Introducing Alastair Campbell

Shortly to guest edit the <em>New Statesman</em>, Tony Blair's former press secretary explains why h

I’m very grateful to the New Statesman for giving me the chance to be guest editor for a week. It has not always been my favourite reading, and no doubt there are some regular readers for whom I would not be Number 1 choice as guest editor.

But it continues to hold a significant place in the political and media landscape and I hope that for the week I am in charge, with the help of the usual NS team, we can put together something that is interesting, provocative and makes a contribution to debate on the progressive side of politics. I have already commissioned a few pieces from people as varied as myself, my partner and friends and colleagues in places high and low. But there are a couple of ideas, as I mentioned on my website, when I first announced I would be doing this, that will require reader input. First, I am on the lookout for three young people, 16-18, to tell us why they have joined one of the three main parties.

It angers me when middle-aged middle class people routinely say that young people are not interested in politics. My sense is that in many ways the young are more interested in political debate than the old. They’re just turned off by the way politics is debated and covered.

The second idea, which has already had some good ideas sent to my blog, is to ask readers to complete this sentence ...

"If I had one sentence to put into Labour’s manifesto for the next election, it would say this –"

The Tories may be ahead in the polls, but I still think the battle of ideas and serious policy debate on the left has more energy. I hope your response shows this. I have set one page aside already but if the response merits more, then I may have to spike one of my own pieces. If that isn’t an incentive ....

Contribute your own one sentence ideas for the Labour manifesto on Alastair Campbell's blog.

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.