Big Brother, Mayor Berry and atheism

How a New Statesman blogger will go head-to-head with Ken Livingstone, Simon Munnery muses about fiv

Fans of Sian Berry may have noticed that she momentarily disappeared from the blogosphere last week. What happened I hear you cry? Well she was sort of busy, appearing on the BBC's Question Time and becoming the Green Party’s London mayoral candidate.

Yes that’s Green Berry going head-to-head with Red Ken! She talks about that and much, much more exclusively at newstatesman.com.

Meanwhile, our Faith Column this week has been turned over to an atheist. Each day we will be hearing from Sue Blackmore and what she does or doesn’t believe. In her first entry she wrote: “We live in a pointless universe. We are here for no reason at all. There isn’t a soul. There isn’t a spirit, and we’re not going to live forever.”

Not sure if you want to go on? Then I’d read our natural antidote to despair Simon Munnery if I were you. He writes: "Look at an English five pound note; there's a picture of the queen and the phrase "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds". I think "What? This isn't it?". I like to imagine that if you went up to the queen, gave her a fiver, and asked her to make good on her promise, she'd look at the note, hand it back to you and wink, as if to say "Yes, It's a con!.""

Meanwhile excitement turned to bitter disappointment in the New Statesman offices this week. Greg, our resident IT guru, filled out an online application form for Big Brother saying he didn’t want to go on the reality TV show. He then got invited along to an audition – I dunno! TV people! They just fire off irony…

Anyway for a moment there we thought we’d have our very own reality star in the office and a furious bidding war opened up among those of us who wished to be his agent. I still don’t think 85% was too high a commission given the skills I could have brought to the job!

However he went along on Sunday and alas didn’t make it through the second round. On the one hand I’m gutted. It would have been great entertainment and I’ve no doubt he’d have won. On the other I’m delighted because it means I won’t have to watch the dreadful programme.

Finally my thanks to Simon Hooper for overseeing things while I was away in Cornwall although I should stress that I don’t drive a Bentley. The vehicles of choice for rap stars and members of the Royal family … They're just a bit bling, if you know what I mean.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Will the House of Lords block Brexit?

Process, and a desire to say "I told you so" will be the real battle lines. 

It’s the people versus the peers, at least as far as some overly-excited Brexiteers are concerned. The bill to trigger Article 50 starts its passage through the House of Lords today, and with it, a row about the unelected chamber and how it ought to behave as far as Brexit is concerned.

This week will, largely, be sound and fury. More peers have signed up to speak than since Tony Blair got rid of the bulk of hereditary peers, triggering a 200-peer long queue of parliamentarians there to rage against the dying of the light, before, inevitably, the Commons prevailed over the Lords.

And to be frank, the same is ultimately going to happen with Article 50. From former SDPers, now either Labour peers or Liberal Democrat peers, who risked their careers over Europe, to the last of the impeccably pro-European Conservatives, to committed Labour and Liberal politicians, there are a number of pro-Europeans who will want to make their voices heard before bowing to the inevitable. Others, too, will want to have their “I told you so” on record should it all go belly-up.

The real battle starts next week, when the bill enters committee stage, and it is then that peers will hope to extract concessions from the government, either through defeat in the Lords or the threat of defeat in the Lords. Opposition peers will aim to secure concessions on the process of the talks, rather than to frustrate the exit.

But there are some areas where the government may be forced to give way. The Lords will seek to codify the government’s promise of a vote on the deal and to enshrine greater parliamentary scrutiny of the process, which is hard to argue against, and the government may concede that quarterly statements to the House on the process of Brexit are a price worth paying, and will, in any case, be a concession they end up making further down the line anyway.

But the big prize is the rights of EU citizens already resident here.  The Lords has the advantage of having the overwhelming majority of the public – and the promises of every senior Leaver during the referendum campaign – behind them on that issue. When the unelected chamber faces down the elected, they like to have the weight of public opinion behind them so this is a well-chosen battleground.

But as Alex Barker explains in today’s FT, the rights of citizens aren’t as easy to guarantee as they look. Do pensions count? What about the children of EU citizens? What about access to social security and health? Rights that are easy to protect in the UK are more fraught in Spain, for instance. What about a British expat, working in, say, Italy, married to an Italian, who divorces, but wishes to remain in Italy afterwards? There is general agreement on all sides that the rights of Brits living in the rest of the EU and citizens of the EU27 living here need to be respected and guaranteed. But that even areas of broad agreement are the subject of fraught negotiation shows why those “I told you sos”  may come in handy sooner than we think.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.