as our political editor, George Eaton, reported in last week’s issue, many Labour MPs have lost confidence in their leader. This fuelled the feverish speculation about Guy Fawkes Night plots and mysterious letters. Had they not been briefing, there would have been no crisis.

Labour still has a distinctive image but Miliband urgently needs support, the NS argues; the front bench must rally round their beleaguered leader:

[Miliband] cannot continue to bear so much of the burden alone. Labour needs to harness the talents and skills of its frontbenchers, including the admirable Jon Cruddas, [Andy] Burnham, [Chuka] Umunna and [Yvette] Cooper, as part of a more inclusive and team-based approach. In contrast to the Tories, who have failed to shed their image as the party of the rich, Labour’s brand remains strong and polls show that its progressive policies – higher NHS spending, wealth taxes, mass housebuilding and an increased minimum wage – have broad appeal.

 

Robert Skidelsky: Why Russia’s attempt to find its place in the world is faltering

The cross-bench peer and economist Robert Skidelsky reports from inside the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual conference to facilitate dialogue between the Russian and western intellectual elite. This year’s confab took place in Sochi, at the ski resort built for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Chief among topics of discussion was the war in Ukraine, which has become symbolic, Skidelsky argues, of Russia’s faltering attempt to find a new place in the world:

In all likelihood, the conflict will be “frozen” along the ceasefire line for the foreseeable future. If this happens, Russia will have suffered a major defeat. It will have exchanged an implicit regional hegemony, secured by its ability to manipulate Ukrainian politics, for a tiny fraction of Ukrainian real estate, freeing the much larger remainder of Ukraine to pursue the pro-western alignment that it has been the chief object of Russia’s Ukrainian policy to prevent. And for this meagre achievement it will have incurred huge costs in terms of sanctions and subsidies. At what point will the owners of wealth decide that Putin is not Russia?

Sochi left me with the overwhelming impression of people putting the best face possible on a bad story. The Russians “hope” for the future; others dictate it. Probably Russia will stagger on in a mediocre way, neither very successful nor quite failing, neither devil nor pure in heart, proud of its own values, semi-permanently estranged from the US and western Europe, resentful but not overly aggressive, until such time as it feels more at home in a world that it will have played little part in shaping.

 

Commons Confidential: The Blairite big money backing a Chuka Umunna leadership bid

Kevin Maguire hears tell in Westminster of a gathering Blairite plot to put the shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, in the running for the Labour leadership. Maguire learns that the necessary funds are already being arranged:

Milibandites point an accusing finger at Labour’s Progress tendency for destabilising tales of plots and supposed letters demanding the head of Ed. John Woodcock, the MP for Barrow and Furness and a former frontbencher who chairs the Blairite faction, was accused by the wobbly one’s praetorian guard of stirring the pot. The intended beneficiary, according to a well-placed snout, is the business-friendly Chuka Umunna, under the spell of Peter Mandelson. Big money is apparently lined up behind an Umunna leadership bid, whenever it comes, with the Progress sugar daddy Lord Sainsbury ready to open a fat chequebook that has been kept shut to Labour since Ed Milibrother beat David. Just because Mil the Younger is now paranoid, that doesn’t mean he isn’t aware of who is out to get him.

Books of the Year

Chuka Umunna is also among friends and contributors the NS has asked to share their favourite reads of 2014 in this week’s issue. Other top tips are offered by Michael Gove, Alex Salmond, A S Byatt, Jon Snow, Jesse Norman, Alexander McCall Smith, Lionel Shriver, Vince Cable and Hilary Mantel.

Chuka Umunna

I like to read non-political books when I can but two books I’ve particularly enjoyed this year are both about US politics. Double Down (W H Allen, £9.99) by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann is a comprehensive account of the 2012 presidential campaign and how it was won. It also tells the story of the Republican campaign, the bizarre antics of some of the party’s primary candidates and how its nominee’s campaign imploded. Hillary Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices (Simon & Schuster, £20), provides a fascinating insight into the realities of power and diplomacy during her time as secretary of state. It vividly illustrates that foreign policy is far from binary, no matter how hard commentators seek to graft black-and-white solutions on to intractable problems.

Vince Cable

I am a sucker for any book that advertises itself as the latest Scandinavian crime thriller. Iceland’s most recent contribution to the genre is Arnaldur Indriđason’s Strange Shores (Vintage, £7.99). The narrator is an off-duty detective from Reykjavik who returns to his former home in a remote rural community. He tries to unravel the story behind two simultaneous disappearances in a snowstorm decades earlier. The pace is slow; the characters are mostly old and uncommunicative. Nothing much happens beyond the gradual, painful extraction of the truth. Not a “thriller” but thoroughly absorbing nonetheless.

Michael Gove

My novel of the year is Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus, £16.99). Deservedly the Man Booker winner, it haunts the mind months after reading. The visceral horror of life and death for Aussie soldiers in a prisoner-of-war camp is balanced with an understanding of the mindset of their Japanese captors that enlarges the reader’s capacity for compassion. My non-fiction book of the year is Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon the Great (Allen Lane, £30): superb narrative history grounded in new research.

 

Plus

Jamie Maxwell reports on the battle for Catalan independence

The NS pop critic Kate Mossman on the brave new world of posthumous rock

Xan Rice travels to an Oxfordshire cemetery to meet Jonny Yaxley, Gravedigger of the Year 2014

Death and dollar signs: Mark Lawson on Tate Liverpool’s handsome Andy Warhol retrospective

Will Self: Why the ritual remembrance of wars is designed to create contemporary amnesia

Michael Prodger: In later life, Rembrandt turned away from the light and towards himself

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Five things we've learned from Labour conference

The party won't split, Corbynite divisions are growing and MPs have accepted Brexit. 

Labour won't split anytime soon

For months, in anticipation of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election, the media had speculated about the possibility of a Labour split. But the party’s conference confirmed that MPs have no intention of pursuing this course (as I had long written). They are tribally loyal to Labour and fear that a split would prove electorally ruinous under first-past-the-post. Many still expect Theresa May to hold an early general election and are focused on retaining their seats.

Rather than splitting, Corbyn’s opponents will increase their level of internal organisation in a manner reminiscent of the left’s Socialist Campaign Group. The “shadow shadow cabinet” will assert itself through backbench policy committees and, potentially, a new body (such as the proposed “2020 group”). Their aim is to promote an alternative direction for Labour and to produce the ideas and organisation that future success would depend on.

MPs do not dismiss the possibility of a split if their “hand is forced” through a wave of deselections or if the left achieves permanent control of the party. But they expect Labour to fight the next election as a force at least united in name.

Neither the Corbynites nor the rebels have ultimate control 

Corbyn’s second landslide victory confirmed the left’s dominance among the membership. He increased his winning margin and triumphed in every section. But beyond this, the left’s position is far more tenuous.

The addition of Scottish and Welsh representatives to the National Executive Committee handed Corbyn’s opponents control of Labour’s ruling body. Any hope of radically reshaping the party’s rule book has ended.

For weeks, Corbyn’s allies have spoken of their desire to remove general secretary Iain McNicol and deputy leader Tom Watson. But the former is now safe in his position, while the latter has been strengthened by his rapturously received speech.

Were Corbyn to eventually resign or be defeated, another left candidate (such as John McDonnell) would struggle to make the ballot. Nominations from 15 per cent of MPs are required but just six per cent are committed Corbynites (though selection contests and seat losses could aid their cause). It’s for this reason that allies of the leader are pushing for the threshold to be reduced to five per cent. Unless they succeed, the hard-left’s dominance is from assured. Were an alternative candidate, such as Clive Lewis or Angela Rayner, to succeed it would only be by offering themselves as a softer alternative.

Corbynite divisions are intensifying 

The divide between Corbyn’s supporters and opponents has recently monopolised attention. But the conference showed why divisions among the former should be interrogated.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis, an early Corbyn backer, was enraged when his speech was amended to exclude a line announcing that Labour’s pro-Trident stance would not be reversed. Though Lewis opposes renewal, he regards unilateralism as an obstacle to unifying the party around a left economic programme. The longer Corbyn remains leader, the greater the tension between pragmatism and radicalism will become. Lewis may have alienated CND but he has improved his standing among MPs, some of whom hail him as a bridge between the hard and soft left.

Elsewhere, the briefing against McDonnell by Corbyn allies, who suggested he was an obstacle to recruiting frontbenchers, showed how tensions between their respective teams will remain a story.

Labour has accepted Brexit

Ninety four per cent of Labour MPs backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. But by a similar margin, they have accepted the Leave vote. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both long-standing eurosceptics, confirmed that they would not seek to prevent Brexit.

Owen Smith called for a referendum on the eventual deal during his leadership campaign. But with some exceptions, such as Angela Eagle, most of his backers have rejected the idea. Though 48 per cent of the electorate voted Remain, MPs emphasise that only 35 per cent of constituencies did. Some still fear an SNP-style surge for Ukip if Labour seeks to overturn the outcome.

The debate has moved to Britain’s future relationship with Europe, most notably the degree of free movement. For Labour, like Theresa May, Brexit means Brexit.

Corbyn will not condemn deselections 

The Labour leader could have won credit from MPs by unambiguously condemning deselection attempts. But repeatedly invited to do so, he refused. Corbyn instead defended local parties’ rights and stated that the “vast majority” of MPs had nothing to fear (a line hardly reassuring to those who do). Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Peter Kyle are among the rebels targeted by activists.

Corbyn can reasonably point out that the rules remain the same as under previous leaders. MPs who lose trigger ballots of their local branches face a full and open selection. But Labour’s intensified divisions mean deselection has become a far greater threat. MPs fear that Corbyn relishes the opportunity to remake the parliamentary party in his own images.  And some of the leader’s allies hope to ease the process by reviving mandatory reselection. Unless Corbyn changes his line, the issue will spark continual conflict. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.