Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Politics Paul Benneworth

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Politics Paul Benneworth

Article excerpt

IF you asked me to name my favourite political author, then I'd reply Hunter S Thompson. That might surprise you, given his link with drug-crazed pieces relating America's rotten cultural heart such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Following the 'dark side of the American dream' took him from undercover work inside the Los Angeles Hells' Angels to the rapacious Neverland of the Las Vegas' strip. And as he dug further under the surface, he found politicians never far away.

The high point of his oeuvre arguably came with his account of the 1972 American Democratic Primaries in 1972. Despite having the seemingly easy task of choosing a candidate to stand against an increasingly unpopular Richard Nixon, a procedural voting fiasco led to electoral wipe-out.

The 1972 primaries climaxed in a close-up and dirty scrap between political heavyweights and an exciting insurgent. All candidates' political fixing machines pulled every trick out of the hat to cajole, strong-arm, wheedle or blackmail delegates to back their man.

The Convention ultimately chose George McGovern, who chose a running mate later revealed to have suffered from several mental health problems and was dogged by rumours of alcoholism. With Nixon portraying the Democrats as dangerous radicals threatening "acid, abortions and amnesty" of Vietnam draft-dodgers, electoral wipeout followed.

Nixon's second term collapsed into ignominy with the Watergate Scandal and defeat in Vietnam. American entered a two-decade funk that persisted to Communism's 1990s collapse.

Thompson's most memorable political aphorism is that politics is the art of controlling your environment. The Democrats in 1972 slumped to deep defeat because although McGovern won, the Democrats lost their capacity to exert control, its most powerful supporters deserting the party in droves.

You should never stretch an analogy, but the parallels with Jeremy Corbyn's recent election as Labour leader seem evident. David Cameron welcomed Labour's democratic choice as a threat to national security and economic wellbeing.

He's clearly said things in the past and stood on platforms with unsavoury characters that could unsympathetically be used to stoke up public hysteria, akin to McGovern's "acid, abortions and amnesty". …

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