Don’t worry about Trump – the US political system was designed to stop the president

Plus: junior doctors sold into slavery, and a new day for newspapers.

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Donald Trump’s surge towards the Republican nomination for US president and perhaps even the White House reminds me of the election of H’Angus the Monkey as mayor of Hartlepool. Played by Stuart Drummond, a call-centre credit controller, H’Angus was the local football club mascot and his candidature was initially a publicity stunt. Drummond’s only promise was to provide free bananas for all schoolchildren. Yet after his narrow victory in 2002, he was re-elected with an increased majority of more than 10,000, and, in all, served three terms totalling 11 years.

What the people of Hartlepool realised was that the mayor would have no significant power – Drummond was unable to deliver even the bananas. Americans, I suspect, have come to a similar conclusion about their president: whomever they elect, big business and the moneyed elite will take the important decisions. Trump allows them to express their indifference to and contempt for established politicians as the citizens of Hartlepool did.

We shouldn’t worry about Trump. The US political system was designed to stop anybody doing anything much, particularly the president. Barack Obama could not control the sale of guns or close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp and could only partly achieve his ambitions for comprehensive health care. Trump will find it just as difficult to expel illegal immigrants or build his wall on the Mexican border.

 

Stay or pay

Tory ministers routinely denounce public-sector strikes and plan legislation to make such stoppages even more difficult. The standard right-wing response to workers trying to improve wages or working conditions is that, if they are dissatisfied, they should seek alternative employment.

Many junior doctors propose to do precisely that, by taking jobs overseas. But it is now suggested that this, too, is wrong and that, in future, they should be made to pay back the costs of their training. Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools (not a Tory cheerleader but certainly an opponent of teachers’ strikes), takes a similar position on the 18,000 qualified teachers who fled abroad last year. Someone trained here, he says, should make “a contractual commitment” to stay at least a few years.

Leave aside that both teachers and doctors, like nearly all graduates, now have to pay back a hefty proportion of the costs of their education. If doctors and teachers were allowed neither to strike nor to walk away from their jobs, wouldn’t that be slavery?

 

Bad faith

Right-wing commentators continue to complain that the Rotherham men convicted of brutal and repeated sex abuse are insufficiently identified as Muslims. The Sunday Times columnist Rod Liddle, for example, writes that BBC News “managed . . . a recorded package and two interviews without anyone mentioning the word ‘Muslim’.” One would have thought the men’s names and photographs provided enough clues. But what is meant by “Muslim” in this context? Is it known that the men regularly go to mosques, pray five times a day to Mecca and fast during Ramadan? And when men and women of Anglo-Saxon heritage are convicted of crimes, should they automatically be identified as “Christian”?

 

Relative reviews

Private Eye derives annual fun from pointing out how, in the newspapers’ “books of the year” round-ups, writers praise other writers who happen to be old friends, colleagues or schoolmates. American papers, particularly the New York Review of Books, scrupulously question reviewers about any connections, friendly or unfriendly, with authors they are asked to review.

The trouble is that Britain is a much smaller country than the US and, in London-based media and literary circles, everybody knows everybody else: of the new books I read, well over half are by people I know personally, if not always well. But a review by an author’s relative surely breaks fresh boundaries. Jeremy Lewis’s newly published biography of David Astor (which I review on page 47) was reviewed in the Guardian by his cousin Roger Lewis.

Not that it was a particularly favourable review. Indeed, the author is reportedly hopping mad about several inaccuracies. Was there a family feud, I asked? No, I was told, but there is now.

 

Last paper standing

As the Independent and its Sunday sister enter their final month in print, rumours circulate (and are denied) that the Observer will close because its parent company, Guardian News and Media, needs 20 per cent spending cuts. Meanwhile, Trinity Mirror, the
Daily Mirror publisher, has launched the New Day, a national daily that has 40 stapled pages on thick paper and no heavy-duty politics. It also has no discernible structure: even sport is scattered around rather than placed in a distinct section, which hardly seems right for the “time-poor” target audience.

Predictions? It makes little business sense – particularly for the Guardian, which has expensively acquired printing presses that nobody wants to rent – to publish six days a week, but not seven. The Observer would be replaced by a Sunday Guardian, produced largely by journalists rostered over seven days. But will the Guardian risk the odium of closing a 225-year-old newspaper?

As for the New Day, it resembles the highly successful i, the Independent’s cheaper stablemate, which is now being sold to Johnston Press. The i got much of its copy from the Independent; the New Day will apparently draw on Mirror staff. But the i, now 40p, costs a quarter of the Independent’s weekday price, while the New Day, after two weeks at 20p, will cost 50p, only 10p less than the Mirror. Still, with just 25 staff, it doesn’t need much circulation to turn a profit. The i will outlive the Independent as a printed paper. Could the New Day outlive the Daily Mirror?

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article appears in the 03 March 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Germany's migrant crisis