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  1. Election 2024
5 November 2016

What does Hillary Clinton need most right now? To get a dog

The week in the media, including paying for a Scottish passport, the Orgreave conspiracy, and what a hound could do for Hillary.

By Peter Wilby

Explanations and excuses won’t help Hillary Clinton, who is threatened by FBI investigations into a private email server that she used for official business while she was the US secretary of state and by questions about sources of donations to the Clinton Foundation. It is doubtful that more than one in ten of those who shout, “Lock her up!” could explain what she is supposed to have done wrong. Her problem is that few Americans warm to her. She needs a dog, preferably one called Checkers.

In 1952, Richard Nixon, the Republican vice-presidential candidate running alongside Dwight Eisenhower, faced questions about who was paying his expenses. Critics called it “bribe money” and the clamour for him to step down prompted Eisenhower to sound out replacements.

Nixon went on television, talked of himself, his wife and their two children struggling with a mortgage and confessed to a gift from “a man down in Texas” that arrived in a crate. “It was a little cocker spaniel dog,” he said. “Black-and-white spotted . . . Our little girl . . . named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say . . . that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”

After the broadcast, millions of callers and letter-writers told the Republican headquarters that Nixon should remain on the ticket, which swept to victory a few weeks later. It was an early example of a politician appealing directly to voters’ emotions, of looking them in the eye and saying, however phonily (and you couldn’t get phonier than Nixon), “This is who I really am.”

Bill Clinton could do it but Hillary can’t. That could yet be her tragedy and America’s.

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The spirit of ’84

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, refuses an inquiry into the “Battle of Orgreave”, in which police and pickets clashed at a coking plant in Yorkshire during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, because nobody died. True, though that was a miracle. She also says that there were no miscarriages of justice. Wrong. Although the 71 pickets charged with rioting (and therefore liable to life imprisonment) were acquitted, police officers who falsified evidence against them were never charged or held to account.

Orgreave was a pivotal moment in a dispute that marked a watershed in British history. The strike became a decisive defeat for the trade unions, which, a few years earlier, had been partners in government. The police acted, in effect, as a paramilitary force, deploying legalised violence on behalf of the state. Thousands of Britons, trying to protect their jobs and communities, were treated as enemy subversives. Their leaders were framed by the security services as agents of hostile foreign powers. We still live with the consequences.

The “battle”, according to David Hart, one of Margaret Thatcher’s advisers, was deliberately set up to confront the miners. The coke was unimportant. A British government apparently orchestrated a conspiracy against its citizens. I cannot think of a more fitting subject for an inquiry.


Heritage hokum

More from “heritage” fanatics, about whom I wrote last week. Emma Rice, the ousted artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, has been condemned for miking up the actors, making it possible for audiences to hear them. How daring! Having resolved never to go to the Globe again because I heard barely half the words, I shall be sure to catch Rice’s final productions.

Neil Constable, the theatre’s chief executive, says that the Globe was intended “to explore the conditions within which Shakespeare and his contemporaries worked”. This is typical “heritage” nonsense. Elizabethan groundlings chattered, heckled, fought, ate and drank throughout performances, wandering around, cracking nuts, dropping shells and probably micturating as well. They would have stunk to high heaven. Perhaps Constable should advise audiences to refrain from washing before visiting the Globe.


Escape plans

I have an idea for Nicola Sturgeon. Britons, it is reported, are so anxious to acquire post-Brexit passports that will allow free movement across the EU that even descendants of Jews who fled the Nazis are applying for German citizenship. Thousands who have an Irish parent or grandparent want a passport from Dublin. My younger son has unearthed an Italian ancestor for my wife, although she is probably too remote as a relative to help.

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of English residents could claim Scottish citizenship through a parent or grandparent, if not their birthplace, should Scotland become independent while remaining in the EU. If Sturgeon charged hefty fees to issue passports and renew them annually, she would establish a healthy revenue stream.


Spin it to win it

Bangladesh’s first Test match victory over England’s cricketers reflects how playing conditions have changed in the bowlers’ favour. Because cricket is ruled mostly by former batsmen, changes usually make things harder for bowlers. When modern technology was permitted to check umpires’ decisions, it was expected to protect batsmen from being given out unjustly.

So it did, but it had another, unexpected effect. The technology revealed that, when the ball hits the pads, drawing appeals for leg before wicket, the proportion going on to hit the stumps is far higher than umpires previously allowed. Spin bowlers in particular have benefited. In Bangladesh’s victory, spinners took all 20 England wickets, many after technology overruled the umpires.

Socialists should celebrate. From the game’s beginnings, bowlers were cricket’s working classes. Their job was to allow the upper-class batsmen to show off their elegant stroke play. In an age when ideology has tilted the balance against workers, cricket should be congratulated on re-weighting the scales, albeit unintentionally, in the other direction. 

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This article appears in the 01 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The closing of the liberal mind