29 April – 5 May issue
The new facism
Michael Heseltine on the EU referendum: Why Brexit would be “catastrophic”, Thatcher would have voted Remain, and the UK will one day join the euro.
Cover story: Rowan Williams on the echoes of Nazi populism in today’s politics.
George Eaton on Labour’s prospects in the local elections.
The artist formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby remembers the artist forever known as Prince.
The Diary: The 2016 University Challenge-winning captain, Hannah Woods, on those eyebrows, champagne at Peterhouse, and inspiring young girls to be swots.
Leading article: Why Londoners should choose Sadiq Khan.
Simon Parkin on the internet “swatting” of Mumsnet’s Justine Roberts and the ordinary citizens who are terrorised by online pranksters.
Phil Whitaker: I once wondered if this generation of doctors would care for the NHS as I do. This week’s walkout shows they do.
Peter Wilby on Hillsborough, the Sun and the slow wheels of justice.
Letter from America: Louis Amis on dancing with Trump’s favourite dummies in Connecticut.
Helen Lewis: Let’s not weep over a US trade deal – just look at TTIP.
The Politics Interview: Michael Heseltine on the case against Brexit.
Throughout his 50-year political career, Michael Heseltine has championed European integration as the best means of advancing Britain’s prosperity and security. He was one of the few senior Tories to advocate membership of the single currency after Labour’s election victory in 1997.
With two months to go to the EU referendum, Heseltine tells the NS political editor, George Eaton, that Brexit would be “catastrophic”, that Margaret Thatcher would have voted to stay, and that one day the UK will join the euro:
When I met him recently, the former deputy prime minister told me that Brexit would be “catastrophic” for Britain. “It would have an appalling effect on the way the rest of the world sees us, the UK having opted out of the top table of politics which we’ve occupied for so long and so successfully . . . It would leave Europe exposed to a dominance by Germany that Germany doesn’t want and nobody else wants,” he said. “We are the only credible balancing power to stand alongside France in that central concept of a balance of power . . . I cannot myself believe that the British people are going to vote for that [withdrawal].”
[Heseltine] is a reminder of what a true Europhile looks like. He continues to advocate UK membership of the single currency and told me: “One day, we will join the euro . . . There’s no hurry and I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime. It’ll be controversial. But when we adopted the metric measurements, there was great controversy over that – the metres and the litres. Nobody can remember what the argument was. You talk to the younger generation [and] they think you’re slightly off the planet. The Americans fought a civil war over the dollar, not that long ago in terms of human history. It took a long time to make the dollar work.”
Heseltine spoke of his profound disappointment at the Tories’ anti-EU turn. “I’m disappointed, particularly for David Cameron. I’ve seen the Conservative Party adopt leaders of a Eurosceptic nature but they didn’t win,” he said. “David Cameron has shown the Conservative Party how to win. And, in the end, winning is rather important in politics. One of the great differences between Labour and the Conservative Party is that Labour has a tendency to pursue a dream in opposition. The Conservatives are much more single-minded in pursuing the power with which to fulfil their dreams in government.
“David Cameron personally made that possible, being significantly more popular than the Conservative Party. I do find it disappointing that people who owe their seats in government, who owe – many of them – their seats at all to him, are now making his job as Prime Minister a great deal harder than it ought or need to be.”
How did he feel when Boris Johnson, who succeeded Heseltine as the MP for Henley in 2001, came out for Brexit? “I was disappointed he was able to resolve these huge issues in so short a period of introspection. But I’m not going to get involved in the personalities of this issue. Boris must explain himself.”
[. . .]
He blames Margaret Thatcher for injecting Euroscepticism into the Conservative bloodstream. It was after the passage of the Single European Act in 1986 and the onset of economic recession, he said, that she “did what politicians understandably do. She sought a scapegoat – Brussels.” The truth, he added, was that, as Cameron’s renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership with other national leaders demonstrated: “The elected heads of government have the power.”
He continued: “The Brexit side have become so swallowed up in their own propaganda. They really believe this thing about Brussels. But, of course, it rings well with some of our xenophobic newspapers and with some elements of our population.”
He disagreed with those Conservatives who argue that Thatcher would have joined them in voting Leave. “She would have voted to stay in [the EU]. That’s what she always did. There were two Mrs Thatchers: what she did and what she said. Party management often demanded language which perhaps didn’t completely reflect the decision-making for which she was responsible . . . She knew that Britain’s self-interest was inextricably interwoven with Europe and that’s why she was personally responsible for the biggest sharing of sovereignty in British history – the Single European Act.”
Could the Tories split after the June referendum? “The Conservative Party is the most sophisticated political party in human democracy,” Heseltine insisted. “They will come together. “That doesn’t mean [that] they will all agree, but all parties are coalitions.”
Read the interview in full at newstatesman.com
Rowan Williams on the new echoes of Nazi populism in today’s politics.
The first volume of Volker Ullrich’s Hitler: a Biography prompts the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to ask if we are being complacent in thinking that the toxic brew of paranoia and populism which brought Hitler to power will never be repeated:
Ullrich leaves his readers contemplating the picture of a vast collective drama centred on a personality that was not – as some biographers have suggested – something of a cipher, but that of a fantasist on a grand scale, endowed with a huge literal and metaphorical budget for staging his work.
All of this prompts questions about how it is that apparently sophisticated political systems succumb to corporate nervous breakdowns. It is anything but an academic question in a contemporary world where theatrical politics, tribal scapegoating and variegated confusions about the rule of law are increasingly in evidence.
[. . .]
The extraordinary mixture of farce and menace in Donald Trump’s campaign is a potent distillation of all this: a political theatre, divorced from realism, patience and human solidarity, bringing to the surface the buried poisons of a whole system and threatening its entire viability and rationality. But it is an extreme version of the way in which modern technology-and-image-driven communication intensifies the risks that beset the ideals of legitimate democracy.
And – think of Trump once again – one of the most seductively available tricks of such a theatre is the rhetoric of what could be called triumphant victimhood: we are menaced by such and such a group (Jews, migrants, Muslims, Freemasons, international business, Zionism, Marxism . . .), which has exerted its vast but covert influence to destroy us; but our native strength has brought us through and, given clear leadership, will soon, once and for all, guarantee our safety from these nightmare aliens.
George Eaton on Labour’s local election prospects.
In the Politics column this week, George Eaton notes that next week is likely to end with Labour having become the first opposition party since 1985 to lose seats in a non-general-election year:
Based on current polling, John Curtice, the doyen of British psephology, predicts that the party will lose 170 councillors. If so, Labour will not be a “government in exile” but an opposition at home. Sources report that the party is shedding support in the south of England.
Jeremy Corbyn’s allies have long emphasised that the relevant councils were last fought in 2012, the year of George Osborne’s “omnishambles” Budget (which helped Miliband gain 823 seats). Labour MPs noted that this trajectory still ended in defeat in 2015 – but the point was taken.
Eaton reports that although there will be no challenge by Corbyn’s opponents until after the EU referendum on 23 June, “an intervention after this point is still under discussion”:
For some, the question of whether to challenge Corbyn is less tactical than ethical. “People will ask, ‘What did you do in the war?’ ” one MP says.
But the Labour leader’s position is almost certainly still secure . . . and “not only because Sadiq Khan is expected to become the first Labour candidate to win the London mayoralty since 2004”:
The party could lose 300 council seats, be beaten by Zac Goldsmith in the capital and finish third – no, fourth – in Scotland and Corbyn would still be safe.
Terence Trent D’Arby on Prince: “He was a true diva, one who had earned the right.”
Sananda Maitreya, the artist formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby, remembers Prince as a “Zen master”, “Buddha of culture” and “font of wisdom”:
The first time I met Prince I planted a nice wet kiss right on his forehead. There was no mouth kissing! I am a conventional, boring heterosexual. What else was I to do? I was a star, and protocol required that I did not gush or drool. But he was a great master and a mentor who I always made a point of deferring to – until maturity bid me to go my own way. His job was to awaken the troops, those of us knighted by destiny to serve in the culture wars that forever engage us.
[. . .]
He was, when he wanted to be, insanely funny in the way that Zen masters can be when they let their garters down. He could both read minds and place thoughts, like the ancient eastern yogis. And if you were full of shit, you would be very uncomfortable around him. In fact, he once berated me for not responding to a telepathic message he sent: I did receive it but I told him that I was busy sending a message to Michael Jackson.
Read Kate Mossman’s 2015 interview with Terence Trent D’Arby at newstatesman.com.
The Diary: Hannah Woods.
After captaining the Peterhouse team to victory on University Challenge last week, Hannah Woods, a PhD student at Cambridge’s oldest college, describes post-final celebrations with champagne courtesy of the Rev Richard Coles and the 15 minutes of fame that ensued. Her eyebrows now have legions of adult admirers, but Woods is most excited that she has inspired a 12-year-old girl to follow her lead:
It has been a week of departures from my usual life as a PhD student. On the day the University Challenge final aired, my in-box pinged with good-luck messages from friends, family and anonymous strangers, as well as a small flurry of press articles. In the evening, I joined Thomas Langley, Oscar Powell and Julian Sutcliffe – my fellow students at Peterhouse, Cambridge – in the college theatre to watch ourselves on the programme. The atmosphere was beautifully surreal: 200 students stamping their feet, applauding, groaning and shouting answers at the screen. Afterwards, once everyone knew that we had won, there was an evening of shambolic celebrations with friends at the Peterhouse bar, aided by the bottles of champagne that the Rev Richard Coles (who is apparently a fan) had sent us. What a gentleman!
I wake up feeling appallingly the worse for wear and find that a photograph of last night’s revelry has somehow made it into the Daily Mail. My team-mates Oscar and Julian are pictured alongside me in a mock-raid of the college bar’s cellars, under the bathos-tinged headline “University Challenge champions celebrate with armfuls of alcohol”. The Evening Standard, meanwhile, has consulted a wildly optimistic PR expert, who predicts that I could earn millions through image rights and might never have to work again. Shamelessly, I google myself and find that, overnight, 32 newspaper articles have been written about my eyebrows. (“Take a brow!” says one.) My mother texts me: “Well, you’re certainly having your 15 minutes of fame, aren’t you?”
Over at the college, Julian fields an early-morning call from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire from his bed, before dashing off to an unfortunately scheduled exam, while I reply regretfully to requests from Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live on the grounds that I am in no fit state to extemporise live on air. Someone from the Today programme asks me if I can speak early tomorrow morning. At midnight, they email to apologise – it’s been decided that we are old news.
Scrolling through my Twitter feed, reading messages about University Challenge, I find it interesting how often people reach for politics. Tom Langley is “a young Jeremy Corbyn”, while poor Oscar is “Michael Gove, Jr”. Collectively the team is “the future Tory cabinet” – in 20 years, we will be“cutting everybody’s benefits” and “abolishing your tax credits”. Ouch! Our team mascot, a broken toy crown, purchased long ago for a fiver, has been elevated in the Twittersphere into an emblem of Oxbridge privilege and elitism.
Happily, such messages are the exception. But it surprises me, this automatic equation of Oxbridge with the political right. Cambridge is a university like any other, with a politically diverse student body and a strong base of left-wing activism. As if to puncture this thought, the Labour Party delivers a leaflet about the EU referendum to my college pigeonhole that has been jointly addressed to me and a graduate friend (perhaps in an effort to save paper). Possibly we are Peterhouse’s only two paid-up members of the party, after all . . .
In the morning, the team is interviewed for the Sunday Times. My picture is taken by a photographer, Francesco, who – to my slight surprise – chats with me at length on topics ranging from Roland Barthes’s theory of the image to the impossibility of the authentic self and Vermeer’s mastery of painting light.In the interview, I am asked once again for my thoughts on being the only woman to make it to this year’s final and why University Challenge remains such a male-dominated programme. It feels strange to be asked for my opinion in the role of spokesperson for womankind, though it would be churlish not to be flattered. Answering feels presumptuous but I also want to take any opportunity I might have to encourage more women to take part in the show. What I really want to say is simply: be confident in your intelligence, don’t be afraid of trying, you can do this.
Later in the day, I am flattered when a well-wisher approaches me outside the college to congratulate me on the win and tells me that I have inspired her 12-year-old daughter. I consider buying one of those T-shirts beloved by Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, with the slogan “This is what a feminist looks like”.
By the end of the week, I have returned to teaching, setting essays on the Industrial Revolution and getting back to thesis research in the library. It has been a bizarre (though welcomely distracting) few days.
Doing a PhD can feel like a long exercise in emotional resilience. It is a privilege to spend three years researching a topic that I love, but at times it is hard to feel optimistic. With higher numbers than ever of PhD students seeking a career in academia, coupled with an increasing trend towards casualisation of the labour force (zero-hours contracts are common for early-career academics) as well as a government that seems sceptical of the value of higher education in the humanities, few postgraduates feel that they have a certain future.
Occasionally the stress of my workload can feel overwhelming – when I’m trying to finish my thesis, prepare for undergraduate teaching, organise conferences, publish articles, make funding applications, apply for jobs and keep on top of my in-box all at once. At other times, when I’ve had a good day of writing, or I’ve been inspired by a new source in a corner of an archive, I am reminded of why I fell in love with history and how lucky I am to be allowed to do what I do. Those millions in image rights would certainly take the pressure off, though . . .
Leading article: London is calling Sadiq Khan.
In this week’s Leader, the New Statesman urges Londoners to back Sadiq Khan for mayor of London:
The contest – in effect, between Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith – once promised to be a profitable exchange of ideas. In his first term in parliament, Mr Goldsmith earned a reputation as a liberal, independent-minded Tory. Yet his campaign has degenerated into one of the most noxious in recent history.
Mr Goldsmith and senior Tories, including David Cameron, have suggested that Mr Khan is a friend of Islamist extremists. As a human rights lawyer, the Labour candidate represented those he recently described as “unsavoury characters” and has spoken alongside extremists. But at no point has he aligned himself with Islamism or anti-democratic factions. As the first Muslim to attend cabinet and as a supporter of equal marriage, he has received death threats for his participation in mainstream politics.
Mr Khan has, on the whole, run a positive and energetic campaign. He has offered solutions to the capital’s most intractable problems, pledging, for instance, to introduce a “Living Rent” (pegged at a third of average local wages). Inspired by the New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, he has vowed to establish “Skills for Londoners”, a body that would address a long-standing economic weakness. He has promised to freeze transport fares for the duration of his mayoral term and to create new revenue streams by establishing a Transport for London trading arm. Unlike Mr Goldsmith, he supports the UK’s continued EU membership, without which London’s status as a first-rank city and financial superpower is threatened.
Experienced, business-minded, internationalist – Mr Khan possesses the qualities required of a mayor. A vote for him would be not merely a sound choice, but inspiring.
Simon Parkin on “swatting” and internet pranksters.
The journalist and avid gamer Simon Parkin explores the rise of internet “swatting” and “doxxing” — and the psychological effects these sinister practices have on their victims:
At around midnight on Tuesday 11 August 2015, a man dialled 999 to report a murder. A woman had been killed in her London home, he said, before hanging up without offering his name. A second call followed. This time, the man claimed to be the killer. He told the operator that he had now taken the woman’s children hostage at the Islington address. They were locked with him inside a room in the house, he said. The police responded with reassuring speed. Fifteen minutes later, eight officers, five of them armed with automatic weapons, accompanied by saliva-flecked dogs, arrived at the scene and took up position in neighbouring front gardens. When one officer banged on the front door of the house, the team was greeted, moments later, not by a masked murderer but by a blinking and bewildered au pair.
Justine Roberts, the woman whom the caller claimed to have killed, was in y 2,000 kilometres away – in Italy, holidaying with her husband and children. After explaining this to the police, the au pair called Roberts, who assumed that the incident was an unfortunate misunderstanding, one that could be unpicked after the vacation. It was no mistake. Roberts had been the victim of “swatting”, the term given to a false emergency call designed to bait an armed unit of police officers to storm someone’s home. It wasn’t until a few days later, as the family was preparing to return to London, that Roberts discovered that she had been the target of a planned and sustained attack, not only on her household, but also on her business.
Roberts is the founder of Mumsnet, the popular British internet discussion forum on which parents share advice and information. A few days before the swatting incident, members of 8chan, a chat room that prides itself on being an open, anonymous platform for free speech, no matter how distasteful, had registered accounts on Mumsnet with the aim of trolling people there. When legitimate Mumsnet users identified and then ridiculed the trolls, some retreated to 8chan to plot more serious vengeance in a thread that the police later discovered. Roberts wasn’t involved in the online skirmish but, as the public face of the site, she was chosen as the first target.
Health Matters: Dr Phil Whitaker on the doctors’ strike.
The NS’s medical columnist, Phil Whitaker, considers the likely impact of this week’s walkout by junior doctors:
If the strike is well supported, then Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron will be facing a nightmare. Throughout this dispute, the Tories have sought to portray the British Medical Association as a militant union, misleading its membership in pursuit of a political agenda. In part, that is mere playground name-calling, but it also indicates an analysis of industrial relations that belongs to the past.
Far from leading the charge, the BMA has been propelled by a groundswell of opinion. The momentum has come from thousands upon thousands of grass-roots juniors, sick to death and scared rigid by working in a terminally stretched and underfunded English NHS. They are genuinely incensed – as are innumerable colleagues throughout the service – by the imposition of a contract that will further jeopardise patient safety, discriminate against female and single-parent doctors, compromise training, and eat away at what is an already too-precarious work-life balance, to the detriment of recruitment and retention.
I once wondered whether this generation, born and raised in an environment of neoliberal marketisation, would feel the passion for public-service health care that brought me into the NHS. Events of the past six months have shown that they do. For the sake of all who are treated by the NHS, and all who work for it, I sincerely hope that the strike will succeed in terms of both turnout and patient safety. That will put the ball firmly in the government’s court. Then, finally, it may be time for Jeremy and David to talk to doctors again
First Thoughts: Peter Wilby on Hillsborough, the Sun and the slow wheels of justice.
After yesterday’s verdict of unlawful killing delivered at the Hillsborough inquest, the NS’s media commentator, Peter Wilby, calls on the Sun to sack the columnist who blamed and smeared innocent fans in 1989:
The determination of relatives and friends to pin the blame for the 96 deaths at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield in 1989 on those truly responsible might have been considerably weaker had it not been for the Sun. For that much, they should be grateful to Kelvin MacKenzie, the paper’s editor when it accused allegedly drunken fans of picking victims’ pockets and urinating on “brave cops”, as well as causing the crush that suffocated people in the open air.
Now an inquest jury has agreed that the fans, far from being to blame, were unlawfully killed. The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, apologised in 2012 after a two-year inquiry established what had happened. MacKenzie, who left the Sun in 1994 but is now back as a columnist, also apologised in 2012 – but he had done so once before, only to suggest later that he was merely obeying Murdoch’s instructions and didn’t mean it.
If it took the justice system 27 years to reach the right verdicts, it is surely not too late for the Sun to sack MacKenzie in disgrace and for Murdoch to issue one of his “most humble day of my life” apologies
Lynne Truss: How I was hired to cover Euro ’96.
Laurie Penny says that Game of Thrones is the perfect metaphor
for the modern age.
Trends: Adam Kucharski on how science and statistics
are taking over sport.
Xan Rice meets the tireless investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
Jonathan Bate on Sex With Shakespeare by Jillian Keenan and Shakespeare’s Money by Robert Bearman.
Owen Jones asks whether our obsession with class is propping up the powerful.
Erica Wagner enters the fairy-tale world of Helen Oyeyemi.
Tom Shone explores the imaginative landscapes of Terrence Malick, America’s big-screen auteur.
For more press information, please contact Anya Matthews: firstname.lastname@example.org / 020 7936 4029 / 07815 634 396