A Tory-Labour coalition, generous BBC pay-offs, and why Isis will probably ignore Britain

Peter Wilby’s First Thoughts column.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

As I have argued here before, voters generally will not support extreme parties of the left or the right in a serious election about who governs the country. Nigel Farage may scrape through in South Thanet next year but I do not think that other, ordinary Ukip candidates stand much of a chance. Converted Tory MPs, however, are another matter. The “incumbent effect” is quite strong in British politics. In 2010, Labour’s vote declined by only 5.2 percentage points in seats where an incumbent stood. Where new candidates stood, its vote fell by 7.4 points. Conservative incumbents got a rise of 4.1 points; non-incumbents 2.9 points. Lib Dem incumbents slightly increased the party’s vote but non-incumbents lost as many as 4.7 points. The differences would have been even greater had some incumbents not been tainted by their parliamentary expenses.

It would therefore be a huge surprise if the Tory defector Douglas Carswell failed to win the by-election in the Clacton seat he has resigned. The incumbency factor will probably see him – and other Tory MPs who defect, if there are any – through the general election in May. This could make the mathematics in the new parliament dauntingly complex. Imagine a Tory-Labour tie on 295 seats each, with the Lib Dems reduced to 20, Ukip on ten seats and others 20. Try forming a governing majority out of that with wars raging in the Middle East and eastern Europe. A Tory-Labour grand coalition, anybody? Remember, you read it here first.

 

Below the jihadi radar

The fuss about UK-born jihadists returning from the Middle East to start a terrorism campaign here strikes me as based on a false belief that the world revolves around us. Islamic State (formerly Isis) cares far more about defeating other Muslims than it does about attacking Britain. Its leaders, unlike al-Qaeda’s, want to control territory and to create a state and a pure Islamist society.

The UK won’t be on their radar unless our bombing seriously inhibits their progress. Any jihadist returning here will probably be at least partly disillusioned. He may also have been judged incompetent or unfit to fight. I doubt Islamic State will waste the cream of its fighting forces on blowing up M&S branches in London or elsewhere.

 

Golden goodbyes

When Rona Fairhead, the new chair of the BBC Trust, left the position of Financial Times chief executive last year, after she wasn’t chosen to head the parent company, Pearson, she received a “discretionary severance payment” of £1.15m. This led to a shareholders’ revolt in which a third of the votes at Pearson’s annual general meeting went against the company’s remuneration report. Is she the wisest choice to oversee the BBC, which has been widely criticised for its generosity to departing employees?

 

Green screen

Who is Marina Silva, the Brazilian presidential candidate who, according to polls, could beat Dilma Rousseff, the incumbent, in the election in October? We know that she comes from a poor Amazonian family; that she was illiterate until she was 16; and that, if elected, she will be the country’s first black leader. But what does she stand for?

The Observer reports that she is a principled environmentalist, likely to become the world’s first green president. On the same day, the Sunday Times portrays her as a standard-bearer for Protestant evangelical Christianity. The Observer article has nothing in it about religion. The one in the Sunday Times has only one passing word about environmentalism. As the latter’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, is a born-again Christian and the former belongs to a newspaper group that proclaims green commitments, you may see this as an illustration of how reporters see what they think it best to see. Or as an example of the glorious diversity of the British press.

 

Agricultural shots

As this summer has shown, Indians have become very bad at (and possibly uninterested in) Test cricket but very good at the one-day variety. Why? The historian Ramachandra Guha once observed: “Cricket fits in easily with the rhythms of . . . an agrarian culture, accustomed to thinking in cosmic or calendric rather than clock time.” To “industrial and industrious” Americans, five days was a long time. To Indians, it was “a bare wink of the eye”. But not, I think, to the young and growing middle classes of Mumbai and other Indian cities, who are desperate to escape their country’s agrarian past and become more like Americans. That is why they are turning their backs on Tests. And the English, who are (fairly) good in Tests but hopeless in one-day matches? They yearn, as they have done since the Industrial Revolution, for a return to the peaceful rhythms of a mythical rural paradise. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article appears in the 03 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The summer of blood