Theresa May’s weak and unstable leadership

New York Times, 12 June 2017

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

By JOAN SMITH

LONDON — Just under a year ago, a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union ended the career of a Conservative prime minister, David Cameron. Now a general election called to strengthen the position of his successor, Theresa May, has brought her to the brink. Mrs. May is clinging on, but a country already reeling from three terrorist attacks in as many months has the most fragile government in living memory.

Some supporters of the opposition Labour Party are cheering, buoyed by the fact that their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, ran a more effective campaign than had been predicted. But no one should crow over last week’s extraordinary results, which have precipitated a deep political crisis.

The nation is divided, but not on traditional party lines. People who had previously voted for the U.K. Independence Party, the right-wing nationalist party that campaigned on the Leave side in the Brexit vote, went all over the place, producing freak results in this general election. During the referendum, Mrs. May and Mr. Corbyn were on the Remain side, nominally at least, but they have both said that its result must be respected. That hasn’t satisfied passionate feelings in either camp, and the electorate responded with the message that it didn’t want either of the two main parties in government.

Mrs. May believed her popularity ratings, but it turned out they were based on years of not saying very much. Voters barely knew her, and when they had a closer look during the Tories’ abysmal election campaign, they didn’t like what they saw. She will be able to govern only with the support of one of the most extreme parties in British politics, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists. The D.U.P. has softened its stance since the late 1970s and early ’80s, when its founder, a hellfire preacher named the Rev. Ian Paisley, campaigned against gay rights under the memorable slogan “Save Ulster From Sodomy.” But only a bit: The party opposes gay marriage, and also abortion, which remains illegal in Northern Ireland even in cases of rape or incest.

The Democratic Unionists have only 10 members of Parliament, and few Britons outside of the province had even heard of the party’s leader, Arlene Foster, who holds a seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly but has never been elected to Parliament in Westminster. Though recently re-elected to the Assembly, she had faced calls to resign as Northern Ireland’s first minister earlier this year after a scandal over a green energy scheme. Yet Ms. Foster will now wield disproportionate influence over Mrs. May’s government.

The D.U.P. is keen for Britain to leave the European Union, but the party also wants to maintain a “seamless and frictionless” border with Ireland. Good luck with that, Mrs May.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s widely touted electoral success is not what it’s cracked up to be. If voters weren’t keen on Mrs. May, they didn’t see Mr. Corbyn as a viable alternative, either. Despite the hype, Labour is nowhere near being able to form a government, falling far short of a parliamentary majority. Indeed, the party’s tally — 56 seats behind Mrs. May’s chastened Conservatives — was a result that would, in normal circumstances, have led to angry calls for the resignation of Labour’s leader.

Expectations of Mr. Corbyn were so low that, for the moment, he is safe. But some Labour members of Parliament, who watched him speak at huge election rallies this month, wonder why he didn’t put so much energy into last year’s campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.

Public displays of unity won’t change the fact that Labour is just as split as the Tories are. Mr. Corbyn has a huge following, especially among people in their 20s who like what he’s saying about equality, social justice and a fairer society. He has been in Parliament since 1983, before they were born, and for them, his back story, which includes a record of staggering disloyalty to previous Labour leaders, is ancient history. He represents hope after years of public spending cuts, and anything that doesn’t sit easily with their rosy view — his friendly relations with Hezbollah, Hamas and former leaders of the Irish Republican Army, for instance — is dismissed as a smear by the hated mainstream media.

It isn’t just Britain’s rampant right-wing press they hate; suspicion of unbiased journalism is something Mr. Corbyn’s most enthusiastic supporters share with Donald Trump’s fan base in the United States. There are strains of anti-Semitism among Mr. Corbyn’s followers, as well as misogyny — as some female BBC journalists have discovered.

His critics concede that he’s changed his tune in recent weeks. After the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, Mr. Corbyn criticized Mrs. May for cutting police numbers, a law and order issue that is not a traditional concern for his section of the party. Whether he has changed his underlying views is another matter: Until he became leader, Mr. Corbyn was best known for a reflexive anti-Western rhetoric that led him to soft-pedal on regimes with terrible human rights records, including Cuba, Iran and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Among people with longer memories, these unsavory connections mean Mr. Corbyn is, and always will be, outside the Labour mainstream. The presence in his office of former members of fringe parties, including a key aide who left the Communist Party of Britain only a few months ago, supports the view that the Labour leadership is in the hands of a hard-left cabal. In an indication of trouble ahead, pro-European Labour members of Parliament who defied Mr. Corbyn’s instructions to vote with Mrs. May’s Tories in favor of triggering Article 50, the formal mechanism to begin Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, scored some of the most impressive results in last Thursday’s election. The two wings of the party are stuck with each other, but it’s a stalemate, not a truce.

Mrs. May has been punished for her colossal misjudgment in calling an unnecessary election, but anyone who is enjoying her humiliation needs to consider some sobering facts. Next week, according to a timetable established before the election, the prime minister is due to begin negotiations on Britain’s departure from the European Union. She never had a strong hand, but now she looks fatally wounded. As the country faces a moment when the security services are struggling to monitor the roughly 3,000 people suspected of posing a terrorist threat, having a prime minister who has lost her authority is little short of catastrophic.

Another election later this year must be a real possibility. Whether it would produce a clearer result is far from certain. Britain’s relationship with Europe has been a toxic issue for the Conservatives for years, which is why Mr. Cameron gambled on a referendum — and lost. Now the contagion has spread far beyond the Tory Party. Divisions over Europe are tearing the country apart, leaving it weak and unstable in the eyes of a horrified world.

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 11 June 2017

Just over a decade ago, a young Iraqi-Kurdish woman was murdered in this country by professional killers. The hit men were hired by the father and uncle of the victim, Banaz Mahmod, after she left an abusive marriage and fell in love with a man who hadn’t been chosen by her family. This real-life tragedy is the inspiration for Mark Billingham’s ground-breaking novel Love Like Blood (Little, Brown £18.99), which confronts the phenomenon of “honour”-based killings.

For many readers, what Billingham is writing about will be unfamiliar and troubling territory. In recent years, the police have set up units to tackle “honour”-based murders, but they remain under-reported and difficult to investigate. Billingham has chosen a scenario very much like the Banaz Mahmod murder for his novel, putting his detective, DI Tom Thorne, on the trail of a pair of hit men responsible for a series of contract killings. When a couple of students of Bangladeshi origin are reported missing from a college in north London, Thorne has to decide if they are the latest victims — and whether their parents were involved in the disappearance.

These are precisely the challenges facing real-life detectives who work in this area. Billingham is acutely aware of the cultural sensitivities connected with such a controversial subject, but he doesn’t shy away from the horrors inflicted on the victims, whose deaths he characterises as hate crimes. His hit men have elements of the pantomime-villain, but Love Like Blood is a gripping, unsensational take on a type of crime that is happening more frequently than many of us realise.

Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson, translated by Maxim Jakubowski (Orenda £8.99), also has roots in real events. Gustawsson is a French journalist who lives in London, and her prizewinning novel is the first in a series featuring a true-crime author and a Canadian profiler. It begins with a young designer, Linnea Blix, failing to show up for the launch party of her new jewellery collection at the Cartier showroom in London. A few days later, Blix’s body is found in a snow-bound marina in Sweden, bearing mutilations similar to those on the corpse of a boy discovered in Hampstead.

Most of the novel is set in 2014, but there are flashbacks to 1944 when a German medical student, Erich Ebner, arrives at Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Ebner is subjected to unspeakable brutality before being put to work with the sadistic camp doctor, Horst Fleischer, who is carrying out gruesome experiments on the corpses of children. Gustawsson’s aim is to highlight the role of resistance organisations inside Buchenwald but bringing the two strands of the novel together is a challenge, and the solution she comes up with is far-fetched.

Abir Mukherjee’s first novel, A Rising Man, was a Sunday Times crime book of the month. His second, A Necessary Evil (Harvill Secker £12.99), returns to colonial India where his detective, Captain Sam Wyndham, is still trying to recover from his experiences in the First World War. Wyndham is a widower who lost his wife in the great flu epidemic of 1918, and he is trying to blot out painful memories in the government offices of Calcutta. The assassination of an Indian prince takes him to the wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore, where his ignorance of Indian customs soon has his investigation floundering. Wyndham is an appealing character, reckless and self-aware by turns, and the contradictions of the Raj are beautifully invoked.

Volker Kutscher’s wonderfully atmospheric crime novels are set in Germany at the end of the 1920s. The Silent Death (Sandstone £8.99), translated by Niall Sellar, is the sequel to his critically acclaimed Babylon Berlin, and features the same bad-tempered detective, Gereon Rath. As communists and Nazis clash on the streets of Berlin, Rath does his best to stay clear of politics, concentrating on his investigation into the bizarre death of a silent-film actress. Betty Winter is crushed on set when a live spotlight falls on her, plunging Rath into the brittle, back-stabbing world of Berlin’s rival film studios. When other actresses disappear, Rath finds himself hunting a serial killer in a novel that offers vivid insights into the cultural upheavals of the late Weimar republic.

 

Catching a Killer exposes the mind of an abuser for the first time – and you need to watch it

Daily Telegraph, Friday 2 June 2017

It isn’t easy to leave a manipulative man. It’s a simple thing to say but the harsh reality is exposed in a ground-breaking documentary made for Channel 4, Catching a Killer, which follows a real-life murder investigation. The victim, 31-year-old Natalie Hemming, was killed last year by her ex-partner when she finally made up her mind to leave him after enduring years of abuse.

‘Cold and calculating,’ 42-year-old Paul Hemming then tried to persuade detectives that someone else was responsible for her disappearance. The murder inquiry began with a call to Thames Valley police from Natalie’s distraught mother, Margaret. Her daughter had disappeared after her first date with a new man, which she had tried to keep secret from her former partner. From the outset, Natalie’s mother feared that Paul Hemming was responsible.

Detectives took the unusual step of allowing a documentary-maker, Anna Hall, to film their inquiry. The 90-minute film, which airs tonight, is a rare opportunity to see how an unrepentant abuser operates.

Under questioning, Hemming uses exactly the same techniques – dishonesty and tears – that he used on women. He lies from the moment he is woken up by police officers investigating Natalie’s disappearance, even refusing to hand over his mobile phone in case his former partner – who is in reality already dead – should call him.

When he’s arrested the following day, he wipes away tears and comes up with a story Natalie has gone away because she was raped by another man. According to Hemming, they were on good terms when she left the house and had agreed to ‘start afresh’.

Not a word of it is true, but Natalie’s mother and sister go through hell before her body is found in a wood in Hertfordshire three weeks later.

Even then, Hemming does not confess. On the first day of his trial, he changes his story, admitting manslaughter and claiming that he ‘accidentally’ killed Natalie by throwing a jade egg at her head during a row. The jury aren’t taken in and convict him of murder. He’s currently serving life with a recommendation that he should be locked up for a minimum of 20 years.

This is believed to be the first time that a murder investigation has been filmed from start to finish. Home Office figures show that two women are killed by a current or former partner every week. What is going on is sometimes known by family members – Natalie’s sister Jo tried on many occasions to persuade her to leave Hemming – but less often to the authorities.

Research carried out in London by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime suggests that most victims of domestic homicide are not previously known to the police, suggesting either that they keep hoping for the best – or don’t know what help is available.

That’s one of many reasons why the documentary is so important, showing the determination of Thames Valley Police, led by Superintendent Simon Steel, to gather the evidence they need to convict Hemming. While it is true that some police forces are more effective than others, the film confirms that official attitudes to domestic violence have changed out of all recognition in recent years.

Natalie’s story is familiar, but no less tragic and compelling for that. She was a 21-year-old single mother, struggling with post-natal depression, when she met Hemming. He was 11 years older and already on file for violently assaulting a previous girlfriend. But men like Hemming target vulnerable women and he swept Natalie off her feet, presenting her with a £2,500 engagement ring.

They never married but went on two have two children together, despite escalating violence on Hemming’s part. On one occasion, he injured her so badly that she had to go to A&E and gave a statement to police. Hemming bombarded her with tears and promises that he would change, and Natalie eventually withdrew her complaint.

When a woman is murdered by a partner, outsiders often ask why she didn’t leave him years ago. Now viewers can see for themselves the techniques used by an accomplished liar and abuser, offering unusual insights into the mentality of such men. Last year, Radio 4 soap The Archers was praised for a plotline depicting domestic abuse in real time. This film is the next logical step in our education.

Women are most at risk when they finally find the courage to leave – something that murder detectives know all too well. The general public doesn’t, and that’s why documentaries like this one perform an important public service.

The Yorkshire Ripper was not a ‘prostitute killer’ – now his forgotten victims need justice

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 30 May 2017

The Yorkshire Ripper is not a criminal mastermind. Peter Sutcliffe, who is now 70 and serving life at HMP Frankland, was convicted of 13 murders and seven attempted murders in 1981. At the time, police believed he had only begun attacking women in 1975 – but now a different picture may be emerging.

Officers from Operation Painthall have recently interviewed him about offences stretching back to 1964, including seven unsolved attacks on women and girls. This weekend, it emerged that he is also reportedly being investigated about the murders of two women in Sweden, in 1980.

These revelations don’t tell us that Sutcliffe hid his tracks brilliantly. It’s a stark reminder of how badly police mishandled the original case – and how long some of his victims have had to wait for justice.

I covered the case as a young reporter. It never seemed plausible to me that the so-called Ripper suddenly attacked several women within six months in 1975, having never done anything like it before.

But what is jaw-dropping, in retrospect, is how inept Sutcliffe was. He made mistakes, left behind evidence and didn’t care about being repeatedly spotted in red light districts, which were crawling with squad cars. He was interviewed about the Ripper murders on nine occasions, yet West Yorkshire police didn’t even search his house and garage.

At the time, I didn’t know any of this. But it didn’t take long for me to get the feeling that something was very wrong. ‘They’re never going to get him,’ I thought despairingly as I trudged from one police press conference to another. I was very nearly right – Sutcliffe was finally caught when he was stopped for a traffic offence by officers from another force, who had no idea who he was.

Detectives told the press they were looking for a man motivated by a deep loathing of prostitutes, but that theory didn’t even fit the facts of the case. I interviewed two of Sutcliffe’s earliest known victims, Anna Rogulskyj, who was 37 and lived in Keighley, and Olive Smelt, 46, who was assaulted near her home in Halifax. Neither of them had links with prostitution and both of them survived, albeit with terrible injuries. Ms Rogulskyj seized my hand and placed it on her head, where I could feel the damage to her skull caused by Sutcliffe’s hammer.

It’s been known for years that there was almost certainly a third victim during that summer of 1975: 14-year-old Tracey Browne from the small town of Silsden, near Keighley. She gave police a description of a man who looked just like Sutcliffe but she was the ‘wrong’ sort of victim – too young, and still at school – and she never even made it onto the ‘official’ list of victims.

After three ‘failed’ attacks against women, the killer moved to Leeds to commit his first known murder in October 1975. Wilma McCann was 28 and had no convictions for prostitution, but she had a chaotic lifestyle and Chapeltown was a red light district.

And so the theory of a prostitute killer was born, with catastrophic effects. The police excluded evidence from attacks on women who weren’t connected with the sex trade, even if they shared characteristics with the Ripper murders. And they relied on forensic evidence from the murder of a prostitute in Preston, which hadn’t been committed by Sutcliffe.

I watched this disaster unfold. I was at a press conference in 1979 – the only woman in the room, which wasn’t unusual in those days – when the police played a tape made by a man with a strong Wearside accent who claimed to be the Yorkshire Ripper.

Misogyny, not some half-baked ‘mission’ to kill prostitutes, was always at the heart of this case

I could see that the contents spoke to the police’s prejudices, taunting the senior officer on the case and confirming his idea that the killer craved publicity. We were told that it could only have come from the murderer because the tape and letters from the same man contained information that wasn’t in the public domain.

I’d read enough to know that wasn’t true and said so, making myself very unpopular. But who was going to listen to me?

The entire Ripper inquiry than hared off in search of ‘Wearside Jack’, a hoaxer who convinced them that the killer wasn’t from Yorkshire. Olive Smelt told me (and the police) that her attacker said something about the weather in a strong Yorkshire accent before striking her head with his hammer. She told me another crucial detail, saying that the same man had made a crude and deeply misogynist remark to her in a pub in Halifax earlier in the evening. But the police didn’t listen to her, either.

Misogyny, not some half-baked ‘mission’ to kill prostitutes, was always at the heart of this case. The oldest unsolved incident being examined by officers from Operation Painthall happened in 1964, when a 12-year-old girl was attacked on two occasions. Sutcliffe has denied it, saying he would never have targeted such a young victim, but he had no scruples about targeting Tracey Browne when she was only 14. He has already admitted that he may have been responsible for an unsolved attack in 1969.

Forensic science has improved out of all recognition since those days, and computer analysis means it is unlikely that such an obvious suspect as Sutcliffe would go undetected for so many years.

But the fact remains that the original investigation was a fiasco, and women died as a result. Every woman who was attacked by Sutcliffe has a right to know what happened to her, and why the cases weren’t connected at the time. Until that happens, the tragedy of the Yorkshire Ripper case won’t have reached its final act.

Why Myra Hindley was easy pickings for a psychopath who needed a female accomplice

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 16 May 2017

They look like a young couple on a day out in the country, his arm slung casually over her shoulders. They’re obviously working-class, the man in his shirtsleeves, the woman with peroxide-blond hair and a fashionable full skirt. The 1960s are in full swing and they could be anybody, enjoying the new freedom that’s arrived with the Beatles, Twiggy and the decline of deference.

But the man is Ian Brady, the notorious serial killer who died on Monday at the age of 79, after spending 51 years in prison. With his accomplice Myra Hindley, he tortured and murdered five young people, ranging in age from ten to 17, in a series of crimes so horrific that they ripped a gaping hole in the optimism of post-war England. The scar remains to this day and the death of this elderly serial killer, while hardly unexpected, still made headlines.

Back in 1966, when the details that emerged at their trial shocked the nation, things were supposed to be getting better after a long period of austerity. A Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, had come to power two years earlier promising a ‘new Britain’ forged in the ‘white heat’ of technology. Yet the actions of this apparently unremarkable couple from Greater Manchester exposed a human capacity for savagery that people didn’t want to think about after the horrors of the Second World War.

The couple made a recording of the screams of their youngest victim, ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey, as she pleaded for her life. They became so cocky that they tried to enlist Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith, in the axe murder of their final victim, 17-year-old Edward Evans. The traumatised young man – Smith was the same age as the butchered victim – went to the police, leading to the couple’s arrests in October 1965.

A police mug shot of Hindley, with dyed blond hair showing dark roots above fierce black eyebrows, has become one of the most instantly recognisable images of the 1960s – the face of ‘the most evil woman in Britain’. The direct gaze, and the full lips that speak of a kind of sensuality, invite endless speculation. Perhaps most disconcerting of all, Hindley looks recognisably modern, a woman of her time, yet her crimes hark back to the calculated cruelties of the Marquis de Sade.

The 1960s were a turbulent decade, in which class barriers and traditional sexual morality were both breaking down. Many people thought that was a good thing but the Moors murders stopped them in their tracks. What kind of society had produced this amoral young couple, whose flouting of social norms had turned into an unprecedented killing spree? It is important to remember that when Brady and Hindley were arrested, serial killers were a relatively new phenomenon. Everyone had heard of Jack the Ripper but most of the notorious cases, such as Peter Sutcliffe or Dennis Nilsen, were some years in the future. Nor did serial killers feature in traditional crime novels.

This was a new type of crime, involving child victims and killing for the sake it, and it caused a sensation. The idea of a female serial killer went against every notion of womanhood, and that police mugshot, with its pitiless stare, appeared to confirm that the woman had been the dominant partner.

In reality, this goes against every bit of evidence we have about the relationship between Hindley and Brady, which shows conclusively that he was the prime mover. But within no time at all Hindley had been pushed into the foreground, so much so that a huge painting by Marcus Harvey, based on the mugshot, was the controversial star turn in the ‘Sensation’ exhibition by Young British Artists in London in 1997.

Of course the fact that Hindley was the junior partner does not excuse her or reduce her culpability in these terrible murders. But if, as seems likely, the killings would not have happened had Brady and Hindley never met, it is vital to understand the dynamics of their relationship. That is true of Fred and Rose West as well, and in both cases the evidence suggests that the man was the instigator.

Hindley was only 18, four years younger than Brady, when they met in 1961 at the firm where she was a typist. She came from an impoverished background in Gorton, a working-class area of Manchester, and a household where domestic violence was rife. Conditions were so cramped that she initially had to share a bedroom with her abusive parents, including a father – an alcoholic ex-soldier – who regularly beat her.

We know now that children who grow up with extreme domestic violence are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators themselves. Hindley would become both. With a predator’s instinct, Brady seems to have recognised her vulnerabilities, understanding her need for affection and manipulating it. ‘I am in a bad mood because he hasn’t spoken to me today,’ she wrote in one of many naïve entries in her diary.

She wanted him to marry her but he had other ideas, introducing her to two of his obsessions, the Marquis de Sade and accounts of atrocities committed under the Third Reich. She was too unworldly to see through his crackpot theories about cruelty and the master race, becoming drawn into a sado-masochistic relationship in which she would do anything to please him. Photographs exist of Hindley kneeling on the floor, naked, with the marks of a whip visible on her body.

Brady needed an accomplice and it had to be a woman; he couldn’t drive and he knew that his victims were more likely to get into a car if they saw a woman in the driving seat. Once he had Hindley entirely under his control, they abused the trust of vulnerable children, presenting a monstrous inversion of the normal parental relationship. Decades later Rose West, who also witnessed domestic violence as a child, would play a similar role, reassuring young women who were uncertain about accepting a lift in her husband’s car.

At the Moors murders trial, Brady was convicted of three murders, Hindley of two. He didn’t admit the full extent of their crimes until 1985, when he confessed to the murders of 16-year-old Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett, aged 12. Brady died this week without ever revealing where on Saddleworth Moor they buried the body Keith Bennett, prolonging the ordeal of his family. Greater Manchester police say that while they are not actively searching the moor, the case remains open.

Brady’s death means that two of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century are no longer with us. At the time of their trial, people knew little about either of them, and their instinct was to focus on Hindley. She and Brady had done unimaginably awful things and deserved no sympathy, but the public reaction to Hindley was skewed by beliefs about how women should behave.

Now they’re both dead and we have the gift of perspective. Myra Hindley grew up in a violent household where she witnessed and experienced beatings, and that made her easy pickings for a psychopath who wanted an accomplice. Perhaps it’s time to re-assess that original analysis, putting aside the notion of Hindley as some kind of demon.

Heaping most of the blame on the woman in such relationships is the easy option,but it doesn’t make much sense. It is vital to recognise the pattern – and the key role played by domestic violence. It took two people to set this terrible train of events in motion, and the clear light of history tells us that Brady needed Hindley – and they were as culpable as each other.

 

How Theresa May Brought Britain To Heel

New York Times SundayReview | OPINION

14 MAY 2017

LONDON — Margaret Thatcher, it is safe to say, wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of trousers. Her successor as a leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, Theresa May, is far more adventurous. When she made her bid to head the country’s main center-right party last summer, she was wearing a tartan pantsuit by the onetime high priestess of punk, Vivienne Westwood. Ms. Westwood’s label is mainstream these days, but it was still a bold choice for a would-be Tory prime minister.

Some months later, Mrs. May lounged on a sofa in a pair of leather trousersfor an interview at the end of the momentous year that saw her move into No. 10 Downing Street. But why am I even talking about the prime minister’s wardrobe when she has called a snap general election for June 8?

This is the first time in three decades that a mainstream British political party has gone to the polls with both a female leader and a serious expectation of winning. Isn’t it demeaning, not to say sexist, to focus on how she dresses?

The problem for feminists like me, who would normally leap to a female politician’s defense, is that Mrs. May would never complain about any of this attention. She gives every impression of liking it. The public probably knows more about what she wears than it does about her policies, confirming just about every sexist stereotype.

Women and shoes, huh? But to dismiss any discussion of Mrs. May’s careful cultivation of image as trivializing or gender-biased is to miss how strategic she is. Her famous leopard-print heels have long been a form of camouflage, usefully diverting attention when she has unpalatable things to say (which isn’t very often). They made one of their first outings at the Conservative Party Conference in 2002, when Mrs. May told activists they needed to stop earning their reputation as “the nasty party.” She discovered just how easy it is to distract Britain’s popular press with an unexpected choice of accessory.

In the opening weeks of this election campaign, all we learned about the country’s second female prime minister is that she utters the words “strong and stable” at every opportunity. Public appearances have been carefully choreographed: typically, a tour of a factory filled with supporters, with the media kept well away.

And it has worked. Mrs. May’s personal popularity is at stratospheric levels, with some opinion polls suggesting she is even more popular than Mrs. Thatcher was in her heyday. Perhaps the prime minister was channeling her inner Iron Lady when she stood at a lectern in Downing Street recently and scolded the leaders of the European Union, demonstrating how effectively she hid her true colors in the past: She, too, can be nasty when she needs to be.

It is becoming clear that Mrs. May’s political views are farther to the right than her reassuring presence — the head teacher who always has time to discuss little Johnny or Jessica’s problems — would have us believe. When Mrs. May was home secretary and in charge of the country’s borders, she supported a wildly optimistic policy of Prime Minister David Cameron, whowanted to reduce immigration to a few tens of thousands a year. That undertaking was an abject failure by any standards — net immigration last year was just under 275,000 — but it doesn’t seem to have done her much harm.

Mrs. May has corrected course by adopting an even tougher stance on the international refugee crisis than Mr. Cameron. In February, she canceled the government’s commitment to allow 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children into Britain after only about 350 had arrived.

She has proved adept at shifting position without incurring political damage. Last summer, she supported the Remain side in the referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union, but she did it so quietly that she succeeded in seamlessly maneuvering into being the best-placed candidate to lead the tricky Brexit negotiations after Leave won.

For feminists, Mrs. May is no less troubling a figure than Mrs. Thatcher was, embodying many of the same contradictions. The fact that the current leader has been called “Maggie May” by the popular press is chiefly a reminder that there are still too few role models for powerful women.

In the 1980s, the media routinely sexualized Mrs. Thatcher in under-the-radar ways. For a generation of upper-middle-class men who had grown up with nannies and school matrons, Mrs. Thatcher evoked a potent mix of anxiety and fantasy and sadomasochistic scenario. The writer Christopher Hitchens, hardly a natural admirer, claimed that the prime minister had once spanked him with a parliamentary order paper, mouthing “Naughty boy!” as she walked away.

The subtle edginess of Mrs. May’s personal style seems to wink at this role of national dominatrix. Those leopard-print shoes of hers inspired anotorious photomontage in The Sun, a top-selling British tabloid, that showed a similar pair crushing the heads of Tory men under the headline “Heel, Boys.”

And she has done nothing to discourage the toxic sexism that swirls about her. When the Daily Mail provoked outrage by publishing a photo of her with the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, under the brazenly sexist headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” the prime minister’s spokesman refused to comment. For her part, Ms. Sturgeon was furious andsaid so.

When President Trump met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, he conspicuously declined to shake hands and avoided eye contact. In stark contrast, when the president first met Mrs. May in Washington in January,he grabbed her hand in full view of the cameras. This was a power play none of her ministers back home would dare to attempt, yet Mrs. May did not demur.

She has done little to challenge even the most hoary, outdated assumptions. When she took part in a rare joint TV interview with her husband, Philip, last week, she caused astonishment by saying that they divide household chores, such as taking the trash out, into “boy jobs and girl jobs.” She also appeared to think she needed to explain the fact that she wasn’t a mother when, in 2012, she chose to reveal her disappointment about being childless – something that speaks volumes about the social values of the British Conservative Party, as well as the insularity of British politics.

Mrs. May is more modern in her attitudes than some in her party — and undeniably more collegial than Mr. Cameron, let alone Mrs. Thatcher. Mrs. May voted for gay marriage, has promoted women to top posts in her cabinet and has a longstanding interest in preventing domestic violence. Yet she presides over a government that has pursued a dismantling of public services that disproportionately affects women. And the calling card she used to signal a break with the stuffy Tory past — the eye-catching footwear, the leather trousers — has now returned to haunt public life with unsavory, sexualized expectations of women at the highest level of politics.

This is all the more disappointing at a moment when the Conservative Party has overturned the traditional order of British politics by fielding a competent, personable woman against a male opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who looks and sounds like a throwback to the 1970s. Mrs. May’s refusal to confront the infantile misogyny of the media leaves her open to the accusation that she got where she is not by challenging patriarchy, but by colluding with it. What does it say about gender equality in Britain that the politician tipped to win by a landslide in next month’s election is most famous for her footwear?

Troubled Waters

Sunday Times, 14 May 2017

Donna Leon is one of the most familiar names in modern crime fiction, but she still has the capacity to surprise. Her latest novel, Earthly Remains (Heinemann £18.99), is set not in the streets and canals of Venice but in the lagoon, where the smooth waters are threatened by environmental disaster.

Commissario Brunetti, Leon’s detective, doesn’t know that when he decides to spend an idyllic couple of weeks in a villa on the island of Sant’Erasmo, reading Pliny and learning to row again with the elderly caretaker, Davide Casati. He is recuperating from stress and the slow pace of life is a delight. The only thing to disturb him is Casati’s anxiety about his dying bees, and his enigmatic remarks about his past.

When he disappears during a storm, Brunetti’s holiday comes to an abrupt end, and the search for the missing man uncovers the source of the guilt that weighed so heavily on him. This beautifully written novel confronts Brunetti with a type of crime that is completely outside his experience, threatening the health of everyone who lives on the Venetian lagoon.

Linwood Barclay has already set a quirky trilogy of crime novels in the small town of Promise Falls in New York State. The last book in the series left the town reeling from a deliberate poisoning of its water system, in revenge for the failure of passers-by to save a girl who was murdered in a local park.

In Parting Shot (Orion £18.99) some residents have overreacted by forming vigilante groups, homing in on an 18-year-old boy who accidentally killed a friend in a drink-driving incident. As attacks on the boy’s home escalate, his wealthy family hires a local PI to protect him, unintentionally unveiling some of their own secrets. Barclay’s plots are a delight, and his small town never fails to deliver a series of shocks.

Arresting the fiancée of a school friend on a drugs offence sparks a catastrophic sequence of events for Kjell Ola Dahl’s world-weary detective in Faithless, translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Orenda £8.99). Inspector Frolich hasn’t seen his friend Karl Anders for years before the night of the latter’s 40th birthday party, where he suddenly recognises the woman Anders is about to marry. He keeps quiet, but shortly afterwards a body turns up in a skip, and Frolich finds himself torn by a conflict of loyalties. This is a chilling novel about betrayal, written in a hard-boiled style that highlights the careless misogyny of Dahl’s characters.

Michel Bussi is one of France’s most ingenious crime writers. Don’t Let Go, translated by Sam Taylor (Weidenfeld £12.99), is set on the lush Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where the husband of a French tourist is the chief suspect in her disappearance. When the man goes on the run with their young daughter, suspicion hardens into certainty for the local cops, but Bussi has plenty of twists in store in this fast-moving novel about a long-planned act of revenge.

 

We should be shocked by the wedding day rape in Emmerdale – but not for the reason you think

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 25 April 2017

The idea of a husband raping his wife only hours after their wedding ceremony is genuinely shocking. So it was perhaps to be expected that some viewers of Emmerdale would be up in arms after the long-running ITV soap showed just such a scene last night - not least because it was aired a couple of hours before the 9pm watershed.

They are right to be shocked - but for reasons that have nothing to do with the time at which the rape was shown. The watershed is increasingly irrelevant these days, when we can watch TV programmes on demand. No, the reason we should be horrified is that so many people don’t know that rape in marriage is a crime in this country – and has been ever since the law was changed in 1992.

When Emmerdale character Pierce Harris dragged his bride Rhona Goskirk indoors after a blazing row and raped her, he was committing a serious criminal offence. The days when men could say ‘You’re my wife and I can do what I like’ are long gone, at least as far as the criminal justice system is concerned.

But the soap was absolutely right to highlight widespread ignorance of the law, something that endures even among those who would profess to know it.

According to a 1993 biography of Donald Trump, the mogul forced himself on his then-wife Ivana after a row about hair loss treatment. The book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump, describes a “violent assault” where Trump “jams his penis” into a “terrified” Ivana, who apparently then told her closest friends: “He raped me.”

Trump has denied the allegation, and the book included a statement from Ivana stating she did not want her words to be interpreted ‘in a literal or criminal sense’.

We may never know the facts. But when the story resurfaced during the US presidential campaign, Michael Cohen – a lawyer acting for Trump - didn’t stop at denying it on the now-President’s behalf. He also poured scorn on the entire notion of marital rape as a crime, displaying an astonishing level of ignorance when he claimed, “You can’t rape your spouse.”

As an inconvenient aside for Mr Cohen, rape in marriage has been a crime in New York State since 1984 and was outlawed throughout the US in 1993, a year after the law was changed in the UK.

The producers and writers of Emmerdale have done another public service by reminding viewers that many rapes take place behind closed doors – and in two-thirds of cases the attacker is known to the victim. That statistic comes from the Metropolitan Police, by the way, and it confounds the popular notion that most rapists are strangers who lurk in dark alleys.

Stranger-rapes do happen, of course, and they have a devastating effect. But many women, like Rhona in Emmerdale, discover that the danger comes from a man they know and perhaps love. Here is another police statistic, even less well-known to the public but hugely relevant to scenes like the one that has caused such an outcry: around a quarter of rapes are believed to be linked to domestic violence.

That’s why police and local authorities up and down the country have set up sanctuary schemes - basically a safe room in which a woman and her children can hide if they are threatened by a violent ex-partner or spouse. A man who raped his wife while they were living together may have no qualms about trying to do it again, a fact understood by women’s refuges, which have to spend huge sums on security.

Some viewers objected to the Emmerdale rape because it took place so soon after the couple’s wedding ceremony, but even that isn’t as implausible as it might seem. All the warning signs were there, with Rhona’s friends describing her husband-to-be as ‘jealous’ and ‘obsessive’.

For some couple, weddings have become big events in modern life. It’s totally believable that a woman might put all her energy into thinking about the details, distracting herself from justified doubts about the man she is marrying.

Sober reflection, as well as crime statistics, suggest that someone who is controlling and jealous before saying ‘I do’  will only get worse afterwards. Women who have escaped from abusive relationships sometimes look back and say they were anxious, but pushed their worries aside in the excitement.

There are, naturally, some viewers who have welcomed the Emmerdale rape plot line. Television and radio can be a powerful means of educating people about subjects such as domestic violence – you need only think of The Archers’ Rob and Helen Titchener. In the wake of a storyline that saw Helen become the victim of her husband’s controlling behaviour, more than £100,000 was raised for the charity Refuge.

In contrast, in the hours after the final episode of the BBC’s Broadchurch was aired earlier this month, a similar push for fundraising saw just a tenner donated to Rape Crisis. Various theories have been put forward for this, from Trish Winterman’s rapist turning out to be a stranger (so not in keeping with the reality of rape in the UK) to the fact that we just find sexual assault to be unpalatable. Something we struggle to confront and that is just too horrible to think about.

Then there’s the even more awful suggestion that we still, partially, point a finger at the victim. A recent study by the  Fawcett Society  found that over a third of people still think “if a woman goes out late at night, wearing a short skirt, gets drunk and is then the victim of a sexual assault, she is totally or partly to blame.”

Clearly, there’s still a long way to go before it’s generally accepted that the only person to blame for sexual and domestic violence is the perpetrator – and women will continue to be in danger until there’s zero tolerance of these dreadful crimes. It may be uncomfortable to watch or listen to, but TV and radio drama is a very effective way of getting that vital message across. Before or after the watershed.

The rape boasts of Adam Johnson show victim-blaming is still with us

The video of the disgraced footballer claiming that he wishes he’d raped his 15-year-old victim is shocking – but the myths he repeats are all too common

The Guardian, Friday 21 April 2017

Perhaps he misses an admiring crowd. Perhaps he feels he has nothing to lose. Who knows what persuaded the disgraced former England footballer – and convicted sex offender – Adam Johnson to speak quite so candidly about his crimes. But Johnson’s remarks, caught on video and published by the Sun, offer a staggering insight into the mind of a man who last year lost his job, career and reputation over sex offences with an underage girl.

Professional footballers are notoriously arrogant but Johnson’s claim that he wishes he’d raped his 15-year-old victim is in a class of its own. This, remember, is a man who is serving a six-year sentence after a trial in which he admitted two counts of grooming and sexual activity with a child, and was convicted of a third offence of sexual touching. (His second appeal was turned down only last month.)

Yet his response to a fellow prisoner who points out that he didn’t rape his victim is to say: “No, I wish I fucking did for six years [his sentence].” This is the bragging and bravado juries don’t get to hear, and almost the worst thing about the video is the way fellow prisoners egg him on.

At his trial at Bradford crown court, Johnson apologised and claimed to feel “ashamed” of his behaviour, but the video tells a very different story. After just over a year in prison, he has concluded that nothing is his fault. He dismisses his crimes as “fuck all” and complains that he has little chance of reviving his football career in the UK because “do-gooders” will try to stop him playing again. He blames his fame for the fact that he has ended up in prison, claiming he would have got off with a caution if he hadn’t been well-known.

It’s a repellent performance, complete with Johnson making crude comments and gestures about his victim. But what’s really striking, once viewers get over the initial shock of witnessing Johnson’s expletive-laden self-pity, is that he regurgitates every myth in the book about rape and sexual assault. It’s a list of gripes directed at the victim, her family and women generally, accompanied by a whine that he didn’t even – brace yourselves – get his “cock out”.

Like every man who has ever been charged with sexual activity with a girl below the age of consent, Johnson claims he believed his victim was 17 or 18. It’s completely untrue, as he admitted in his very first police interview and later in evidence at his trial. Yet, of course, he goes on to complain about how she was dressed. He says she wore tight jeans and turned up at the Sunderland ground after matches, asking for pictures and a signed shirt.

This is the unexceptional behaviour of a teenage football fan. But Johnson’s wrath extends to the girl’s family, whom he accuses of going to the police solely because he was well-known. The myth of the gold-digger comes up time after time, even in cases like this one where the victim has suffered torrents of abuse for having the courage to come forward and tell someone what’s happened.

It’s rare to hear sex offenders speaking so freely about what they’ve done, ditching any pretence of the remorse they feel they have to show in court. The most startling thing about Johnson’s rant is his belief that men are the real victims in rape cases, at risk of being falsely accused by women who are too drunk to remember a sexual encounter. His understanding of the notion of consent is woefully inadequate, yet it appears to be shared by some of his fellow inmates.

At one level, it’s astonishing that Johnson has learned so little from his trial and conviction, suggesting that British prisons desperately need to provide education programmes for sex offenders. At the same time, it’s hard not to think that his bravado and lack of remorse are symptomatic of a much more widespread problem.

Every year, the figures for rape and sexual assault keep going up. The police and the crown prosecution service are more sensitive to victims than they used to be, but juries are a different matter. The crude language of the Johnson video is rarely heard in court but it isn’t just in prisons that victim-blaming finds a receptive audience.