The Brexit odd squad
27 May – 2 June issue
Cover Story: The Brexit odd squad.
Stephen Bush on how a ragtag bunch of anti-Europeans rattled the Establishment.
Diary: Stanley Johnson on disagreeing with Boris on Brexit – and Iain Duncan Smith, the not-so-quiet-man.
Politics Column: George Eaton on the strange afterlife of Blairism abroad.
Letter from Sinjar: Sophie McBain reports from Iraq on the Isis slave trade.
View from Beijing: Jonathan Fenby on the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution.
Provocation: Chuka Umunna on why, in a divided world, simply “tolerating” others is not enough.
Books: John Simpson on Peter Oborne’s Not the Chilcot Report, a furious condemnation of Tony Blair ● Brendan Simms on Britain: Leading, Not Leaving by Gordon Brown.
Los Angeles Diary: the DJ and producer Moby hears the coyotes calling and takes delivery of his new memoir.
Tinder Tourism: Philip Maughan on the hazards of the swiping life.
Peter Wilby on Christopher Hitchens’s “deathbed conversion” and a “Marxist” at ITV.
Ryan Gilbey on the radical film-maker Ken Loach, the winner of the 2016 Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Cover Story: The Brexit odd squad.
The Brexiters are resilient and have the support of some unlikely foreign allies. Stephen Bush asks: can they really topple the political establishment and lead Britain out of the European Union?
In their quest to take Britain out of the EU, the Brexiters have a simple, if high-stakes, strategy. They want to appear to be the underdogs (hence their repeated complaints about the government’s £9m pro-EU leaflet) and as a scrappier, grass-roots campaign taking on the might of the establishment. Naturally, this image doesn’t reflect an unvarnished truth: the press has been largely onside and senior editors and columnists are very willing to take Vote Leave’s calls.
There is also no concern about keeping the lights on. Arron Banks, the insurance magnate who bankrolled Ukip at the 2015 general election, might have refused to fund Vote Leave after it triumphed over his favoured vehicle, Leave.EU – he has called Matthew Elliott “Lord Elliott of Loserville” and threatened to sue the Electoral Commission for naming Vote Leave the official voice of Brexit – but insiders say that the campaign’s financial position is nothing to worry about.
If Vote Leave wins, it will have scored an extraordinary victory – and, it should be noted, defied the hopes of most of our allies in the rest of the world. The politicians backing Britain’s continued membership of the EU include not just Barack Obama but his likely successor, Hillary Clinton, as well as the prime ministers of Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
There is a vanishingly small number of international politicians who back Brexit. Like the inner core of Vote Leave, they are overwhelmingly drawn from the right-wing fringe – US Republicans such as Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and the French National Front leader, Marine Le Pen, who, unhappily for the Brexiters, is expected to visit Britain to support their case.
The only foreign leader who seriously supports a British Leave vote in June is a man praised by Nigel Farage and whose country Dominic Cummings spent several years working in: Vladimir Putin, who, as far as British voters are concerned, is even more toxic than Farage, Galloway or Gove.
When Britain’s odd squad looks abroad for allies, its options are few – but this ragtag collective is far from beaten.
Diary: Stanley Johnson.
Stanley Johnson, the father of the leading Brexiter Boris, says that even family ties won’t keep him from voting Remain next month – but he has a hard time getting a word in to explain why in a radio debate with the newly rowdy “quiet man” Iain Duncan Smith:
As co-chairman with Baroness (Barbara) Young of Environmentalists for Europe, my life has been fairly hectic recently. I am sure it will get more so as the referendum day approaches. I know perfectly well that one of the reasons the invitations to speak or write articles ping into my inbox is the titillation factor. Are Families Divided on the Referendum? Is “Boris’s Dad” (that’s me!) going to Disagree with Boris?
Notwithstanding the family relationship, which I deeply treasure, the answer is “yes”. I am going to disagree. Boris and Michael Gove and other key members of the Brexit team have injected a wonderful level of vigour and energy into the referendum debate. They have raised issues, besides the economy, which needed to be discussed, particularly sovereignty, immigration and the EU’s general direction of travel. For this, the nation owes them a debt of gratitude. That said, I am convinced that this is not the moment to call time on the UK’s membership of the EU. As I see it, the best way to address the obvious problems is not to leave the EU but to “Remain” and to fight for change from within. In the end, this will benefit not just the UK but Europe as a whole.
Last Sunday evening, I took part in the BBC Radio 4 programme Westminster Hour. My fellow panellists were the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Smith of Basildon, formerly Angela Smith MP, now the shadow leader of the House of Lords.
We had a very lively and sometimes rowdy discussion. IDS is the “quiet man” who, since his resignation from the cabinet a couple of months ago, has regained his voice in no uncertain terms. Baroness Smith, a delightfully unpushy lady, sometimes found it difficult to get a word in edgeways. I don’t think I did so well myself.
But I did, I hope, make it clear that, from my point of view, there was still time to build on all that was good in the EU (such as its environmental record), while seeking common rather than unilateral solutions for the problems that persist.
On 24 June, if the Remain side wins, the government should go into action in Europe with all cylinders firing and with our politicians and diplomats working overtime, to get the arrangements that we need and deserve. On the way out, IDS said to me, “It won’t work. They won’t have it.”
He may be right. But I still think we should give it a go. You don’t file for divorce as a result of a single tiff, not after more than 40 years of marriage.
On the issues of immigration, for example, and possible changes to the EU’s freedom of movement rules, we may find more allies in Europe than we think.
Politics Column: George Eaton on Blairism abroad.
The NS’s political editor, George Eaton, argues that although Tony Blair has lost his reputation in Britain, his appeal to European politicians shows no signs of diminishing:
Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he has lost his reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party.
A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.
His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.
Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime.
[. . .]
Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. “I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections.”
In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche! (“On the march!”), will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”
The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.
Letter from Sinjar: Sophie McBain on the Isis slave trade.
In 2014, Islamic State fighters murdered thousands of Yazidis and kidnapped many others, mostly women and children. Sophie McBain reports from Iraq on how their desperate relatives are now trying to buy them back:
On the morning of 3 August 2014, a 58-year-old chef known as Abu Majed faced the most agonising decision of his life. Earlier that summer, Islamic State (IS) fighters had overrun vast areas of northern Iraq. Now, they were closing in on the villages and towns that surround Mount Sinjar, a jagged ridge of rock that rises abruptly from the flatlands and extends for tens of kilometres towards the Syrian border. Abu Majed’s village, Khanasur, had few defences and would fall to the militants. How should he protect his family?
A popular, humorous man, Abu Majed learned to cook in Baghdad in the 1970s before returning to Khanasur to open his gazino, an outdoor restaurant where young people liked to gather for grilled meat, beer and whisky among trees strung with fairy lights. He had five children and was fiercely proud of all of them. They were at the top of their classes at school and his two eldest wanted to study medicine. To Abu Majed – who, like almost everyone else in Khanasur, had descended from a long line of subsistence farmers – these ambitions were remarkable.
Abu Majed’s restaurant had been a haven during many turbulent years in Iraq. He kept it open through the repressive reign of Saddam Hussein and during the violence that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the threat now posed by the jihadists was greater than anything that had come before – especially because the villagers of Khanasur are Yazidis, an isolated and marginalised religious minority that has lived for centuries in north-west Iraq.
Having heard reports of the jihadists’ brutality elsewhere, Abu Majed was certain that IS’s main target would be the Yazidi men. The best option was for his family to split. After sending his wife and four youngest children – then aged between eight and 15 – to shelter with another family in the village, he walked with his eldest son towards Mount Sinjar. Abu Majed was still on the ascent when his phone rang. On the screen, he saw his daughter’s number. “They’ve captured us,” she whispered.
View from Beijing: Jonathan Fenby.
Jonathan Fenby reflects on the Cultural Revolution that Mao Zedong launched 50 years ago this month to shake up China and assert his leadership. At an event organised by the “Propaganda Department Office of Socialist Core-Value Propaganda and Education” in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, Fenby encounters a nostalgia for the era before the country embarked on its race for economic growth:
In a country where the leaders shape history to their purpose, this was a distinct political statement, and that the performance was permitted at all raised eyebrows among China-watchers. There was even more puzzlement when the organisation that put its name to the show turned out not to exist. Speculation spread that the whole thing had been staged by opponents of the current leadership in an attempt to embarrass it.
While Mao remains the biggest figure in the narrative of the People’s Republic, his three decades in power were marked by killings on a huge scale and the repeated use of terror, ending with the ten-year disaster of the Cultural Revolution. His heritage poses a problem in a country with a vastly changed society that has little affinity with the rampaging Red Guards. The Communist Party-run state needs the Great Helmsman at the centre of its history and its conquest of power. But the kind of nostalgia peddled [at the event] has little relevance in China today, where materialism is more important than Maoist Marxism and where the pressing issues are how to deal with a mountain of debt and reduce excess industrial capacity
Chuka Umunna: Why Trumpification means tolerance is no longer enough.
The Labour MP for Streatham and former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna argues against the Trumpification of politics in a column for this week’s issue:
It’s still spring, yet 2016 already stands out as one of the ugliest years in modern British political history. It was fantastic to see Londoners choosing hope over fear in May, electing Sadiq Khan as our first Muslim mayor. But David Cameron, having shamelessly endorsed Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle campaign tactics, owes those young Muslims who have been put off politics by the slurs hurled at Khan an explanation. How does racial profiling and sectarian scaremongering fit into his One Nation vision for Britain?
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, one of the best bets to succeed Cameron as our e minister, embarrassed Britain on the world stage with a racially charged allusion to Barack Obama’s Kenyan heritage. And my own party has been grappling with a swath of deeply disturbing revelations regarding the attitudes held by some on the left towards Israel and Jewish people. Sowing discord by stigmatising or scapegoating a single faith group or community is profoundly at odds with the British tradition of “tolerance”, but we can’t ignore that this year’s events are part of a rising trend of friction and factionalism.
[. . .]
We are at a crossroads and may face nothing less than the Trumpification of British politics. In an uncertain and changing world, it is all too easy to imagine that our problems are caused by those who are different from us.
If we wish to follow the fine example set by Londoners on 5 May and choose unity and empathy over division and blame, we must accept that simply “tolerating” one another will no longer do. There is an accusation built into the very word: what you are doing is “other” or “wrong”. As Britain has become more diverse, we have come to know each other less. This makes it harder to understand how people from different walks of life feel about the big issues.
Books: John Simpson on Not the Chilcot Report.
The BBC’s world affairs editor, John Simpson, reviews Peter Oborne’s Not the Chilcot Report and is full of praise for its “clear-headed and furious” condemnation of Tony Blair:
But what about the Chilcot report, when it appears on 6 July? The ludicrous delay in publishing it has given people the expectation that it, too, will be a whitewash. Yet we are starting to get leaks that it won’t be – that it will be just as savage as Oborne would like. That is the only way we can start to drain the poison that has built up in our national life since Blair took the calamitous decision to follow the US into invading a country that its president knew zip about.
Moby: Los Angeles Diary.
The DJ and producer Moby writes a diary from his puzzling but much-loved adoptive city. Browsing the finished copy of his new memoir, he explains why he’ll never let his children read it:
I just received the hardcover copy of my autobiography, Porcelain. And, like anyone, I skimmed the pictures. I’m so classy, eating an old sandwich in my underpants.
A friend’s dad had got an advance copy and was reading it. I had to issue the cautious caveat: “Well, I hope he’s not too freaked out by me dancing in my own semen while surrounded by a roomful of cross-dressing Stevie Nicks-es.”
If I ever have kids, I might have one simple rule. Or a few simple rules.
Dear future children of mine:
1) Don’t vote Republican.
2) Don’t get facial tattoos.
3) Don’t read my memoir.
I don’t need my currently unmade children to be reading about their dear dad during his brief foray into the world of professional dominatrixing, even if it was brief.
The first poem I loved was by Yeats: “When You Are Old”. I sent it to my high-school non-girlfriend. The girl I longed for, unrequitedly. I’m guessing I’m not the first person to have sent “When You Are Old” to an unrequited love.
Today the sky was so strangely clear. I mean, the sky is almost always clear. We live in a desert. But today it felt strangely clear, like something was missing. The sun felt magnified.
And then, at dusk, I noticed the gold light slanting through some oak trees and hitting the green sides of the mountains (they were green as we actually had rain over the winter). The wild flowers catch the slanting gold light and you wonder, this is a city? What the fuck is this baffling place?
I add the “fuck” for street cred. Or trail cred, as I’m probably hiking. As I’m a cliché.
You hike, or I hike, in the middle of a city of almost 20 million people and you’re alone. Just the crows and the spiralling hawks and the slanting gold light touching the oak trees and the soon-to-go-away wild flowers.
The end of the world just feels closer here, but it’s nice, somehow. Maybe the actual end of the world won’t be so nice but the temporal proximity can be OK. In the slanting gold light. You have to see it, the canyons in shadow and the tops of the hills in one last soft glow.
What a strange non-city.
Left Field: Philip Maughan on Tinder Tourism.
The NS’s Philip Maughan swipes right and finds that the Tinder dating app is not
just about sex – it is about friendship, too . . . and sex:
The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success.
I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.
My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”
Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).
According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.
Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.
When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.
Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the
stack of books).
Peter Wilby on Christopher Hitchens’s “deathbed conversion” and a “Marxist” at ITV.
In his First Thoughts column this week, Peter Wilby wonders whether Christopher Hitchens had a last-minute conversion to Christianity:
Christopher Hitchens, the famous atheist and raconteur, throw in his lot with the deity at the last minute? Larry Taunton, an American Christian evangelical, claims in a new book that, during two long road journeys in 2010, he studied the Bible with the Hitch, who died from cancer the following year.
“Don’t believe it. Don’t credit it,” was Hitchens’s stern instruction to anybody who heard of a deathbed conversion. But I find no difficulty in believing Taunton’s account while also being confident that Hitchens remained steadfast to the end in his non-faith. Any intelligent and cultivated person is (or should be) interested in the Bible because it is impossible to understand English history or culture – in its King James version, the Bible had a decisive influence on the development of the English language – without reading it. After the terrorist attacks of the past decade or so, many of us have studied the Quran without becoming Muslims. Hitchens may well have been interested in learning how others coped with the prospect of death without himself becoming a Christian. What Taunton means by “studying” the Bible is, I suspect, different from what Hitchens would have meant.
Wilby similarly dismisses excitable claims that a Marxist is now on the loose at ITV:
Noreena Hertz, the author and academic appointed as economics editor for ITV’s News at Ten, is denounced in the right-wing press as a dangerous Marxist. This is a curious description for someone who was appointed to an “inclusive capitalism task force”, chaired by the global managing director of McKinsey, and to the board of Warner Music Group.
I first published the then unknown Hertz in the NS in 1999. Her gist was that consumer power, involving boycotts of unethical companies, was the best way of effecting change. “Consumer politics is the real new politics we are buying”, she wrote, “not the false new politics of devolution, coalition or proportional representation . . . Politics is dead – long live the consumer.”
She wrote for us again two years later asking: “Can shopping really adequately replace voting?” To which, she replied: “No, it cannot.” This may, as a reader suggested, have been an example of the instability of the market, but it certainly does not suggest a very resolute Marxist.
Commons Confidential: Kevin Maguire offers his pick of the best gossip from Westminster.
Helen Lewis on why being a girl sucks – but it gets better.
Newsmaker: Caroline Crampton on the struggles of Hillary Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin.
Books: John Gray on Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World by Deirdre McCloskey ● Patrick McGuinness is intrigued by Clive James’s poetic response to Proust.
Radio: Antonia Quirke despairs at “special envoy” culture, watching Angelina Jolie address the BBC.
Television: Rachel Cooke catches a last glimpse of fading Britain, in London’s East End and the doomed, beautiful buildings of Liverpool and Cardiff.
Telling Tales: Lynne Truss on her relationship-wrecking encounters with Dame Judi Dench.
Food: Felicity Cloake wades through a million spag bog recipes online.
For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396.