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Mini Mao
19-25 June 2015 issue


Jonathan Fenby on Xi Jinping, China's most powerful leader since Mao.

Shiraz Maher: Don't view Britain's suicide bombers and female jihadis as victims - they know exactly what they're doing.

George Eaton interviews the leading Labour Eurosceptic Kate Hoey.

Simon Wren-Lewis: There is no economic rationale for Osborne's surplus plan.

The award-winning novelist Ali Smith on Barbara Hepworth.

George Eaton: As the Labour left ascends, the Blairites partly have themselves to blame.


The new emperor of China

Jonathan Fenby writes that despite his "folksy image" and calling himself "Xi Dada" (Uncle Xi), Xi Jinping is China's most powerful leader since Chairman Mao and has strengthened his grip on the state:

In the two years since he took China's most important job, Xi Jinping has become the most powerful national leader in the world. He has assumed seven top positions spanning the Communist Party, the state, the economy and the military. He has also displayed an activism that contrasts sharply with his predecessor Hu Jintao, and has promulgated a tough ideological line.

Citing his anti-corruption campaigns, his ambitious seven-year programme of economic reform, and a foreign policy worth billions of dollars, Fenby writes that Xi is only increasing in confidence, and he aims to influence politics deeply on the international stage:

Xi's body language at the summit in Beijing of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) organisation towards the end of 2014 told a clear story. Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and Barack Obama were both put at a disadvantage by the staging of meetings with him by being made to appear like supplicants, Abe receiving only the most distant of handshakes and no small talk. Xi, who is broad-shouldered and nearly six foot tall, trumped the feline figure of Vladimir Putin, who committed the overeager faux pas of putting a shawl around the shoulder of the Chinese leader's wife: it was swiftly removed. Xi looked, and acted, like an emperor.

But Fenby notes that Xi also faces many challenges: among them China's huge economic imbalances, grave environmental crises of air quality and water and soil pollution, as well as a rapidly ageing population. His foreign policy, too, has its obstacles: Fenby argues that "the idea that Chinese civilisational values will spread to match those of the west looks good only on paper". He sees the greatest problem of all, however, as lying with the Party:

What is the Communist Party of China for and where does it derive its legitimacy? That raises some very knotty issues.

Is this movement that has never run in a national election - let alone won one - the deliverer of material progress, extending Deng Xiaoping's insight that going for growth was the path both to restoring the PRC's global status and to giving the Party a source of popular legitimacy? If so, what will happen if growth drops more sharply than Xi and Premier Li Keqiang plan and if the aspirations of the second generation of the middle class reach beyond money? What impact will the anti-corruption campaign have on the Party's patronage networks and its poorly paid cadres, who live by rent-seeking?

Fenby concludes:

If he faces a choice between economic modernisation and party control, Xi is likely to choose protecting the second - in line with his condemnation of the Gorbachev experiment in the Soviet Union - as he steps forward as the strongman who defends the PRC's Leninist form of bureaucratic state capitalism. But that in turn would cramp the development and modernisation necessary to perpetuate the Communist Party's claim to rule. Such contradictions will shape China in the coming decade and, given the country's global impact, will weigh heavily on the world.


Shiraz Maher: Some British jihadis think that joining Isis is an adventure. But the suicide bombers are fully committed

Responding to the news that yet more British young people have made the journey to serve with the jihadists in Syria and Iraq, Shiraz Maher writes that we should reject the "narrative of victimhood" that surrounds the women who sign up to the extremist cause:

Discussion of female migration to IS-held areas often paints the women as passive agents who have been carefully cultivated and indoctrinated by their handlers. A superb new report by Erin Saltman and Melanie Smith, "Till Martyrdom Do Us Part": Gender and the Isis Phenomenon, debunks this patronising narrative.

It convincingly shows that women are cognisant and sentient agents in their radicalisation. The study demonstrates how female migrants often make more politically informed decisions about travel than their male counterparts - some of whom are simply drawn to the ostensible glamour of the jihadi lifestyle. The women are different. They have looked at the so-called caliphate and made a sober decision to raise their families in Generation Khilafah.

He adds that the same sympathy is naively shown to young male suicide bombers such as Talha Asmal, a 17-year-old from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who became Britain's youngest ever suicide bomber when he joined an attack on an oil refinery outside the Iraqi city of Baiji on 13 June:

"Talha fell under the spell of individuals who continued to prey on his innocence and vulnerability," his family said in a statement. "[He] was ordered to his death by so-called Isis handlers and leaders too cowardly to do their own dirty work." Elsewhere, a former government minister and friend of the Asmal family, Shahid Malik, described him as both "brainwashed" and "groomed".

The shock and anger are understandable but it is naive to dismiss Asmal's agency. When he travelled to Syria, he did so with a childhood friend, Hassan Munshi, who lived in a neighbouring street in Dewsbury. Hassan's older brother Hammaad was arrested in 2006 for planning to kill non-Muslims and is the youngest person to be convicted in the UK for terrorism offences.

Maher concludes:

The experience of Britain's suicide bombers shows how these men are full participants in the war engulfing Syria and Iraq. Over the past two years British fighters have tortured prisoners in their care, executed prisoners of war, beheaded journalists and aid workers, and participated in the revival of slavery. As this brutal nihilism has taken hold, some fighters, among them many Britons, have grown weary of its trajectory and left the conflict. Not so the suicide bombers. Theirs are the actions of the conscientious and committed.


Kate Hoey on Ukip, patriotism - and why her party faces ten years in opposition  

The NS political editor, George Eaton, speaks to the Vauxhall MP, Kate Hoey, one of Labour's leading Eurosceptics, about the future of the party. 

On Labour as "unpatriotic":

Even more strikingly, Hoey blames her party's "extremely unpatriotic" outlook for its increasing alienation from its core working-class supporters. "They feel very strongly about their country and we have been extremely unpatriotic as a party to our country. There's just a feeling that we're half-hearted about being British, we're half-hearted about the monarchy, we're half-hearted about the way we see our country in the world. I'm very proud of being British and I think the United Kingdom is a force for good in the world, and we seem to feel all the time that we have to put ourselves down because somehow that might upset people."

She continues: "We've moved away from the basic decency and values that working-class people had and the way that I and others were brought up . . . All of that seems to be ridiculed now by some of the people in leadership positions, and not necessarily because they've really believed that, but because we've been taken over by this kind of London, intellectual, academic-y, liberal-y people who feel that, really, if only we just got rid of all those people out there who ask awkward questions about immigration and ask awkward questions about people living off benefits when they shouldn't be, that Labour would somehow be wonderful." 


On Ukip:

"I don't have this obsession that Ukip is somehow this absolutely dreadful thing that we must all unite to have a go at. Ukip get nearly four million votes, they came second in all those seats, they're going to have a part to play in a 'leave' campaign. Everybody will have their part to play, everybody's got different strengths." She has never been invited to defect to Ukip and has never met [Nigel] Farage, but praises him as "a brilliant communicator when he's on form". 


On the Out campaign:

"I'm not going to be the leader. I would not want to be the leader of the No campaign. I'm going to be involved and see how things evolve."


On Labour's chances in the next general election:

However, she acknowledges that, given the electoral arithmetic, Labour will struggle to form a government in 2020. "In fact, a nameless person, when I was sitting besides him last week, said he thought we should have a woman leader and I said (I won't name the person), 'Well I can't see so-and-so being prime minister.' And he said to me: 'Oh, don't be so stupid, Kate. We're not electing a prime minister, we're electing a leader of the opposition for ten years.' And that was a fairly senior person."


 On the abolition of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy:

"That's what the Labour Party should be doing instead of going off into a little corner and saying, 'No, no, it's all wonderful and we might want to tinker around a little bit.' We are letting down millions of our own supporters, many of whom voted Ukip and will continue to do so until this is treated in a serious way."


Simon Wren-Lewis: There is no economic reason for Osborne's surplus plan. It's time Labour stopped playing catch-up

Simon Wren-Lewis, professor of economic policy at Oxford, writes that there is no economic foundation to George Osborne's surplus plan. Instead, he writes:

It is a great excuse for reducing the size of the state, particularly when you have pledged not to raise most taxes. Politically, this is best done quickly, to be well clear of the next election. This was what happened from 2010 to 2015: sharp austerity, followed by much more modest cutbacks and tax breaks. Even though the economy suffered as a result, he still won the election, so why not do it again?

He wonders how Labour will respond to this strategy:

Some MPs want to capitulate completely: say they overspent before the recession and follow Osborne's lead today. That is a frightening prospect, because it would leave the SNP as the only major party talking any sense about UK fiscal policy. (Ironically, this is the same party that tries to pretend, against all the evidence, that the immediate fiscal position of an independent Scotland would not be dire.)

Wren-Lewis concludes:

It is time for Labour to change the strategy to something completely different - to start telling the truth. To say that managing the government's finances is different from running a household budget and that the deficit fetishism of the past five years has damaged the economy. Only that way can it avoid being tagged in five years' time as the party that is always fiscally irresponsible.

Romancing the stone

The novelist Ali Smith (How To Be Both) considers Barbara Hepworth's sculpture and its universe of meaning:

It was a rainy sunny cloudy bright dark calm blustery day in May at the Hepworth Wakefield in Yorkshire and I was in a room full of forms between which I'd been ricocheting for an hour like a delighted pinball. "A Greater Freedom: Hepworth 1965-1975" displays pieces Barbara Hepworth made in the last decade of her life, full of the excitement of new technology and space exploration, lined all along one wall with her rarely shown Aegean Suite lithographs, startlingly vibrant sun, moon and planet abstracts like colourful constellations. It's a room of works so dually modern and ancient-seeming that they make time irrelevant.

She also discusses putting Hepworth on the new £20 note:

Up came the subject of Barbara Hepworth's chances of being chosen in the campaign for putting a visual artist on the new £20 note. Ah, but which Hepworth? One of us wanted Hepworth from the 1953 film by Dudley Shaw Ashton, Figures in a Landscape, smoking and carving in a most elegant evening gown. One of us favoured the glamorous Hepworth, in a big fur coat. One of us chose her standing in her headscarf and work-jacket, dwarfed by one of her own gigantic bronzes, looking up at it as if it's sprung fully formed out of her head just moments ago. One of us chose a passport photo of her as a very young adult, beautiful, full of potential, already recognisably the self she would become.

[. . .]

Then we talked about slogans that might help with that £20 note campaign.

Burn a hole in your pocket, one of us said.

I love an art gallery you can laugh out loud in, and those Hepworth holes, the piercings through artworks we've come to associate with her, have always been a source of delight to many people.


George Eaton: As the Labour left ascends, the Blairites partly have themselves to blame

In this week's Politics Column, George Eaton argues that Jeremy Corbyn's success is partly due to the failings of Labour's right wing:

Blairites curse Labour's drift to the left (just two MPs elected for the first time in 2015 nominated Kendall, compared to 12 who nominated Corbyn) but they cannot absolve themselves, or their helmsman, of blame. It was Blair's adventurism in Iraq and his post-prime-ministerial "dash for cash" that made him an embarrassment to his party. Had he been less dismissive of inequality while in office, others would have been less dismissive of him.

Having derided Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband long before others did, Labour's right must ask itself why it failed to stop either winning the leadership. The Blairites never settled on a credible challenger to Brown and botched opportunities to remove him. David Miliband's criticisms of his brother's leadership only magnified his failure to defeat him in 2010. On the night of the general election, the former foreign secretary phoned victorious Labour candidates to congratulate them. Had he shown similar attentiveness towards the 2010 intake (who recall his haughtiness at a post-election gathering), he would have won the prize he still seems to crave. It is ironic that the Blairites, supposedly masters of the political dark arts, have been so repeatedly outplayed by their opponents.

He concludes:

Labour feels polarised between those who aspire to elect a "winner" (or the closest thing available) and those more concerned with salving the wounds inflicted by the electorate. For Blair, who never ceased to remind his party that victory was always preferable to defeat, that is ultimate proof of the failure of his project to outlast him.



David Patrikarakos on the US army and the spread of drones.

George Szirtes on a new Penguin anthology that displays the reawakening of Russian poetry.

Will Self: In every gutter of Britain's towns and cities, you'll find grim discarded evidence of David Cameron's "care in the community".

Jon Cruddas on Steve Hilton's ideas-rich manifesto More Human.

Suzanne Moore: The girls in the prison had done some bad things, but what they did to themselves was worse.

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