4th – 10th March 2016 issue
Germany’s migrant crisis and the rise of the far right
Cover story: The German problem.
Mark Leonard on Germany’s migrant crisis and the rise of the new far right.
The NS Essay: RIP Scottish Labour – Tom Devine on the party’s long, slow decline north of the border.
Lazy, dishonest and unreliable: Simon Heffer on the trouble with Boris Johnson.
Darius Guppy: Why my old friend Boris is wrong on Brexit.
George Eaton: On the mirror-image challenges facing David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn.
Stephen Bush: Why most Conservative MPs see the referendum as a chance to settle old scores.
The NS Interview: Mervyn King talks to Ed Smith about what the Bank of England learned from Maradona.
Peter Wilby on Donald Trump, striking NHS doctors and a New Day for newspapers.
Ireland Election 2016: Maurice Walsh on why the Easter Rising still decides who rules a century on.
Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential: The return of Damian McBride.
Cover story: The German problem.
In 2015, encouraged by Angela Merkel’s open-door policy, 1.1 million asylum-seekers arrived in Germany. In this week’s cover story, Mark Leonard, co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the first pan-European think tank, argues that Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis has emboldened the far right and thrown her future as chancellor into doubt.
Most prominent is the rise of the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which is using the dislocation caused by the refugee crisis to shake up the German political scene. Not only is the AfD – Germany’s equivalent of Ukip – likely to pass the 5 per cent threshold for entering parliaments in all three states that are holding elections, it threatens to push the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) into fourth place in Saxony-Anhalt and may get into double digits into Rhineland Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg. If it succeeds, it will break one of the cast-iron rules of postwar German politics – that no party to the right of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) grouping should be allowed into the legislature.
The rise of the AfD is the most marked sign yet of the “fraying of Merkel’s supremacy”, Leonard writes. Germany’s political sphere (all the main parties are in favour of Germany remaining a member of the EU, for example) is so restrictive that “those who dare to cross the threshold of political correctness tap in to a vast reservoir of pent-up popular frustration”. Anger with the political class is growing by the day, Leonard says:
The newspapers are full of talk about die Wutbürger, or enraged citizens, and the media have characterised one of the [AfD’s] key figures, Marc Jongen, a professor of philosophy at the small University of Arts and Design in Karlsruhe, as the Wutdenker: the “philosopher of rage”.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Merkel is resolutely refusing to close the borders and set a limit for inward migration. This policy of Wilkommenskultur, however, may cost the chancellor precious votes in this month’s regional elections in three states. Members of the German elite are already predicting her demise:
For months already, [they] have been talking about her in the way Tory MPs talked about Margaret Thatcher during the poll-tax riots: as if she had lost her grip on reality and her ability to adapt to circumstances. In December, I had lunch with a group that included a prominent businessman, a national newspaper editor and a couple of CDU politicians. Even before the drinks arrived, they began playing the parlour game of the moment: imagining alternatives to Merkel.
Tom Devine on the death of Scottish Labour.
In this week’s NS Essay, the historian Tom Devine traces the slow death of Scottish Labour – the party of Keir Hardie and Gordon Brown – which culminated in its routing at the 2015 general election by the Scottish National Party. As May’s Scottish elections approach, the party continues to fare badly in the opinion polls:
Some merchants of doom predict that the Conservatives could push Labour into third place in Scotland, and a few alarmists even contend that the party may face extinction north of the border.
These disasters did not come as a series of thunderbolts from a clear sky. Instead, it would be more accurate to consider the fall of Labour in metaphorical terms, with the party in the form of a large nut, still shiny and well preserved on the outside but steadily rotting over many years on the inside until, when external pressure was applied, disintegration followed.
The deep rot set in, Devine suggests, with the rise of New Labour:
The transformation in the 1990s of old Labour into New Labour, which seemed to embrace a free-market philosophy and failed to reverse Thatcherite reforms, triggered much disenchantment among the party’s supporters in Scotland. Surveys taken after the 1999 Holyrood election concluded that less than half the respondents thought that New Labour looked after Scottish interests.
A revival of Scottish Labour seems particularly unlikely, Professor Devine notes, given the disaffection of young Scots:
For many of Scotland’s youth now, nationalism is cool and Labour is old hat. A generation of potential leadership talent for the party is in the process of being lost and that quality will be irreplaceable.
Simon Heffer: The trouble with Boris.
In this week’s guest column, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer gives a withering assessment of Boris Johnson’s political judgement and moral record, and warns that Britain should not countenance handing power to a man who has shown both an unwillingness to engage with detail and a willingness to “manipulate and use anybody if it helps him”:
Johnson has not made a stunning impact on his colleagues since returning to the Commons last May. Three or four mediocrities on the back benches have been busily spinning for him since his botched declaration as an Outer: these are people whose only hope of office is if Johnson ever leads their party, and their peers discount them accordingly. Other MPs feel that his understanding of how poorly he has performed since his return, and the likelihood that the next Tory leader will be an Outer, drove him to take the course he did.
One MP told me that he expects Johnson to change his mind and declare he is voting In before the campaign ends, if victory for Cameron looks certain. I suspect even Johnson would avoid that, having an eye on the medium and not the short term, and recognising he would have trouble salvaging his
credibility after such a U-turn. But it speaks volumes for the disdain with which some of his colleagues view him, a feeling deepened in the past fortnight, even among those who share what he claims is his view on Europe.
To reach the point where a plebiscite of the Conservative membership can elect Johnson as leader, he must be one of the last two names in a ballot of MPs. Given how negatively many colleagues regard him, that may not be so easy as it once seemed. There are MPs, beyond his prominent “stooges” (to use a Johnsonian term), who have reservations about him but intend to support him because their activists find him entertaining. They acknowledge his ability to lead what Arnold Bennett called “the great cause of cheering us all up”. But being prime minister is about a little bit more than that.
There seems little evidence, if we are to judge his potential as a national leader by his record as Mayor of London, that it would be a rule of transparency, achievement and progress. Johnson has relied on a string of deputy mayors to do his job for him. His vanity projects – such as the “Boris bikes” – have come at a disproportionate cost to taxpayers. He has the brains to embrace detail but has displayed no temperament to do so. His wife, Marina Wheeler QC, has made a far more eloquent case against the EU, in a recent essay about European law, than Boris has ever done, or appears capable of doing.
Most in doubt, though, is his judgement: and this is because he is so self-serving that he cannot be relied on to put any other consideration first. One is more likely to see a fish taking a walk than Johnson taking a correct but unpopular decision. A growing number of his parliamentary colleagues know this and it is an especially keen realisation among those who have felt the realities of holding high office. They are convinced he is not up to it, and that he is not straight or reliable, and dread Tory activists handing him the keys of Downing Street.
Darius Guppy: Why my old friend Boris is wrong on Brexit.
Boris Johnson’s Oxford contemporary Darius Guppy explains that he feels compelled to part company from his old friend and other Out campaigners on the question of Britain’s membership of the European Union:
The proponents of Brexit may well refer with nostalgia to the separateness that defined us as a unique island people and, to that extent, cast themselves in the role of patriots and nationalists. Like all the best lies, however, this is a half-truth, because when it comes to the economy, they are internationalists and these two philosophies do not mix.
The Tories must be reminded every waking minute of a most uncomfortable truth: it was they, under Margaret Thatcher, who pushed the neoliberal agenda; an agenda that encourages mass immigration in order to suppress the wages of our workforce, thereby complying with the exigencies of the bottom line. It was they who bought so wholeheartedly in to the virtual economy at the expense of the real one, preferring the City of London above industry and agriculture and sacrificing the last vestiges of Britain’s economic independence in the process. New Labour took up the baton with enthusiasm.
[. . .]
Or, to put it in more personal terms, the Boris I knew well at school and university shared with me a love of classics – in particular, the heroes of the classics and the primal values that moved them. While such a world-view is compatible with a love of country, I do not see Achilles or Hector bowing before such a patently ignoble, money-worshipping and ultimately unpatriotic philosophy as Thatcherism.
Let Johnson and Michael Gove also challenge Washington and Goldman Sachs and then we will see how brave they really are.
George Eaton: The mirror-image challenges facing David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn.
The New Statesman’s political editor, George Eaton, observes in his column that although David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn will not be facing each other in the 2020 general election, they are facing parallel challenges. Both achieved “remarkable and unanticipated victories” in 2015 but now “both men’s crowns rest uneasily”. Who will fall first? Eaton notes that Cameron will probably resign if the UK votes to leave the EU on 23 June. Corbyn’s position, meanwhile, is questioned daily and the Labour Party already seems reconciled to a merely defensive strategy in the local elections:
In May, Labour risks becoming the first opposition since 1982 to fail to gain seats in a non-general-election year. The party’s regional boards have been sent a list of 16 councils to target – all of them already held by Labour.
Yet the Labour leader’s opponents “lack an agreed candidate or programme”, although “Dan Jarvis, Lisa Nandy (‘on massive manoeuvres’, say MPs), Angela Eagle and Chuka Umunna are regarded as the main contenders”. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is also the subject of comment:
There is increasing discussion among MPs about whether “a deal” has been struck between the Labour leader and his closest ally. McDonnell, who stood unsuccessfully for the leadership in 2007 and 2010, is now present at “every meeting”. Some believe that this reflects the toll the job has taken on Corbyn (“he just can’t do it on his own”); others suggest that he is preparing to hand over the leadership at some point. McDonnell is said to have “massively expanded” his team and has been frequently visiting constituency parties.
Stephen Bush: Why most Tory MPs see the referendum as a chance to settle old scores.
Stephen Bush, editor of The Staggers, the NS’s politics blog, explains that for many in Westminster, the coming EU referendum is less a way to resolve issues of sovereignty and more an opportunity for score-settling:
As one Remain minister put it, “For my generation, it isn’t what we came into politics to do. We’re not like Bernard Jenkin or Bill Cash, who are gearing up for one last great battle.”
The temptation is, therefore, to see the referendum as a proxy for something more compelling – the contest to replace David Cameron as Prime Minister, for example, or the question of whether Scotland should remain a part of the UK. Most people assume that the row surrounding Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, who has advised civil servants to withhold documents related to the EU referendum from ministers who have signed up to the Leave campaign, is no more than a storm in a teacup – and not a particularly diverting storm at that.
[. . .]
More troubling than that is the collapse of what a former Downing Street staffer called “the old code”. “People don’t like to believe that Cameron might be the problem. They say, ‘Oh, it’s the fault of Ed Llewellyn [Cameron’s chief of staff]. It’s Jeremy Heywood’s fault. It’s the Liberal Democrats’ fault.’ In fact, the problem is that David Cameron is a centrist Conservative who doesn’t want the type of politics that they want.”
This time, it isn’t Heywood or pro-Europeans in Downing Street who are being blamed. Cameron is the object of anger and frustration among Tory MPs and even if Britain stays in the EU, the convenient myth that the disappointments of the Cameron era were the product of anyone but the Prime Minister has been torn up.
PLUS, on newstatesman.com:
The NS Interview: Ed Smith meets Mervyn King.
The NS contributor Ed Smith meets Mervyn King, the former governor of the Bank of England, at King’s house in east Kent and they discuss his new book, The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking and the Future of the Global Economy. Smith finds King ready to criticise not only the usual suspects (greedy bankers), but also his old profession – academic economists. Reflecting on his time as governor, King is also critical of politicians, who, he recalls, were generally unwilling to take time out from the daily cut and thrust to reflect on issues in depth:
“What I observed among prime ministers is how hard they found it to step back and think things through. Across politics, you sense the focus on tomorrow’s headlines. Politicians are judged by smartness, articulateness, looks. But you don’t get the impression that they’ve thought deeply about the subject and have got something new to say on it and that’s what has motivated them.”
“The overwhelming burden of being a professional politician, King argues, extenuates short-termism and identikit style. “When I advised people to disappear for a fortnight, then come back and give a speech that would try to set the agenda for the next five years, it would be met with incredulity. They’d say: ‘We can’t disappear. We’ve got to be here to respond.’ But if all you’re doing is responding to the other side, you’re stuck just shouting at each other.”
King singles out Nigel Lawson and Frank Field as being unusually intellectually considered. “But it’s very hard for politicians to make time to think through the big issues. And we don’t make it easy for them.”
In conversation with Smith, King uses an unlikely sporting analogy to explain the Bank’s setting of interest rates – Diego Maradona’s second goal against England in the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico:
“The truly remarkable thing is Maradona ran virtually in a straight line. English defenders reacted to what they expected Maradona to do. Because they expected him to move either left or right, he was able to go straight on.”
He points out that in 2002 the Bank of England met its inflation target with unchanged official rates, even though expectations of future interest rates (revealed in market interest rates) did move around. The point is not that interest rates need never change – far from it – but to illustrate the power of expectations as well as “actions”.
Ireland Election 2016: Maurice Walsh on why the Easter Rising still decides who calls the shots a century on.
As counting continues after the most indecisive Irish election in decades, the author Maurice Walsh considers the scenarios most likely to unfold, and how the 1916 Easter Rising and the split in nationalist ranks that followed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 still shape Ireland’s political landscape today. A grand coalition between the two main political parties which emerged from that split, and which are usually opposed to each other – the centre-left Fianna Fáil and centre-right Fine Gael – now appears to be the most likely outcome:
One reason to suggest Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would not opt for a grand coalition is that they would be giving Sinn Fein the opportunity to establish itself as the alternative. But Sinn Fein is aspiring to be the new Fianna Fáil. So, even if the realignment came to pass, it might result in Ireland having three parties with little to distinguish them except their views on a treaty with Britain that was signed almost a century ago.
Kevin Maguire’s Commons Confidential: The return of Damian McBride.
The NS’s chief snout in Westminster, Kevin Maguire, reports the reappearance in the Labour fold of Damian McBride, the notorious spin doctor and former special adviser to Gordon Brown. Maguire wonders: will McBride’s return to back-room politics lead to ructions in Westminster?
Older and wiser, Damian McBride has returned to front-line politics, tasked with keeping HMS Emily Thornberry on an even keel. But that is not the only use for Labour’s recommissioned destroyer. Comrade Corbyn, I hear, is anxious to learn from the Brown veteran. No more free hits for the Tories? David Cameron should brace himself for a thrust of cold steel.
Sarah Churchwell on Hillary Clinton’s haters and the
glass ceiling in American politics.
John Bew explores the British obsession with heroic failure.
Julie Burchill writes in praise of Half Man Half Biscuit,
northern pop’s snarling satirists.
Television: Rachel Cooke revisits Winston’s summer in hiding
with the ITV drama Churchill’s Secret.
Erica Wagner welcomes the return of The Power of the Dog
by Thomas Savage.
The Jeremy Vine show’s Phil Jones reflects on a St David’s Day
visit to Wales in this week’s diary.
For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: email@example.com / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396