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24 June 2015updated 26 Sep 2015 6:46am

In this week’s New Statesman | Bush vs Clinton 2

A first look at the new issue.

By New Statesman

 

Bush v Clinton 2
26 June – 2 July 2015

 

Featuring

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The NS editor, Jason Cowley, on the faux populism of the Labour leadership favourite, Andy Burnham.

Anoosh Chakelian and Stephen Bush interview the leadership “outsider” Andy Burnham.

Leader: The retreat of social democracy.

Chris McGreal on the second Bush-Clinton presidential race that is exciting and depressing Americans.

George Eaton meets Labour London’s mayoral hopeful Sadiq Khan.

Helen Lewis: Since 1967, gay activists have been piling up victories. But abortion rights are still fragile and constantly under attack.

Abby Tomlinson: Life after Milifandom – and why Ed Miliband isn’t to blame if I fail my Russian history AS-level.

George Eaton: David Cameron has retreated from his promises on child poverty . . . but will it cost him?

 

The New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, on the faux populism of Andy Burnham

As the NS interviews Andy Burnham, the editor, Jason Cowley, writes that the former health secretary’s attempts to project himself as outside the “Westminster bubble” are disingenuous:

What is Andy Burnham trying to tell us? What he is trying to tell us, I think, is that this long-time political insider self-identifies as an outsider. His populist pitch for the leadership seems to amount to little more than that he’s a pretty regular kind of guy who – because he went to a comprehensive school, likes football and speaks with a northern accent – has an instinctive gift for communication and, as he would put it, can talk in a language that people understand.

But this is disingenuous. As with Ed Miliband or Ed Balls, Burnham is, in effect, a member of what George Osborne calls the “guild” of professional politicians. Practically his whole career has been spent in and around Whitehall and Westminster. After graduating with a degree in English from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, he worked as a researcher for Tessa Jowell, shared an office with James Purnell and played for New Labour’s Demon Eyes football team. One senior Labour MP remembers him back then as a “good Blairite boy”, eager to please and very ambitious. Like the Miliband brothers, he was fast-tracked into a safe seat and then the cabinet.

If he has a gift, it is for staying out of trouble and sensing the direction of travel. Once a Blairite, he has now repositioned on the populist left of the party, becoming the self-declared champion of the public sector, having also assiduously wooed the big unions, which are supporting his leadership bid.

Cowley argues that while “[n]o one who has met him doubts Burnham’s self-belief or determination to lead” the party, what is in doubt is “his intellectual capacity and character”. Following one of Labour’s biggest election defeats in recent history and a larger international crisis in left-wing politics, Cowley writes that “Burnham’s complaints about the “Westminster bubble” seem parochial and banal”:

He knows what he wants and wants to be but his message is vague in the extreme. He believes he is a good man and the right man to lead Labour – and, by implication, Great Britain, one of the most powerful and distinguished nations on earth. But it’s not enough simply to want to succeed. You must have a concrete moral vocabulary and something distinctive to say, a guiding principle beyond a personal ambition to lead.

 Cowley concludes:

[T]here’s a warning here for Andy Burnham as he talks up his talents as a plain speaker and communicator. He is the front-runner, the People’s Andy. Yet the danger for him is that when you peel back the outer layers of cliché – the grumbling about a “metropolitan elite inside a Westminster bubble” – there doesn’t seem much to behold beyond the sight of a man with a loud voice saying it has to be me.

 

 

Andy, the Radio 5 Live candidate

Anoosh Chakelian and Stephen Bush meet the Labour leadership candidate and MP for Leigh, Andy Burnham, and find him “keen to be seen as an independent thinker, a lone wolf: a break from Labour’s past”.

On whether he is part of the “Westminster bubble”:

“Yes, I’ve spent lots of time here. But I’ve never bought in to the real in-crowd, if you like, in terms of those who spend their Saturdays at Fabian and Progress conferences. There’s nothing of an act here. I am who I am. I’ve never spent my weekends here ever since I’ve been an MP. I’ve always been back at home, going to the match – that’s me.

“When I’ve been asked to show my loyalty, it’s never been to Westminster. The illustration of that is Hillsborough . . . The criticism I’d make of New Labour in that era in government, and I’m talking about not just Tony Blair, but Gordon Brown as well, was that they allowed themselves to get too close to vested interests in the media. So close that they couldn’t hear a city that has been loyal to Labour ever since anyone can remember crying injustice.”

On his working-class background:

“There’s not enough accents on the front bench. I’ve always had a strong sense that an accent holds you back. I felt that when I got to Cambridge – kind of that feeling of waiting for the tap on the shoulder – but it was true in Westminster as well . . . you’re not part of the in-crowd when you come from a different background.”

On representation in the Labour Party:

“Of all the organisations in the country, the Labour Party has had the tendency to promote people with posher voices. And consequently we have found ourselves looking quite remote from some people. They’ve looked at us and seen a party they can’t relate to. The Labour Party will not be like that under my leadership. It will look and feel different . . . There’ll be different voices. It will look like a change has been made.”

 

 

Leader: The retreat of social democracy 

This week, the NS considers whether Labour’s failings are part of a much broader crisis for the left: 

The Labour leadership election has been parochial. There has been much talk of the party’s collapse in Scotland and of how Labour has given the impression of being “an elitist Westminster think tank”, as Andy Burnham, the favourite, has repeatedly bemoaned. This is all well and good, but Labour’s decline is much better understood not as something isolated but as part of a broader trend. For in Europe and throughout the west, social democracy is in crisis or retreat. The centre left is locked out of power in parliamentary systems in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and, of course, the United Kingdom. On the Continent, the experience is the same for the centre left in Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Hungary and now also Denmark, following the defeat of the centre-left bloc, which had been led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt . . .

Throughout Europe, the populist right is becoming more acceptable to many. Meanwhile, social democrats are suffering from what the political scientist Peter Mair termed “indifference on the part of both the citizenry and the political class: they are withdrawing and disengaging from one another”. To many voters, the feeling of solidarity between fellow citizens so crucial to social democracy has become increasingly meaningless in an age of globalised mass migration: parties of the centre left have failed to adapt to globalisation and the collapse in trade union membership. Most fundamentally, they have not convincingly answered the existential question of what the left is for when parties of both left and right are committed to cutting public spending.

All of this points to an unpalatable truth for Labour: the electorate rejected the party for reasons far deeper than Ed Miliband’s failings as leader. Unless Labour as a party can respond imaginatively to these broader trends, it faces another decade or more out of power.

 Clash of the dynasties: Another Bush-Clinton presidential race is exciting and depressing Americans

Chris McGreal wonders why two families continue to dominate the US presidential race in the 21st century.

Some see it as evidence of the bankruptcy of US politics. Of a country so shorn of fresh leadership and ideas, and so disillusioned with the failure of the present resident of the White House to deliver on hope and change, that it is rerunning old elections. Political pundits groan that it will alienate young voters even further.

Then there’s the disturbing whiff of dynasty in a republic. If Hillary or Jeb is elected, there will have been a Clinton or Bush as the president or his deputy in every administration over the four decades to 2021 – with the exception of Barack Obama’s eight years. (And Hillary was still firmly on the scene then, coming close to securing the Democratic nomination in 2008 and serving in Obama’s cabinet.)

Even Barbara Bush, married to one ex-president and the mother of another, has spoken against a third member of her family taking a shot at the White House. “I think this is a . . . great country and if we can’t find more than two or three families to run for high office, that’s silly,” she told C-Span, the cable and satellite channel covering Congress, early last year. “I think that the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes – there are just more families than that.”

McGreal writes that the closeness of the Clintons with the Bushes adds to the “hint of dark comedy”:

George W calls Bill his “brother from another mother”; Bill reportedly regards George H W Bush, president for a single term from 1989, as a father figure; and Jeb presented Hillary with a freedom medal last year . . . the race smacks of an interfamilial spat.

Even so, McGreal acknowledges that “a Jeb-Hillary showdown for the White House next year is still the most likely outcome of the tortuous primary season”:

Hillary, 67, has the significant advantage of a historic effort to become the US’s first female president. She is already a well-known public figure who has the advantage of a popular husband – Bill’s presidency is regarded favourably by two-thirds of Americans, particularly because it was a time of economic prosperity – and has established herself as a political force in her own right. The family name also carries with it remarkable fundraising capacities.

[. . .]

To the Republican establishment, Jeb – who is married to a Mexican, speaks impeccable Spanish and was governor of heavily Hispanic Florida for eight years – offers the enticing promise of dragging his party out of its cul-de-sac of ethnic politics to win enough of the rapidly growing but alienated Latino vote to decide the election.

McGreal then explores the obstacles both candidates face in their journey to the White House. He argues that ultimately, “Hillary comes across less as an inspiring leader than as a brand to be managed”, and that Jeb Bush’s good relationship with the Hispanic community “probably poses the greatest threat to Hillary’s bid for the presidency”.

 

 

The Politics Interview with Sadiq Khan: “As the son of a bus driver, I get aspiration”

George Eaton talks to Sadiq Khan about his bid for mayor of London.

On his proposals for London:

“We know London’s got huge problems in relation to infrastructure, in relation to environmental concerns, in relation to simple things like not having air-conditioning on the Tube . . . 150 years ago, London also had problems and people with foresight designed sewers, for example, fit not just for the 19th century but still working in the 21st century . . .”

Khan promises to “train Londoners for the skills of tomorrow: tech, creative industries, low-carbon manufacturing”. He notes that Tech City, where we are sitting, “now rivals the finance sector in relation to what it contributes to our country” and asks: “What about the next Tech City? I’m going to be the mayor who thinks about tomorrow’s jobs.”

On his rivals:

“Tessa and Diane have been in politics since I was at school and I’ve got a huge amount of respect for them – it’s on their shoulders that many of us stand. I don’t think [Jowell’s] got the answers for the 2020s, the future business; we’re a modern city, we’re young, we’re diverse.”

[. . .]

“It’s no secret how close Tessa and Tony Blair are. It’s for Tessa to answer that question. I was surprised when I read the tweet in which she said that she hadn’t said that. It’s for Tessa to explain her local difficulty.”

He goes on to accuse her of New Labour “control freakery”. “When your supporters turn up to a hustings to cheer you on, that’s just so 1990s. The idea you have people turning up to a CLP [Constituency Labour Party] meeting, organising so other candidates are nominated – that’s just so 1990s. My criticism is not her age, it’s the way that sort of politics is done. I think it’s past its sell-by date.”

[. . .]

“David Lammy, Diane Abbott and Tessa Jowell all may be saying beastly things about me. I take that as a badge of pride. If they’re rattled, that’s for them to be rattled. I’m really not taking an interest in what they’re saying about me that’s negative. I want to have a positive campaign, I want to have an open campaign. I want to have a campaign that’s very much fraternal. The fact that other people who are running to be mayor are being negative speaks volumes for them.”

On aspiration:

“As the son of a bus driver, as somebody who’s the son of immigrants, as somebody who was raised on a council estate, as somebody who slept on a bunk bed when he was 24, I get aspiration,” he says. He criticises those in Labour who “give the impression that only those who shop in Waitrose have aspiration”.

On David Cameron’s comments that some Muslim communities have “quietly condoned” Islamist extremism:

“You’ve got to be very careful with language. You don’t want to inadvertently help others do the job for them,” Khan says, adding that he believes “Cameron’s intentions are noble”. His message to “anybody thinking about going to Syria or Iraq” is that “you can do far more good for the people of Syria and Iraq getting involved in a mainstream charity, giving money to good causes, helping us try and influence foreign policy, helping us reach a resolution to the problems of the Middle East. You can do far more as an active citizen here than going to Syria and Iraq, especially if you’re a woman.”

[. . .]

“I say this as the father of two daughters who’s worried about what goes on the internet. It is the case that in many Muslim-majority countries women don’t have equality . . . I say this to my daughters: you’ve got far more chance of fulfilling your potential here than in Syria and Iraq.”

On housing:

“Londoners should be much more in charge of housing. I think Londoners should be in charge of infrastructure. I think Londoners should be in charge of the NHS in London; we’re already in charge of public health.”

 

Helen Lewis: Since 1967, gay activists have been piling up the victories. But abortion rights are still fragile and constantly under attack

In her column this week, Helen Lewis wonders what accounts for the position of two progressive movements that made history in 1967 with the Abortion Act and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Where gay rights campaigners are still advancing, she notes, the right to abortion has lately come under sustained political pressure:

This April, Katha Pollitt argued in the Nation that, in America, “reproductive rights [are] losing while gay rights are winning”. While Indiana failed to enshrine opposition to gay marriage in law, legislation is “forcing abortion clinics to close; and absurd, even medically dangerous restrictions are heaping up in state after state”. A similar situation has played out in Ireland, which legalised gay marriage in a referendum on 22 May, while abortion is still illegal unless the woman’s life is at risk.

You can already see the same dynamic here: Northern Ireland has never accepted the Abortion Act 1967 but it recognises civil partnerships (although not full gay marriage). Who will take a bet that it will institute marriage equality before it liberalises its abortion laws? Politically, giving legal recognition to monogamous love is a far easier sell than offsetting the negative consequences of sex. (No one gets an abortion cake.) Meanwhile, the status quo causes misery: at the time of writing, a Northern Irish mother in her thirties is awaiting trial for procuring “poison” – the emergency contraception drug mifepristone – for her pregnant daughter online.

She observes that abortion is also still an issue in England and Wales:

Although the 1967 act is unlikely to face a frontal assault, a small group of MPs is chipping away at its foundations. In 2011 Nadine Dorries attempted to stop independent abortion providers from also giving NHS-funded counselling; this year Fiona Bruce, the MP for Congleton, introduced an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill to criminalise sex-selective abortion. It was sold as a “clarification” of the existing law but its real purpose appeared to be smuggling a reference to the “unborn child” on to the statute book, something campaigners see as a first step towards giving the foetus “personhood”, a legal status of its own. It was Ireland’s personhood laws that caused the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 after she sought hospital treatment for a miscarriage at 17 weeks caused by a bacterial infection. In order to try to save the foetus, doctors refused to give her an abortion. She died of septic shock.

In parliament, Lewis observes, “being pro-choice is seen by some MPs as dangerous – it’s putting your head over the parapet”:

Most members of the cabinet support a lower time limit on terminations: when the issue was last debated in 2008, only George Osborne and Theresa Villiers supported the current 24 weeks. David Cameron, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith voted for a 20-week limit, while Jeremy Hunt, now Health Secretary, wanted just 12 weeks.

She concludes:

Access to abortion is a cornerstone of women’s ability to control their lives. Will anyone put their head above the parapet?

 

Abby Tomlinson: Life after Milifandom – and why Ed Miliband isn’t to blame if I fail my Russian history AS-level.

In the Diary this week Abby Tomlinson discusses her AS Levels, votes for 16-year-olds, the right-wing press and her hero, Ed Miliband:

On to the politician that I am most closely associated with: Ed Miliband. I’ve seen various comments and articles about how he should be staying away from mainstream politics after the election. As I have said before, he certainly doesn’t need my advice, but I find those statements a bit ridiculous. He recently appeared in parliament (where he works) and smiled at someone. The Times decided that this was front-page news and ran it with the caption “Fancy seeing you back here”. Can you imagine that – an MP in the House of Commons? Whatever next? Teachers in schools, mechanics in garages, waiters in restaurants? Ed Miliband is being criticised by the press for doing his job and representing his constituents. What do they want him to do?

If he hadn’t made an appearance yet, the headlines would have read: “Disappear-Ed! Miliband lets down constituents”. Whatever he does, the media attack him for it. This is a man who is trying to do the right thing despite the overwhelming negativity of the press towards him. His brilliant speech on inequality in June showed that he will continue to do this for the foreseeable future. Thank God for that.

 

George Eaton: David Cameron has retreated from his promises on child poverty – but will it cost him?

For his column this week, the NS political editor, George Eaton, considers the Prime Minister’s position on child poverty. He writes:

History has reduced David Cameron’s modernising phase to gay rights and greenery. “White-collar liberalism” was pursued to the neglect of “blue-collar conservatism”. Yet in his quest to make his party electable he roamed more widely than is commonly thought. He unambiguously committed the Conservatives to a free NHS, pledged to match Labour’s public spending plans for three years and vowed to end the “moral disgrace” of poverty. In his 2006 Scarman Lecture, the then opposition leader declared, “I want this message to go out loud and clear: the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty . . . Poverty is relative – and those who pretend otherwise are wrong . . . Even if we are not destitute, we still experience poverty if we cannot afford things that society regards as essential.”

Eaton writes that, now, as the Tories plan £12bn of cuts, “the relative poverty measure that Cameron lauded when it was in his interests to do so” is “derided as meaningless”:

He cited “the absurd situation where if we increase the state pension, child poverty actually goes up”. Yet that example reflects precisely the fiscal gerontocracy that troubles so many. Relative to the old, the young are unambiguously worse off.

He concludes:

Conservatives fear that the rise in child poverty and the coming raid on tax credits will provide a depleted Labour Party with vital ammunition. But the opposition has its own problems to contend with. If the Tories are thought to be too unwilling to spend money on the poorest, Labour must counter the impression that it is all too willing to do so. The shadow work and pensions secretary, Rachel Reeves, fought hard in private to ensure that the party committed to voting for the reduced out-of-work benefit cap. A sharper distinction between welfare for the employed and for the unemployed is regarded as an unavoidable consequence of Labour’s defeat. As the working poor lose tax credits, they are even less tolerant of those perceived to be gaming the system.

Even in this case, however, Labour will not prosper if it is viewed merely as a repository of protest. It must convince voters that it is as devoted to saving public money as the Tories. As Cameron’s 2006 speech showed, uncharacteristic clothes must be worn in opposition – even if they are later discarded in government.

 

 

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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