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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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Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.