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

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.
Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.