Press Release: Issue of 24 February – 2 March 2017

Cover story: The world after Brexit.

Brendan Simms on the new European order.

Tom Nuttall on why the old British tactic of divide and rule will not work with the new EU.

Stephen Bush: The opinion polls are bad, but Jeremy Corbyn retains two powerful cards.

Letter from America: Harry Eyres on the unbearable whiteness of Washington, DC.

The Diary: The former MP for Copeland Jamie Reed on leaving the Commons and the “self-immolating stupidity” of Brexit.

Jason Cowley on Emmanuel Macron in London, Boris Johnson’s hucksterism, and the rise of Lincoln City’s Cowley brothers.

Helen Lewis says it’s up to the mainstream right to stop the excesses of the alt right.

Sarah Ditum scrutinises the new thinking from America on how to resist Donald Trump.

Newsmaker: George Eaton profiles Martin Schulz, Angela Merkel’s unlikely rival for the German chancellorship.

Duncan Campbell describes how miscarriages of justice happen.

Ed Smith argues that Arsène Wenger was twice ahead of his time.

 

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Cover story: The world after Brexit.

Brendan Simms, an expert in geopolitics and European history, reflects on the English identity crisis that led to the vote in favour of Brexit – and on what lies ahead for a troubled continent:

The distinguished Cambridge Goethe scholar Nicholas Boyle recently located Brexit in “a specifically English psychosis, the narcissistic outcome of a specifically English crisis of identity”. The first phase of this process, he argued, lay in the unions with Scotland and Ireland when the “English gave up their Englishness in order to become British”.

The second phase, Boyle suggested, has been the past fifty years or so, when the English “lost even that surrogate for identity and have been wandering ever since through the imperial debris that litters their homeland, unable to say who they are”. This explains, he continued, “the trauma of lost exceptionalism”, the English refusal to “become just another nation like everybody else . . . neither specially honourable nor specially dishonourable, with limited weight, limited resources, and limited importance in the world”, and the refusal to learn “to live in the world on an equal footing with other people”.

Instead, the English cling to “Britain” as a “figment . . . to disguise their oppressive, indeed colonial, relation to the other nations inhabiting Great Britain and Ireland”, a “self-deceptive device by the English to deny the Scots and the Irish a will of their own”. For this reason, Boyle concluded, the English resist not so much “the goal of a ‘superstate’ ”, which exists only in their “fearful imagination”, but the “idea of collaborating with equals”. The English Brexiteers, in short, are the “lager louts of Europe” who have engaged in “an act of geopolitical vandalism”.

These sentiments are echoed in continental Europe, sometimes equally trenchantly, sometimes in a more measured fashion. There, the emphasis is on the “rules” of the European “club”, whose members co-operate on the basis of equality and will not accept any “cherry-picking”, such as Britain’s attempts to maintain access to the single market without paying “dues”, including the unrestricted free movement of people that Brexit was designed to prevent.

This theme was reprised in January by Joseph Muscat, the prime minister of Malta, who now holds the rotating EU presidency and as such will be closely involved in the Brexit negotiations. He compared the EU to a “sports club”, from which the UK, as a former member, might expect some small favours after Brexit but no more. “You can aspire, maybe, to park your car in their parking lot if there is a free space,” he explained. “You can aspire to get into the gym at some times” – but that would be it.

On these readings, Britain’s future will be grim. It will be “adrift and irrelevant”, as some would have it, helplessly exposed to the chill winds of economic globalisation and friendless abroad. Even the integrity of the UK is in doubt, as the Scots and the Northern Irish move to assert their right to independence within Europe after Brexit.

Often, this is anticipated with satisfaction, as the just deserts for English vandalism. In Germany and much of the rest of Europe, such “Gott strafe England” thinking was much in evidence immediately after the referendum. Sometimes it is contemplated with fear and regret – for example, in the New Statesman, which argued in a leading article in January: “A new constitutional settlement and the creation of a fully federal state are necessary if the UK is to survive.”

All of these analyses contain important truths and insights. Brexit has reopened the Scottish Question, for, although the 2014 referendum on independence was held after the intention to hold a vote on EU membership was announced, most of the people casting their ballot did so in the assumption that Britain would remain in the bloc.

The SNP First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is thus perfectly entitled to demand that the issue is revisited. It is equally correct that Brexit will mix the cards in Northern Ireland in ways that are deeply unhelpful to the peace process there, which rests partly on the involvement of the EU, and which would be damaged by any restrictions on free travel across the border.

Finally, it is right to warn of the economic effects that we will experience once Brexit is finally carried out. These are currently far less dire than “Project Fear” warned, but the present economic “phoney war” will surely end once Britain leaves the single market, with serious short-to-medium-term consequences for the City, manufacturing and other areas of the economy. Because the EU is a political project – just as Brexit is – we should not assume, as the prominent Brexiteer Daniel Hannan did recently, that Brussels or the national capitals will follow a purely economic logic.

Unfortunately, these analyses also rest on a flawed understanding of the European order and Britain’s place in it, which makes them unreliable guides to what lies ahead. In order to understand why this is so, we first have to remind ourselves of the historical and political foundations of the system that we inhabit.

The Continental order is largely a product of British and latterly Anglo-American attempts to create a balance of power that would prevent the emergence of a hostile hegemon (first Spain, then France and then Germany), while being at the same time robust enough to ward off external predators (first the Turks, then Russia and then the Soviet Union). The resulting “goldilocks” problem, in which the Continentals were either too strong or too weak, has been one of the central axes of European history in the past half-millennium.

After the Second World War, the Americans, some visionary Continentals and even some Britons (such as Winston Churchill) realised that the only way to cook porridge at exactly the right temperature was to establish a full democratic political union, with or without the UK. Such a United States of Europe could look after itself without endangering its neighbours and both embed and mobilise Germany for the common good. For various reasons, most of them to do with the incompetence and divisions of the continental Europeans, full union was never achieved; and while it remains the only answer to the European Question, its realisation seems further away today than ever.

The UK played and plays a unique role in the system. It is not in any meaningful sense “equal” to the other states of the “club” that it is leaving. Over the past three centuries – from the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, through the 18th-century European balance of power, the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, the Versailles Treaty of 1919, to the 1945 settlement and beyond – Britain has been central to the European order, far more than any other power. This remains true today, because the EU depends entirely on Nato, of which Britain is the dominant European member, for its security.

[. . .]

Even before 2016, the European order was in a serious and largely self-generated crisis, as a result of the EU’s inability to get a grip on the common defence by deterring Russia; to defend the external border against illegal mass migration or redistribute those who had been admitted; and to sort out the euro crisis once and for all. First, the EU was upended by the vote for Brexit, then it was further shattered by the election of Donald Trump in the US.

The result of all this, in geopolitical terms, will be the opposite of what the pessimists predicted for Britain. Here, the crucial factor is not Trump’s enthusiasm for Britain, which may be fickle, but his undying contempt for the EU and most of its leaders. It was reiterated most recently during Theresa May’s visit to the US and further evidenced by his exemption of dual nationals of Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia from his arbitrary and unjust immigration ban. This defied all rationality – as the threat from British-born Islamists is considerable – but gave the US president another opportunity to show disrespect to mainland Europe. The contrast with the Obama administration and, indeed, with the entire thrust of postwar US policy, which has broadly welcomed European integration and underpinned the security of the continent, could not be greater. One way or the other, as the US reduces its stake in the European order – at least for four or even eight years – that of the other and previously junior principal shareholder, namely the UK, increases. Those are the laws of geopolitics.

Here, the remarks of the Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and the history of his country illustrate the nature of the European order in times past, the problems facing it today and the contrast between the UK and most of continental Europe. The fate of Malta over the past 500 years has been determined by many: the Turks, the Spanish Habsburgs, the Russians, the French, the Russians and the Americans, but most often and for the longest time by Britain, which is still present to the east and west of the island, in Gibraltar and Cyprus.

Through no particular fault of their own, the Maltese have had relatively little to do with it all (and for Malta, read much of continental Europe). They have been largely objects and not subjects of the European system. Today, Muscat speaks not with the democratically legitimated authority of a leader of a federal Europe, but as the passing chairman of a confederation with federal aspirations. When Bill Clinton spoke, he did so as the president of a mighty union, not as a representative of little Arkansas, but who does Muscat speak for? Until mainland Europe can answer that question satisfactorily, Britain is unlikely to be quaking in its boots.

This is why a confrontation is so risky for the EU. If it tries to impose a punitive trade regime in order to compel Britain to accept the free movement of people – and thus a surrender of sovereignty – London will retaliate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister said this in no uncertain terms when they threatened to explore alternative tax regimes. This would be an asymmetrical struggle. On trade, the EU would at first have the upper hand; indeed, a trade war is just about the only thing that Brussels can wage effectively.

Unlike Greece, however, Britain cannot be forced to its knees by economic measures alone, and unlike Greece it would adapt and diversify. London would apply the considerable talents and resources of its various institutions to subverting the EU. The UK would be unable to uphold its security guarantees in Nato if those being protected were engaged in a vicious war against British livelihoods.

In the end, victory would go not to those who can inflict the most but those who can endure the most – and those are the nations of the UK. British society will cohere under pressure, whereas the peoples of most European states will wobble. Whatever the rhetoric, there is no stomach for fighting Britain in Germany, in many other member states, or in eastern Europe. The EU would fragment long before the UK does, alas.

If the Continentals wish to change this situation – and it would be in everybody’s ultimate interest if they did – they will need to do what the British did in 1707, which, as I have argued before in these pages, is to establish a full political union of nations with a common parliament to sustain the common currency and the common defence. It is the one thing that they steadfastly refuse to do. In this sense, the Europeans are driving on the wrong side of the road and the Continent really is cut off, isolated from the basic principles of constitutional construction by its mental fog.

Tom Nuttall on Britain’s fading reputation in the EU.

The Economist’s Charlemagne columnist, Tom Nuttall, argues that Britain’s star has faded in Brussels and that our old divide-and-rule tactic will not work for the imminent Brexit negotiations:

As usual, Yes Minister put it best. For 500 years Britain had pursued a single policy towards its Continental neighbours, Sir Humphrey noted to his baffled minister in an episode from 1980. The aim? “To create a disunited Europe.” Britain’s fondness for playing off one European government against another kept it out of the antecedents to the European Union for years; Konrad Adenauer and, in particular, Charles de Gaulle did not want to give Britain a chance to play “the old game”.

Once inside the club, Britain proved the old statesmen correct. In 2004, for instance, Tony Blair saw off the candidacy of Guy Verhofstadt, a floppy-haired federalist who is now the European Parliament’s Brexit pointman, for the post of president of the European Commission, marshalling resistance against a usually irresistible Franco-German consensus. Contrary to claims by the more rabid Brexiteers, Britain rather often got its way in Brussels.

Britain’s star has since faded in Brussels, and was wholly eclipsed by Brexit. But as Britain gets ready to do battle over the terms of its divorce from the EU, one sometimes encounters among its diplomats mutations of the old argument: that the government can secure a better settlement by boxing clever and cultivating special deals with other countries. It can buy off Poland with a promise to keep funding motorways, or Estonia with a pledge to contribute more to Nato missions. It can set countries that need a good post-Brexit trade deal against those that care more about national security. And it can seek to exploit distractions such as Greece, which may be heading for economic crisis again, or European panic over the chaos in Washington.

They have half a point. If the 27 other EU governments have held fast on Brexit since the referendum – surprisingly so – theirs is a thin sort of unity, grounded solely in defensive principles that tell Britain what it cannot do: no negotiations before notification and no cherry-picking from the single market. It is not hard to discern the hairline cracks. The institutions in Brussels are eyeing each other as warily as ever. Some governments, including the Germans, are keen to keep the European Commission, which will lead the talks with Britain, on a short leash. The governments themselves may struggle to maintain a common line once the phoney war ends; the EC’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has warned the 27 to be alert to British divide-and-rule tactics.

This is a risky road for Britain to travel. First, on one of the first orders of Brexit business, the bill for departure, the government will encounter an unheard-of alignment of interests between payers and contributors. All agree that Britain’s bill must be as high as possible; anything less, and either the rich countries will have to make up the difference or the poor will suffer cuts. Any old Brussels hand will tell you that nothing riles negotiators so much as arguments over money. British attempts to buy off this or that country are likely to founder – and could poison the well on a free trade deal.

Second, the mood towards Britain has hardened. Whatever British officials think, Eurocrats reckon they came close to breaking EU rules last year in constructing a settlement that David Cameron could sell to British voters. This time, Britain will be treated like any other third country; it has a certain leverage, but can expect no favours. In addition, the 27 want to make an example of UK suffering to put off others tempted by leaving. Theresa May felt the sharp end of this approach last year when she tried to strike bilateral deals to guarantee the rights of British nationals in EU countries, and vice versa. Fairly or otherwise, this was seen as a clumsy attempt to set Europe’s governments against one another. Her bid went nowhere, and the EU’s guard is now up.

That the 27 proved so bloody-minded on an issue of such obvious mutual concern is indicative. Roiled by one crisis after another, Europe’s governments are determined not to allow Brexit to tear them apart. If they are struggling to manufacture a common vision for the future – the March declaration, to mark the 60th anniversary of the EU’s founding treaty, will fall woefully short of expectations heaped on it – they will resist common threats. Governments inside the EU will always squabble and fall out. But today the stakes are unusually high. Even troublemakers such as Hungary and Poland know how much their prosperity and security depend on the EU holding together.

Still, if the government calibrates its tactics correctly, prizes may await: a better trade agreement, or (more realistically) the prospect of opening trade talks before the divorce terms are concluded, an idea the EC detests but Britain craves. Yet it is a gamble with high stakes; if the government misfires it will increase its chances of walking off the Brexit cliff without any deal at all. The withdrawal agreement needs approval by an “enhanced majority” of EU members (at least 20 of the 27 governments, representing at least 65 per cent of the population of the 27). Any subsequent free trade deal may require ratification in dozens of parliament across the EU. Sometimes unity works in Britain’s interests.

These days, no Brexit speech from a British minister is complete without a paean to the virtues of a strong EU. As well as good policy – only a fool would wish destruction on their largest trading partner – this is sensible politics. Under siege from enemies within and without, Europe’s politicians will hardly feel generous if they detect British perfidy across the negotiating table. That is why they will be hypersensitive to any attempt to play divide and rule. It may have worked for half a millennium, but it would be dangerous politics today.

 

Stephen Bush goes inside Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle.

The NS’s special correspondent, Stephen Bush, argues that even though the polls are bad and the Labour Party is split over Brexit and Europe, Jeremy Corbyn’s office has a secret weapon . . .

If polling had existed back in 1906, Jeremy Corbyn quipped at one recent strategy meeting, the Labour Party would never have got started.

As far as Labour’s direction is concerned, it is that meeting at four o’clock every Monday afternoon that matters. The people who attend it regularly are the Labour leader, his aides, the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, as well as the party’s election co-ordinator, and their respective aides. In recent weeks, the meetings have been stormy affairs, and not only because the numbers from the party’s own pollsters, BMG Research, mirror the uniformly bleak picture from the public polls.

[. . .]

It is true that Corbyn is not enjoying the job as much as he once did. However, if the conversation shifts from the minutiae of Brexit to his natural terrain of the NHS and the continuing consequences of government cuts on education and the prisons service, he could quickly find himself relishing the role once more.

Corbyn retains two powerful cards. His newly energised office, under Karie Murphy, is one. Although her brisk approach has generated some public rows, the feeling in the leader’s office is that a chief of staff was needed, and Murphy has assumed that role. The media team has also grown sharper with the addition of David Prescott (son of John), Matt Zarb-Cousin and the former Momentum spokesman James Schneider.

Corbyn’s second asset is more unexpected. His rivals inside the party now fear rather than relish an immediate end to his leadership. A former shadow cabinet member splits his supporters into two groups: “idealists and ideologues – the first we can inspire and win over, the second have to be got rid of”. In their view, the idealists have not yet moved away from Corbyn enough to guarantee victory; the ideologues, for their part, will slink off as Corbyn puts the demands of his office above their interests, as he did over Article 50.

Although self-defeating panic has never been a rare commodity in the Labour Party, the settled view of Labour MPs is that their leader must be given time and space rather than hustled out of the door. There is an awareness, too, that MPs who are united in opposition to Corbyn are divided over many other issues.

So, while the inner circle’s Monday meetings might be fraught, and Labour’s current polling would have given Keir Hardie pause, Jeremy Corbyn is safe.

 

Letter from America: Harry Eyres.

For the writer Harry Eyres, the racist rhetoric of Donald Trump’s advisers finds echoes in the chilly grandeur of Washington, DC’s neoclassical architecture:

Is any other city in the world quite so white? St Petersburg could be a candidate, though the façades of the Winter Palace and other buildings along the Neva are varied with green, pink or gold. And there is Brussels, which struck Marlow, returning from the horrors of the Belgian Congo in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, as “a whited sepulchre”.

Aesthetically, Washington’s whiteness is rooted in the theory and practice of European neoclassicism first enunciated in the 1760s by the art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Winckelmann loved classical, and especially Greek, art and architecture for their “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur”. For Winckelmann, a critical component of that simplicity and grandeur was whiteness. His theories influenced such neoclassical architects as Robert Adam; neoclassical canons crossed the Atlantic and impressed the founders and architects of the new republic, including Thomas Jefferson and Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Not long after Winckelmann, other scholars and archaeologists, beginning with Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy, began to point out that much Greek sculpture was brightly coloured. Even the Parthenon would originally – at least on the inside – have been a riot of colour.

So is Washington’s noble and inspiring whiteness built on a misconception, or a lie – or even a series of lies? Whiteness, of course, is not just a matter of aesthetics or architecture, marble or white lead paint. It is unavoidably symbolic as well as real.

Washington, demographically, is far from being a white city. It had a large majority-black population from the 1950s until 2011. The most recent figures show the racial breakdown as follows: 47 per cent black, 36 per cent white, 11 per cent Hispanic. What is striking is not just that many more black than white people live in Washington; it is also where they live. North-west Washington, where most of the monuments and museums, and the historic district of Georgetown, are located, and where most tourists are happy to be confined, is predominantly white. With gentrification, which is also to some extent a whitening process, formerly largely black areas such as Shaw (the home of Howard University, alma mater to so many of Washington’s black intellectuals, movers and shakers) are less black than before.

Many of the buildings here burned during the riots that followed the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968. Further south and east, the Anacostia River marks an unwritten divide between white and black Washington; housing segregation was in force until the 1960s. Rather scandalously, the maps in my very white-looking Dorling Kindersley travel guide stop at this boundary.

This impression of the whiteness of Washington was followed by another. Maybe, I found myself thinking, as I began to assimilate not just the visual impact of buildings but the hum and patterns of voices, of looks and smiles and gestures and conversations and street music, this is a city – the city of Duke Ellington – whose soul is black.

Do all those white marble monuments feel ever so slightly cold? Well there’s a new kid on the block, or rather the Mall: the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, a three-tiered glass structure (designed by the Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye) faced with delicate, dark-bronze-coloured aluminium panels, which opened in September. It has proved such a success that it’s almost impossible to get in.

This is a museum constructed as an experiential narrative, and a pretty overwhelming one at that. You start below ground, in an underbelly of deathly slave ships, markets of human flesh, children’s shackles. The journey goes tortuously towards the light, through organised resistance, civil war and abolition; the horrors of Jim Crow laws, lynchings and segregation; yet more concerted and heroic resistance, the civil rights movement. An apotheosis comes with the election, and re-election, of Barack Obama.

As I emerged back on to the Mall, chastened and uplifted by so many stories of resistance to dehumanisation, I realised there is no uninterrupted march of progress; history is dialectical, not linear. Now there is a new, white president in the White House. This week, after many false starts, the White House said Donald Trump would visit the museum. Yet his closest adviser, Stephen Bannon, flirts openly with the language of white supremacism. Musing last year about police killings of unarmed black people, Bannon offered an explanation that can only be construed as profoundly racist: “There are, after all, in this world some people who are naturally aggressive and violent.”

If the White House is supposed to symbolise “a repository of democratic aspirations, high principles and ethical values”, as Clarence Lusane puts it in The Black History of the White House, then it looks as if black people, in the capital and throughout the United States, may once again be called upon to “make the nation live up to the egalitarian and liberationist principles expressed in its founding documents”.

 

The Diary: Jamie Reed.

The former Labour MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed, says that although he never intended to be a “lifer” in parliament, it has still taken a huge emotional and mental effort to leave the Commons and the Cumbrian seat he has held since 2005:

Leaving parliament was never going to be easy. Having entered the Commons at a relatively young age – I was 31 – I knew that a parliamentary existence would be strange, even weird.

I knew that I would never be a “lifer”. A long Commons career followed by a sinecure in the Lords was never for me. This was informed by an aversion not to prolonged public service – the career in the nuclear industry for which I have departed parliament is just as dedicated to public service – but to the culture in which politics in Westminster is undertaken. There is a lot wrong with parliament. I arrived with a healthy contempt for its culture, behaviours and practices; I leave with the knowledge that this contempt was correct.

As a young MP, I felt like Carraway, never like Gatsby. Still, leaving the Commons has taken a huge mental and emotional effort.

21 December 2016

The news of my resignation breaks a few hours early because of a leak. The Guardian’s north of England editor, Helen Pidd, brings forward the publication of our interview as a result. Within minutes, my phone explodes. Twitter is unusable. My email server begins to creak. I watch with mounting anxiety. Ignoring calls from journalists – many of them friends – I talk instead with my fellow MP John Woodcock.

In politics, you acquire a sixth sense for who would be with you in the trenches at the worst moments. John is such a person. I don’t remember the conversation; I just remember hanging up and crying. I shower, dress and head for my in-laws’ farm. When I open the door, there are bottles of champagne on the step. That night, trying to avoid the news, I learn that I was young, popular, brilliant and talented. It’s like being at my own funeral. I drink the champagne.

24 December

I receive a text from Jeremy Corbyn wishing me and my family well. I thank him for his warm words on my resignation.

9 January 2017

I’m en route to the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Atlanta, Georgia, as a guest of NuGen. At Vogtle, Georgia Power is building two AP1000 reactors – the same type as will be built in Copeland. This is a project to which I have devoted 12 years of my life – from writing nuclear policy with the Blair government to making sure that Copeland was chosen as a nuclear new-build site and working to ensure that successive governments maintained the policies underpinning the nuclear renaissance that the Blair-Brown administration began.

Clement Attlee’s Labour government created the nuclear industry, the last Labour government created the nuclear renaissance and I am leaving parliament to return to the nuclear industry – yet Labour will be forced to fight the by-election in my former seat amid allegations of being anti-nuclear. There is nothing new in post-truth politics. Lies have always had the power to seduce.

23 January

It’s my last week in parliament and I’ve made arrangements to see the whips. As I approach the whips’ office through the tearoom staircase, a colleague shouts: “It’s Steve McQueen!”

1 February

I leave my home in Whitehaven for Sellafield at 6.45am. As I drive through the frost, an iridescent light appears on the horizon: a new dawn has broken, has it not?

I collect my pass and enter a whirlwind of meetings, inductions and instructions. Everyone is generous, welcoming and warm. It is at this point that, for the first time, I am faced with irrefutable proof that I am no longer an MP. I am reminded of my parliamentary induction. Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong told us, “Get in the chamber . . . Don’t hide . . . Sink or swim . . .” New Labour was no place for a snowflake. I am reminded, too, of my induction by the House payroll and expenses administrators. A year before the expenses scandal shook Westminster they informed me: “All we ask is that you don’t buy any antiques . . .”

2 February

As when I entered parliament for the first time, I don’t have a desk. I’m hot-desking, or hot-podding, or hot-cubing. I remind myself that, for now, I remain the Crown steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

I bump into a colleague from my first time in the nuclear industry. “All right?” he asks.

“Getting there,” I reply.

“You know what they’re saying, don’t you?” he continues.

“No. What?”

“ ‘The bloody ego has landed.’ ”

I walk away wondering if it’s now my role in life to remind people of films set in the Second World War.

3 February

It’s a Friday and it strikes me that I have no constituency surgery. Everyone around me has their head down, meeting targets, solving problems. This is a £2bn-a-year operation. There’s no room for Gatsby here. This is why my new role excites me.

The self-immolating stupidity of Brexit, combined with the complex and growing needs of my family, contributed to my decision to leave parliament. Most of all, though, it was the opportunity to work in this organisation and help to drive change within it and my community that caused me to make the switch. My former constituency can and should be at the centre of one of the fastest-growing parts of the UK economy in the years to come. A changing Sellafield and a dynamic industry will be at the heart of this, and time is of the essence.

20 February

The by-election in my former seat draws near and my time as the Crown steward is running out.

I am repeatedly approached by the media for comment and I duck every request. This is for someone else now and I wish my successor well. None of us is indispensable.

 

Editor’s Note: Jason Cowley.

The NS editor, Jason Cowley, meets a bullish Emmanuel Macron on his visit to London, is exasperated by Boris Johnson’s effrontery, and considers the rise of his namesakes at Lincoln City FC:

The French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron came to town this week to meet Theresa May and address the London French community,  whose votes he was chasing. In our age of extremes, Macron, who is 39, is that rare thing – a populist eruption from the liberal centre. A former merchant banker and economy minister in the failing Hollande Socialist administration, he represents En Marche! (“Forward!”), which is less a party than a movement. His sudden rise would not have been possible in Britain; that is part of the stability and attraction of the parliamentary system but also its frustration.

Don’t be shy

I met Macron on Tuesday afternoon when he took questions from a small group of journalists at Central Hall Westminster. He is small and dapper, with short hair and a strong, straight nose. Because of the collapse of the Socialists and the struggles of the discredited conservative contender François Fillon, Macron has emerged as the great hope of liberals and perhaps as the candidate to stop Marine Le Pen seizing the presidency. Unlike the Front National leader, Macron is an unashamed liberal globaliser in the model of Nick Clegg or a younger, less tormented Tony Blair. He is a passionate advocate of the EU and of the eurozone and, as a result, is under attack from the Russian media. He has been accused of leading a double life – his wife, whom he met when she was his schoolteacher, is 20 years older than Macron – and of being unwilling to admit that he is gay, or at least bisexual. His response to the Russian attacks was, he said, “to disclose the manipulation and kill the rumours”.

The far right in France has caricatured Macron as being “globalisation personified”, about which he is relaxed. In conversation, he criticised David Cameron’s referendum campaign. “His message was ‘Yes but . . .’ That is not the answer to ‘No’. I defend Europe and the four freedoms of the EU. If you are shy, you are dead.”

Not all relative

On Sunday, I received a text from one of my cousins. “The Lincoln City manager and his brother, the assistant, are called Cowley,” he wrote. “His father looks a bit like your father. Any relation? They are from Essex.”

I am also from Essex, born and brought up in Harlow new town, which turned 70 this year. But I had to disappoint my cousin. My father was an only child, as was his father, so it’s highly unlikely that these Cowley brothers are even distant relations of mine.

Toast of the county

I already knew about the brothers, having been alerted to them by my seven-year-old son, who is a sports data enthusiast. Last season, Danny Cowley and his younger brother, Nicky, were working as teachers in Essex while coaching Braintree Town at weekends. This season, they have led Lincoln to an FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, making them the first non-League team to reach the last eight in more than a century. Lincoln are also at the top of the National League (English football’s semi-professional fifth division) and in the quarter-final of the FA Trophy, the premier non-League cup competition. The Cowleys are reported to be subsisting on a diet of toast and Marmite as they rise early each morning obsessively to study videos and analytics and prepare for the next match. They have introduced a new spirit of openness at the previously moribund club: fans watch training sessions and attend press conferences.

It’s nonsense to believe, as some do, that only those who have performed at the highest level have the authority to coach the best. Wenger, Mourinho, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Roy Hodgson, André Villas-Boas: none of them were even remotely successful players. Asked once to explain his accomplishments, Mourinho said: “I’ve had more time to study.” More English coaches – so few of whom are working in the Premier League – would do well to follow his example.

It will be fascinating to see how far the Cowley brothers progress in the game.  Whatever happens next, they have reanimated interest in the FA Cup and given the resilient yeomen of Essex a small boost.

Ignore the huckster

Boris Johnson accused Tony Blair of “bare-faced effrontery” for having the temerity last week to deliver an anti-Brexit speech, which itself was an act of bare-faced effrontery. Johnson is a huckster and narcissist whose vanities have been grotesquely indulged for far too long by his cheerleaders and paymasters in the media. (A standard question to Johnson when he was mayor of London: “You do want to be prime minister, don’t you?”) No one should take anything Johnson says remotely seriously. Should the same be said of Blair?

Yes, of course he is the author of his own misfortunes and many will never forgive the former Labour prime minister for the Iraq catastrophe. Yet of all the politicians I have spoken to in recent times, Blair was the most intellectually nimble and the most alert to the defining complexities of the present moment. As he demonstrated in his speech, he also understands better than most why, in an age of intensifying ethnic nationalism, the parties of the left are failing across Europe, none more so than the British Labour Party, which looks as far away from power as it did after the 1931 election.

Journey to the centre

As an energetic and charismatic liberal, Macron has been likened to the young Tony Blair. Can he seize the progressive centre, as Blair did, and destabilise the old binary divisions of left and right? “The anti-European and anti-globalisation extremes are winning elections,” he said, in a veiled reference to Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit.

“But we don’t have the same political cycles as the others. It’s time for France to do the opposite.”

With that said, he thanked his interlocutors and was hurried off for a meeting with another Essex man, Philip Hammond, pursued not by a bear but by the journalist Robert Peston.

 

Plus

View from Beijing: Amy Hawkins reports on how worsening air pollution is causing unrest among China’s middle classes.

Trends: Joji Sakurai on why so many workers today are doing more but achieving less.

David Reynolds on the centenary of the Russian Revolution.

Josh Cohen reads Materialism by Terry Eagleton.

Manjit Kumar explores the cultural history of time travel.

Adam Kirsch revisits the remarkable story of how Ezra Pound held a literary salon in a psychiatric hospital.

Sarah Ditum admires Sara Baume’s novel A Line Made By Walking.

Josephine Balmer on Lyric Cousins: Poetry and Musical Form and The Catch by Fiona Sampson.

Neel Mukherjee finds buried treasures in Yiyun Li’s memoir of depression and reading.

Erica Wagner explores the intricacies of Native American culture at the British Museum.

Ryan Gilbey finds a few thrills at the Berlin Film Festival.

Television: Rachel Cooke enjoys the BBC’s dystopian thriller SS-GB – but is left profoundly unmoved by The Kettering Incident.

Radio: Antonia Quirke listens again to John Hurt’s take on the king of boozers, Jeffrey Bernard