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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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