Dan Kitwood
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Leader: The post-liberal PM

Theresa May's post-Thatcherite approach to politics is baffling those on both the left and right

The left does not understand Theresa May, or wish to show much inclination to do so (with the exception of this magazine, which, like Marxism Today before it, believes in trying to analyse and explain why the right is in the ascendant in these new times). For too many on the left, the Tories are “wicked” and wish to punish the poor. That is not how most of the electorate sees it or approaches politics, as the result of the general election on 8 June will prove. The libertarian right and the metropolitan Cameroon right are also baffled, even irritated, by the Prime Minister. The former objects to her talk of an “industrial strategy” and proposed cap on energy bills; the latter does not like her embrace of a hard or “clean” Brexit. No liberal globaliser or free-market ideologue, Mrs May believes in social cohesion and a strong state as well as reducing immigration. Her language is communitarian and softly nationalist. Her government is not neoliberal: more accurately, it is post-Thatcherite. From the beginning, Mrs May has been clear that she would wish to regulate as well as intervene in markets that are perceived to be rigged or broken. Ed Miliband would approve. You could say that she is Britain’s first post-liberal prime minister.

This article first appeared in the 11 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why the Tories keep winning

The Depths of Hell
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Review: “Self-Portrait as Hairless Dog”, Alex Jones, 2018

Jones’s burners are off, but his face shows no fear: here is a creature that would luxuriate in hellfire as if it were as pleasurable as a hot shower.

The self-portrait as self-abasement has a long history in art: Caravaggio gave his own face to the severed head of Goliath being held aloft by the young sword-wielding David; Stanley Spencer once depicted his sunken haunches, grey skin and squashed genitalia (alongside his wife’s sagging body) next to a carefully depicted leg of mutton; Michelangelo meanwhile showed himself as an empty flayed skin in The Last Judgement  in the Sistine Chapel.

What to make, then, of the mocked-up photograph currently scarring Twitter’s collective eyeballs which the radio host, conspiracy theorist and provocateur Alex Jones posted, portraying him as a hairless dog lying on a kitchen hob?

This strange, Hieronymus Bosch monster, stares expressionless at the viewer anticipating a moue of distaste. The Jones-hound is unapologetic, fleshily pink in a pose that carries uncomfortable references to Renaissance nudes.

Titian’s Venus D’Urbino shows a voluptuously sensual woman: the thoughts she is meant to evoke can only be carnal. But it is harder to see the Jones image, however coquettish, as drawing the panting male gaze. Is his nakedness a reminder that we are all born of original sin and creatures of shame, like Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden? Is his canine persona an acknowledgement that we nothing but animals?

The kitchen hob on which this squidgy hybrid lounges clearly alludes to the flames of hell. Rogier van der Weyden showed the flames licking at terrified sinners in his Last Judgement of 1450: this, he says, is what happens to those who err from the ways of the Bible. Jones’s burners are off, but his face shows no fear: here is a creature that would luxuriate in hellfire as if it were as pleasurable as a hot shower.

It is hard not to interpret the Caravaggio, Spencer and Michelangelo depictions other than as as expressions of self-loathing, of a disgust so profound it came to the fore almost despite themselves. Jones, though, looks complacent, even contented. Medieval bestiaries are full of such fanciful creatures; often they are emblems of evil, the Devil’s playthings that are beyond redemption and settled in their fallen state. This, perhaps, is closer to the truth.

However, the cleverness of the image ultimately lies in something it doesn’t show. The animal’s plump tail covers, almost coyly, its genitals and what Jones’s expression says is: don’t worry, if you are looking for bollocks, well, that’s me.

Michael Prodger is Reviews Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.