Shadow chancellor Chris Leslie speaks at the Progress conference in London on 16 May 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Chris Leslie interview: Labour has to "get really serious" about public service reform

The new shadow chancellor says his party needs to challenge the "traditional ways" of delivering services". 

Chris Leslie has been thrown in at the deep end. When Labour was defeated in May 2010, the then chancellor, Alistair Darling, stayed on as George Osborne’s shadow until Alan Johnson took over five months later. This time, with the defeat of Ed Balls in May, there was no interim figure available. It is Leslie, who previously served as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, who now holds the second most senior position on Labour’s front bench.

“There is an opportunity for me to address the difficult questions Labour has to confront,” Leslie, 43, tells me when I meet him in his Nottingham East constituency. The centrist minister, who was first elected in 1997 (before losing in 2005), warns against those who cite the successes of the SNP and Greens in support of a left-wing programme. “We can’t just brush under the carpet that two million more people voted Conservative than Labour,” he says. We would be totally wrong to not be focusing on why people voted Conservative - that is the predominant problem.

For Leslie, this means reassuring voters that Labour “genuinely wants to have sound stewardship of the public finances” and “being really serious about public service reform”. He adds: “Sometimes that is going to be challenging to the traditional ways of delivering those services . . . Some of the structures are very outdated and duplicative. We need to declutter. There’s a strong bit of spring cleaning that’s still needed. It’s not just closing down quangos, it’s also saying, ‘Well, 43 police authorities, 300-plus local authorities.’ There’s lots of questions we’ve got to start asking about proper consolidation.” He praises “aspects” of the government’s Troubled Families programme, “where you go in and you look at the whole system and don’t just treat the symptom of a housing problem or a health problem”.

On taxation, Leslie tells me that “everything is now under review” and says that the 50p rate has “moved off the agenda” (“I personally think the priority is going to be whether the 45p rate is going to fall to 40p”). It’s a stance that contrasts with that of the Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper, who has continued to argue for a higher top rate. Leslie’s politics are closely aligned with those of Liz Kendall but it was the shadow home secretary he nominated.

Leslie praises Cooper as a “strong communicator” who is “strong on economics” and has “experience at cabinet level”, but adds that Kendall has “some really important ideas in terms of modernising not just the Labour Party but the country”. And Andy Burnham, the front-runner, is “a good, strong, authentic candidate with great grass-roots appeal . . . I might not give as much support to Jeremy Corbyn as others will.”

Earlier in the day, Leslie and I visited a food bank in his constituency where a Trussell Trust volunteer told us that in-work poverty accounts for 24 per cent of visits in the region.

“There’s no easy way of suddenly turning off the tap on tax credits and thinking you’re going to get this sudden rise in wages,” the shadow chancellor says later. He questions whether Osborne will “be driven by a sensible and balanced approach to getting towards a surplus, which everybody would want to achieve”, or whether “his own leadership ambitions are now pulling him towards proving his neocon credentials to the back benches”.

The amiable Leslie is expected to remain shadow chancellor if Cooper wins the leadership (Burnham’s choice is Rachel Reeves). His unflappable style is regarded as an asset as Labour seeks to rebuild fiscal credibility. Would he like to continue doing the job? “I’d like to stay doing an economic brief but it’s a team sport . . . We’ll see what happens.”

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Crisis Europe

Photo: NRK
Show Hide image

Skam, interrupted: why is the phenomenally popular teen drama ending before its peak?

The show has been building towards high school graduation – but now it’s ending before its lead characters finish school.

“Have you heard they started their bus already?”
“No!”
“One month into high school – and they started their bus.”

This Skype conversation between Eva and Isak comes early in the first episode of Skam. The phenomenally internationally successful series follows teenagers at a high school in Oslo. The “bus” they're discussing is a key plot point and concern of the students' lives. That’s because, in Norway, graduating high school students participate in “russefeiring” – it’s a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of completing high school, and a farewell to friends departing for university or jobs around the country.

Students gather into groups, give their gang a name, wear matching coloured overalls, rent a big car or a van, and spend late April to mid May (17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day) continuously partying. They call it the “three week binge”. It’s a big fucking deal. 

Skam, with its focus on teens in high school, has therefore spent a lot of time thinking about “russ”. The show, which is set at the exact same time it airs, has followed its four main characters Eva, Noora, Isak and Sana (who each have a season of the show written from their perspective, a la Skins), as well as all their friends, from their first few weeks at school in September 2015. In other words, preparations take years, and we’ve heard a lot about the plans for their russ bus.

In season one, Eva has fallen out with her best friend, and is hurt when she hears she is moving on and has formed a new bus, with new friends, called Pepsi Max.

We meet one of the show’s most prominent characters, Vilde, when we see her trying to get a bus of girls together. The show’s five main girl characters, Eva, Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sana, become friends because of her efforts: they bond during their “bus meetings” and fundraising attempts. They flirt with a group of boys on a bus calling themselves “The Penetrators”.

The latest season follows Sana’s struggles to ensure the bus doesn’t fall apart, and an attempt to join buses with rivals Pepsi Max. The joyful climax of season four comes when they finally buy their own bus and stop social-climbing, naming themselves “Los Losers”. Bus drama is the glue that keeps the show together.

But now, in June 2017, a whole year before the characters graduate, Skam is ending. The architect of the girls’ bus, Vilde, has never had her own season, unlike most of her friends. Many assumed that Vilde would have had her own season during her final year at school. Fans insist the show’s creator Julie Andem planned nine seasons in total, yet Skam is ending after just four.

The news that Skam would stop after season four came during the announcement that Sana, a Muslim member of the “girl squad”, would be the next main character. The show’s intense fandom were delighted by the character choice, but devastated at the news that there would only be one more season. “I can’t accept that this is the last season,” one wrote on Reddit.

“I'm so shocked and sad. It’s honestly just...weird. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we’re not getting a Vilde season. Most importantly, it’s not fair that we’ll never get to see them on their russ, see them graduating, nothing. It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn’t serve the storyline at all.”

No one has given a concrete reason about why the show ended prematurely. Ina, who plays Chris, said in an interview that “we all need a break”.

Some fans went into denial, starting petitions to encourage Andem to continue with the show, while rumours abound suggesting it will return. 

Many speculated that the show simply became too popular to continue. “I think that the show would have had six seasons and a Vilde season if the show didn’t become popular outside of Scandinavia,” one wrote. “I think the pressure and the large amount of cringy fans (not saying that some Scandinavian fans aren’t cringy) has made making the show less enjoyable for the actors and creators.”

Andem has stayed mostly quiet on her reasons for ending the show, except for a statement made via her Instagram. She recalls how very early on, during a season one shoot, someone first asked her how long the show would last:

“We were standing in the schoolyard at Nissen High School, a small, low-budget production crew, one photographer, the sound engineer and me. ‘Who knows, but I think we should aim for world domination,’ I said. We all laughed, ‘cause I was obviously joking. None of us understood then how big Skam would turn out to be. This experience has been completely unreal, and a joy to be a part of.”

Skam has been a 24/7 job,” she continues. “We recently decided that we won’t be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I’m confident this is the right decision.”

Many fans feel that season four has struggled under the burden of ending the show – and divisions and cracks have appeared in the fandom as a result.

Some feel that Sana’s season has been overshadowed by other characters and plotlines, something that is particularly frustrating for those who were keen to see greater Muslim representation in the show. Of a moment in season four involving Noora, the main character from season two, one fan account wrote, “I LOVE season tw- I mean four. That’s Noora’s season right? No wait, is it Willhell’s season??? What’s a Sana.”

Others feel that the subject of Islam hasn’t been tackled well in this season. Some viewers felt one scene, which sees Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend, Isak, discuss Islamophobia, was whitesplainy. 

One popular translation account, that provides a version of the show with English subtitles, wrote of the scene: “A lot of you guys have been disappointed by the latest clip and you’re not the only ones. We do want to finish this project for the fans but we are disappointed with how this season has gone.” They announced they would be translating less as a result.

The final week of the show has been light on Sana. Instead, each character who never received a full season has had a few minutes devoted to their perspective. These are the other girls from the girl squad, Vilde and Chris, and the boyfriends of each main character: Eva’s ex Jonas, Isak’s boyfriend Even, Eva’s current fling “Penetrator Chris” and Noora’s on-off boyfriend William.

It’s understandable to want to cover key perspectives in the show’s final week, but it can feel teasing – we get a short glimpse into characters' home lives, like Vilde struggling to care for her depressed mother, but the scene ends before we can really get into it. And, of course, it takes precious time away from Sana in the show’s final minutes.

Some were frustrated by the characters focused on. “Penetrator Chris” is a particularly minor character – one fan account wrote of his scene: “This is absolutely irrelevant. 1) It sidelines Sana 2) It asks more questions 3) It doesn’t answer shit. This isn’t even Sana’s season anymore and that’s absolutely disgusting. She didn’t even get closure or ten episodes or anything.

“Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better. Yet here we are watching a Penetrator Chris clip. How ironic that it’s not even called just “Christopher” because that’s all he is. “Penetrator Chris”.

It’s been a dramatic close for a usually warm and tight-knit fan community. Of course, many fans are delighted with the final season: their only sadness is there won’t be more. One of the largest fan accounts tried to keep things positive. “I know people have mixed feelings about Skam and who deserves what in terms of screentime this season (etc),” they wrote, “which I totally understand.

"However, everything has already been filmed, so there is nothing we can do about it. I think this last week of Skam will be much more enjoyable for everyone if we focus on the positives in the clips ahead. Skam isn’t perfect. People are allowed to disagree. But let’s go into this week being grateful for everything Skam has given us.”

Some fans choose to look to what the future holds for the show – an American remake. It will keep the same characters and plotlines as the original, and Andem may be involved.

Few think it will be a patch on the current show, but some are excited to have the chance to watch it teasingly as a group regardless. It seems unlikely that the US remake will compare in terms of quality – not least because the original was so heavily researched and tied to Norwegian culture. But for fans struggling to let go of Skam, it can’t come soon enough.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496