David Miliband guest-edits the New Statesman

In this week's magazine: Age of crisis

The special issue includes contributions from Hillary Clinton, Richard Branson, Tony Blair, José Manuel BarrosoKevin Rudd, Ed Miliband, Jonathan Coe, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Jo Brand and many others, as well as Michael Semple’s interview with a Taliban leader and David Walliams’s interview with Russell Brand 


For this week’s 80-page issue of the New Statesman, David Miliband, Labour MP for South Shields and former foreign secretary, has commissioned a series of articles by leading international figures from politics, culture and business on the theme of shifts in world power. His issue follows last year’s acclaimed New Statesman guest-edits by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in June, and Richard Dawkins, in December. 

The magazine is available on newsstands from Thursday 12 July. Single-issue copies can be purchased here

Click here to read David Miliband's leading article in full

Hillary Clinton: The great power shift

In the NS Essay, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton makes a major intervention on US foreign policy ahead of her government's bid for re-election this November. In an unusual and bold move, Clinton espouses her "smart power" doctrine by stating the US will place greater emphasis on financial operations - over military - in the name of US national security:

[We] recognise that countries such as China, India and Brazil are gaining influence less because of the size of their armies than because of the growth of their economies. And we have learned that our national security today depends on decisions made not just in diplomatic negotiations and on the battlefield, but also in the financial markets and on factory floors. So US has made it a priority to harness more effectively the tools of global economics to advance our strategic aims abroad. That might mean finding innovative financial levers to ratchet up pressure on Iran's nuclear programme, or forming new public-private partnerships that put corporate energy and expertise to work on such challenges as climate change and food security.

Clinton also states her government has made "expanding opportunities for women a cornerstone of America's foreign policy":

[E]mpowering women and girls around the world is crucial to seizing long-term opportunities for promoting peace, democracy and sustainable development . . . We've launched amibitous efforts to increase women's participation in the economy by opening access to credit and markets, to enhance the role of women in resolving conflicts and maintaining security, and to focus global health programmes on the needs of mothers, who are linchpins of entire communities.

José Manuel Barroso: “How is Britain so open to the world, but so closed to Europe?”

Outside Europe, Britain will be reduced to the role of a “Norway or Switzerland”, warns the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, in conversation with the NS guest editor.

Click here to read extracts from the wide-ranging discussion

Tony Blair on his friend Philip Gould

Writing in this special issue, Tony Blair reflects on his relationship with Philip Gould, the Labour Party consultant who died in November last year:

Philip was always a great writer. His notes to me during the 13 years I led the Labour Party were always so beautifully expressed that I used to say that they beguiled me, persuading me of the validity of the view just by the manner of telling it. 

As a strategist and pollster, Gould was a “genius”, Blair writes, in part for “his ability to step back from the data and surface noise”:

He often wrote in tactics; but he saved his best for strategy. In strategy he was the master: regularly challenging the conventional wisdom and always coming out with a solution to the problem, not just an analysis of it.

Gould’s book When I Die: Lessons from the Death Zone concludes with the words: “I am approaching the door marked death. What lies beyond it may be the worst of things. But I believe it will be the best of things.” Blair describes how those words by his friend affected him:

I knew Philip. But I felt as I read this that I was being introduced to someone new, someone different. This is a book that will give you pleasure and peace.

David Walliams interviews Russell Brand

Given the offer by David Miliband to interview whomever he wished for this issue of the New Statesman, the actor and author David Walliams chose Russell Brand, his “wildly famous” friend, a “cross between the Artful Dodger and Harry Flashman”. 

On Britishness and patriotism, Brand tells Walliams:

When I’m spending a lot of time in Los Angeles, I consider myself countercultural; I don’t think of myself as an establishment figure. But over here, if I see an image of Her Majesty the Queen, I wince with national pride.

Asked when he sees such an image of the monarch, Brand makes an intimate confession:

I’ve had her tattooed on my inner thigh. And I spend quite a lot of time staring at that.

The two comedians turn to politics; Brand revealing that he has never voted in his life (“It’s gestural politics”) and suggesting an alternative he thinks would be more representative of the electorate:

I’d like to see spirituality brought to the forefront of life. I think that socialism is the politicisation of spirituality. I think we have a cultural obligation to regard the whole as more significant than the individual.

Michael Semple interviews a senior member of the Taliban

The former diplomat and author Michael Semple has interviewed a veteran leader of the Afghan Taliban movement – “one of the most senior surviving Taliban commanders and a confidant of the movement’s leadership”. The identity of his interviewee is protected, to allow him to speak freely about the upper echelons of the movement, but Semple has verified his seniority and cross-checked his account.

Click here to read extracts from the widely-reported interview

Ed Miliband Diary

In the Diary column, the Labour leader Ed Miliband recounts a conversation he had on Wednesday last week at a summer drinks reception organised by the Spectator magazine:

I chat to Nick Robinson, the political editor of the BBC, about what has gone wrong with the banks and the response of politics. I find myself acknowledging that my father would probably have said this is about a conflict between democracy and capitalism.

Miliband’s Diary entry for Thursday:

I switch on the radio. Nick Robinson is on the Today programme saying he has been reliably informed how Ed Miliband sits in his Westminster office musing on how this is now a battle between democracy and capitalism.

Miliband isn’t perturbed:

Now there is a journalist with good sources.

Click here to read Ed Miliband's Diary in full

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

  • Richard Branson on tax, Bob Diamond and a European army
  • Kevin Rudd: The west isn't ready for the Chinese century
  • Jo Brand on the freedoms of punk
  • Jonathan Coe on our obsession with state-of-the-nation novels

New Statesman guest-edit exclusives

Melvyn Bragg’s guest-edit on 11 October 2010 featured “Last Letter”, a newly discovered, previously unpublished poem by Ted Hughes about the night that his wife Sylvia Plath committed suicide.

Jemima Khan’s guest-edit (11 April 2011) featured her agenda-setting interview with the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg – in which he declared “I’m not a punchbag” – as well as Hugh Grant’s undercover interview with a former News of the World executive, which became a worldwide media sensation.

Rowan Williams’s guest-edit on 13 June 2011 dominated the news agenda for several days in response to his bold leader article criticising the coalition. He wrote, “We are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted.”

Richard Dawkins’s guest-edit (19 December 2011) contained the last interview with the writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens.

The magazine is available on newsstands from Thursday 12 July. Single-issue copies can be purchased here

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.