11 – 17 March 2016 issue
Cover story: American Psycho.
Simon Heffer on the remarkable rise of Donald Trump and the decay of a great nation.
The NS Profile: From Tooting to City Hall – Sadiq Khan’s quest to become the next mayor of London and the most senior Muslim politician in Britain.
George Eaton: George Osborne’s stock has fallen, but it’s too soon to write off his leadership hopes.
Ayesha Hazarika: The former special adviser to Harriet Harman, with a diary on her return to the Labour fold and stand-up comedy.
Scotland: David Torrance on the truth about the Scottish Tory revival.
Helen Lewis asks whether Jeremy Corbyn is taking a moral stance on prostitution.
Jason Cowley on the fall of Maria Sharapova: How an icon of sporting wealth lost her future to doping.
Special report: Jenny Kleeman on how British legal aid cuts are affecting migrants.
Cover story: Simon Heffer on the rise of Donald Trump.
The rise of Donald Trump through the American presidential race is a symptom of decay in a great but exceptionally unhappy nation, argues Simon Heffer in a letter from New York:
In America last week I encountered one person after another who, to different degrees and using different means of expression, had had enough. It appears to be an exceptionally unhappy country: polarised, introspective, angry, disappointed and, above all, fearful. We have seen many representations and manifestations of American angst and rage in recent years: the horrific and depressingly frequent shootings in schools, racially motivated attacks, powder kegs in cities which ignite in confrontations between the police and minorities. Yet all of these, however pernicious, are largely transient for those not directly involved. The sense of grievance dominating this year’s presidential election campaign has cooked more slowly, is more deep-seated, and will require more than simply a new president – of whatever stamp – to appease it.
Heffer believes that both the Bush II and the Obama administrations are responsible for the deep contempt many Americans now feel for the political class and the “collective nervous breakdown” that seems to be gripping the country:
[Obama] is perceived to have disengaged from a world in which many Americans of all political persuasions feel their country’s influence could once more be beneficial, if asserted sensibly. But, above all, the Obama years have done little to improve the struggle of tens of millions of Americans who live at a crushing level of poverty and amid a dereliction that shocks many western Europeans who see it.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a country defined by its ability to create opportunity and provide success should, at some point, pause for breath, take stock and allow doubt to seep in; and it is right that the foreign policy disasters of the Bush years should cause it to reflect deeply before engaging with the world. But all this has sapped national self-confidence and verve, creating negativity that seeks, and finds, expression in the election campaign and which all the candidates, in their various ways, are trying to reflect or exploit. The mood threatens fundamentally to change America’s politics.
The success of Trump, the “anti-politician” who, Heffer notes, has never served in the military or held political office, would have been unthinkable without this marked shift in the prevailing mood. It is precisely Trump’s outsider status and populist appeal that have enabled him to connect with large sections of the American public:
As Trump’s remarkably successful campaign seems to have proved, many Americans are fearful of attack by Islamic extremists. His bizarre promise to ban Muslims from the United States may appear entirely ludicrous – and an alleged secret tape recording of him with editorial staff of the New York Times supposedly has him admitting it – yet it has scored a direct hit with millions of his fellow countrymen. So has his proposal to build a wall to stop illegal immigrants entering from Mexico, because so many people in that land of immigrants fear the effect of an unregulated wave of them. And, flowing from that, they fear further extension of those industrial wastelands, with their ruined factories and warehouses, because of the Chinese undercutting them, which is why they like Trump’s threat to provoke a suicidal trade war with China.
The NS Profile: George Eaton on Sadiq Khan.
With the London mayoral election now just eight weeks away, the NS political editor, George Eaton, joins the Labour contender, Sadiq Khan, at a boxing club near his Tooting constituency to find out more about the man who wants to run the capital. Boxing, Khan tells Eaton, has been a good preparation for life and for a career in politics:
He began sparring with one of the regulars: ducking, weaving, throwing jabs. Khan learned to box as a boy, partly for self-defence; two of his brothers are coaches at the volunteer-run academy near Tooting, the constituency he has represented since 2005. Among those pictured on the wall is Frank Bruno, the club’s most famous son.
Khan had invited me to join him, and soon after I arrive at 10am, Pop, the youngest of his seven siblings, inducts me in the ring and we begin 90 minutes of training. “Boxing isn’t fighting,” Khan told me when I interviewed him two days earlier. “It’s a classic mistake people make – boxing is a sport. The skills you learn are life skills: being magnanimous, what to eat, how to keep fit, how to look out for each other. The first thing you learn in boxing is defence – you’ve got to defend yourself . . . We all boxed [in my family] and that gives you confidence if you get into bother on the street.”
The most recent poll, published by Opinium on 8 March, gave Khan a 10-point lead in the final round of voting. He tells Eaton: “I’m the least complacent person you’ll find but I’m quietly confident.” And although they come from different wings of the party, Khan insists he does not regret nominating Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership last year:
“Jeremy Corbyn, to give him some credit, won among Labour Party members, among Labour Party supporters and among trade union supporters . . . You can have an analysis of why the other candidates failed to inspire, enthuse and engage with the membership, whereas Jeremy did, and that’s a conversation for them to have.”
Khan has frequently been accused by his opponents of being an opportunist and of basing his decisions purely on what is politically expedient, but the most recent allegations levelled at him – that he is a friend of Islamic extremists – are more serious in nature. The Tories cite his attendance at events connected with figures such as Anwar al-Awlaki, the late al-Qaeda cleric. Khan is frustrated by such claims (which he attributes to the misguided smear tactics of his rival Zac Goldsmith’s advisers) but appears not to be shaken by them:
“Often when there are meetings happening about a cause, what happens is you’re very busy; the meeting may have been taking place for two, three, four hours; you’re doing other stuff. You go along, you take the stage, you do your spiel, you speak and more often than not just leave to do your next event.
“Often you’ve got no idea who was speaking before you, who’s speaking after you. Nobody could honestly, hand on heart, think I agree with the sort of views spouted by other people who spoke at the same meetings: that’s not the way it worked.
“I’ve been quite clear in my views in relation to extremism and radicalisation. I’ve been quite clear in my views in relation to people who claim to follow the same faith as me but have views that are abhorrent.”
Eaton notes that “the election of a British Muslim mayor would be an event of international significance, and a symbol of London’s cosmopolitanism”. Khan is no stranger to political firsts relating to his faith; in 2009 he became the first Muslim to attend cabinet and the first Muslim privy councillor:
“The palace called me and said, ‘What type of Bible do you want to swear on?’ When I said the Quran, they said, ‘We haven’t got one.’ So I took one with me.”
Of his faith, he told me: “It’s part of who I am – that’s the best way of describing it, because I’ve been asked this a lot. We all have multiple identities: I’m a Londoner, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m a long-suffering Liverpool fan, I’m Labour, I’m Fabian and I’m Muslim.”
I asked him how he felt when an LBC/YouGov poll was published showing that 31 per cent of Londoners would be “uncomfortable” with a Muslim mayor. “That was during the selection campaign. When I saw it I was thoroughly depressed.
“When you’re the candidate in a campaign, you’ve got to be strong; you’re the leader. I went to the campaign – we’ve got lots of volunteers – three of my volunteers of Islamic faith were devastated. Two of them were crying. They just didn’t want to carry on because they were devastated that the impression was given that three out of ten Londoners are somehow Islamophobes.”
George Eaton: George Osborne’s stock has fallen but it’s far too soon to write off his leadership hopes.
The NS political editor, George Eaton, argues in his Politics column that it is too soon to write off the Chancellor’s chances of becoming the next Conservative leader. Having been identified by most Tory MPs at last year’s Conservative party conference as the clear successor to David Cameron, Osborne now finds his status of heir apparent in jeopardy as Boris Johnson’s support for EU withdrawal has propelled the mayor to a 13-point lead among Tory members. Eaton notes that donors are similarly uncharmed by the Chancellor:
“George is very boring, very tedious, a very cold personality,” the Ukrainian-born energy magnate Alexander Temerko told me when I interviewed him recently. “We need a very warm, very bright leader . . . I talk to many donors and they’re ready to support Boris. He’s much more electable than George.”
Tory leadership contests are notoriously unpredictable, however, and Eaton counsels against dismissing Osborne’s chances outright:
If the odds are significantly against Osborne when Cameron steps down, MPs suggest that he has enough “self-knowledge” and “detachment” to refrain from running. “He’s not like Gordon Brown, who was obsessed with it,” one told me. “George is more of a backgammon player. He regards it almost as an intellectual problem, as opposed to a prize which his life would be meaningless without.”
Tory front-runners have a habit of not becoming leader – and that status is now held by Johnson, not the Chancellor. For Osborne, who has been near the top of his party for 11 years (no small feat), the game goes on. In less than a year, he has tasted triumph and disaster. He should treat these two impost0rs as just the same.
Diary: Ayesha Hazarika on returning to the Labour fold and memories of the pink bus.
The former special adviser to Harriet Harman, Ayesha Hazarika, has bounced back from a spell of unemployment with a return to the Labour fold and a guest editorship of Progress magazine:
The last time I appeared in these pages, I’d just stopped being a special adviser to Harriet Harman and was shouting at BBC1’s Daily Politics show in my pants and spending a lot of time thinking about spiralising stuff. I’m pleased to report that since then, I’ve progressed to appearing on the Daily Politics (fully dressed) and have managed to leave the house on more meaningful quests than buying biscuits. No spiralising of any kind has yet occurred.
[. . .]
As 8 March was International Women’s Day, it seems a good time to reflect on
gender equality. Much progress has been made: a famous lady just got married in flat shoes, for Gawd’s sake. But we all know the struggle goes on. I’ve just guest-edited Progress magazine. Progress has an excellent chair, Labour MP Alison McGovern but, like almost every political organisation, it is sometimes seen as the preserve of lots of clever chaps. So it decided to hand over the reins to a woman and do its bit to help the long-term unemployed.
Hazarika has also been persuaded by Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre in London, where she runs the Women of the World festival, to resurrect her stand-up comedy career. Hazarika will be performing a one-woman show at the festival, about politics, power and Labour’s infamous pink bus:
Before I worked for the Labour Party (sometimes even writing gags for Ed Miliband at PMQs), I was a stand-up comedian – insert own punchline here. Now I’ve decided to clamber back on the boards (it’s the comeback no one wanted) [. . .] This is either very brave and admirable or a huge cry for help. Only time will tell. I am nervous, but [. . .] stories about working in politics are told largely by white men educated at Oxbridge. I’m this beige woman from Scotland who went to our third great university, Hull. And, besides, I have a lot of time on my hands . . .
David Torrance on the return of the Tartan Tories.
The journalist and historian David Torrance attends a “dull and lifeless” Scottish Conservative conference at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, but nonetheless sees signs of a modest Tory revival north of the border:
[. . .] party strategists [are] convinced that an attractive leader – the counter-intuitively un-Tory-seeming Ruth Davidson – plus strong opposition to tax rises and another independence referendum have the potential to attract Scotland’s embattled unionist majority.
Anti-Tory sentiment runs deep in Scotland, however:
Many Scots still have not forgotten decades of Tory-inflicted grievances,
both real and imagined. They might like Ruth Davidson, they might think Scottish Labour is a bit crap and they might even agree with the Scottish
Conservatives on income tax but they still can’t quite bring themselves to put a cross next to what even David Cameron once called the “effing Tories”.
The Europe debate also casts a long shadow:
Scotland’s Ukip MEP, David Coburn (the Donald Trump of Scottish politics), will probably receive an inconvenient boost, while his party could take votes from the Scottish Conservatives and even pick up a seat or two at Holyrood.
Helen Lewis: Jeremy Corbyn must be clearer about his stance on sex work.
The NS deputy editor, Helen Lewis, finds herself at the centre of a Twitter storm about the Labour leader and sex work:
Me and my big mouth. When I heard that Jeremy Corbyn had responded to an audience question at Goldsmiths, University of London by reiterating his belief that men who buy sex shouldn’t be criminalised, I couldn’t bite my tongue. “Would be interested to know if Corbyn would pay for sex himself (ie he believes it is legitimate commerce),” I tweeted. I was stuck on the train for the next hour, so I got to see the full force of the backlash.
Many people patiently explained to me that you didn’t need to want to use services or products yourself to want them to be legal, unaware that this was exactly the point I was trying to tease out. As the debate about prostitution resurfaces thanks to a Home Office inquiry, we need to ask the fundamental question: is selling sex inherently exploitative? In other words, is it the position of the Labour leader that paying for intercourse is morally and ethically repellent, but decriminalising buyers is the best harm-reduction strategy – or does he think it’s just another capitalist transaction, like going to the hairdresser or a day spa?
Lewis finds this stance on prostitution puzzling and inconsistent:
I want clarity from Corbyn and [shadow chancellor John] McDonnell, and from those campaigning for the decriminalisation of sex buyers, about their fundamental beliefs and final aims. A world without sex workers getting beaten, exploited and killed has my wholehearted support. A world where buying sex is celebrated as a flowering of entrepreneurs boosting the economy . . . not so much.
Alev Scott on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tightening grip
on Turkey’s free press.
Peter Wilby: A pensions victory for the rich, ignoring Bernie Sanders’s success, and a councillor’s righteous rage.
Books: Rowan Williams reads Bryan Magee’s Ultimate Questions and
Vince Cable wonders if Mervyn King’s “audacity of pessimism” is more pessimistic than audacious.
Science: Michael Brooks on why contenders for high office should be given psychiatric tests.
Television: Rachel Cooke is pleasantly surprised by Doctor Thorne on ITV, but less so by Cooked on Netflix.
Michael Henderson salutes the pugnacious sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney on his retirement.
Will Self’s On Location: To see your neighbourhood in a whole new light, just move around the corner.
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