Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
6 January 2020updated 08 Jan 2020 10:01am

Evening Call: Tensions rise between US and Iran

This probably isn’t literally the end of the world – but if it was, would you really be surprised?

By Jonn Elledge

Something strange happened to me on Friday night: my phone broke, and it didn’t bother me. For much of the last decade, my phone’s decision to gradually release blue ink until the screen became entirely unreadable would have caused me to meltdown in roughly the same way as a toddler who’d dropped an ice cream, only with quite a lot less dignity. This time, though, I just shrugged, decided I’d get it fixed when I had the chance, and got on with my life. Perhaps it’s because it meant I couldn’t read the news.

Because the news, let’s be honest, is terrifying right now, isn’t it? Continuing the recent tradition of every January seeming to be somehow worse than the awful year just gone, 2020 has begun with an area of Australia twice the size of Belgium on fire, and the US and Iran on the brink of war. 

The latest developments on that latter story, since it seems extremely likely to dominate the days to come. Enormous crowds, said by state media to number in the millions, lined the streets of Tehran earlier today, for the funeral of Qasem Soleimani, the general killed by a drone strike on Baghdad airport on the orders of President Trump. In a tweet on Saturday night, Trump warned that, if Iran retaliated against American targets in any way, the US would attack Iranian cultural sites – a tactic which may count as a war crime. This probably isn’t literally the end of the world – but if it was, would you really be surprised?

Yesterday, the Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops, present in the country ever since the invasion of 2003, to leave. This morning the leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement urging the US and Iran to de-escalate, and calling on the latter to maintain its commitment to the anti-nuclear deal agreed in 2015. That may be a difficult sell, however: the US withdrew from the agreement in 2018, and Iran has already announced it was removing all limits on its enrichment of uranium.

Oh, and Boris Johnson is finally back from his holiday in the Caribbean. His refusal to cut it short has been widely criticised – he has form, having made it very clear while mayor that he resented having to return to London to deal with the 2011 riots. But to be uncharacteristically fair to the man for a moment, it’s not obvious what intervention he could have made this weekend that would have actually made anything better, and it’s depressingly easy to think of ways he might have made things worse.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

I’m not going to speculate on what might happen next – this is far from my area of expertise and the stakes are too big. But as Stephen noted this morning, all this may yet turn out to be a much bigger deal than Brexit.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

My phone is fixed now, incidentally. I’m just not sure that’s actually a good thing.

Good day for…

Fans of Labour infighting, as the party’s ruling National Executive Committee announced that the leadership campaign would run until 4 April, giving us three whole months of hot red-on-red action to look forward to.

As it stands five candidates – Clive Lewis, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry – are in the running, with Rebecca Long-Bailey expected to declare shortly. There are also four candidates in the race for deputy – although George Grylls is asking if Angela Rayner already has that one sewn up. It’s going to be a long, cold winter.

Bad day for…

Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. See above. Or, if you prefer, see this excellent piece from our international editor Jeremy Cliffe, which lists ten questions that will define the world in 2020. To give you a flavour, the last of these is: “Where will the unexpected good news occur?” Oh dear.

Quote of the Day

“Alan Johnson! Unmasked at last!”

Comedian Joel Dommett, definitely recognising the former home secretary and greatest leader Labour never had, and trying to sell the baffled audience of ITV’s The Masked Singer on how massively, massively famous the old guy under the Pharaoh costume was. I’m really hoping it turns out the other costumes are masking other really famous people like Danny Alexander or David Mellor, just to see the look on the audience’s little faces.

Everybody’s talking about…

The Sam Smiths pub that has put up signs telling people to stay off their phones, tablets or laptops on pain of being chucked out. Other pubs in the chain have similar signs about swearing.

Yesterday, Monzo engineering manager Sally Lait went viral with a Twitter thread explaining why this was a very bad policy. Short-version: some people need their phones for a lot more than looking up trivia/avoiding conversation/scaring themselves with the news. It’s worth a read.

Everybody should be talking about…

India’s descent into nationalism and authoritarianism under the premiership of Narendra Modi – one of those stories that isn’t getting half the attention it should, given the size and importance of the country. Kapil Komireddi has written about it for the NS today under the depressing headline, “Is India still a democracy?


Questions? Comments? I’m over here.

Evening Call is a free newsletter published every day at 5pm. You can sign up here.