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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What’s the secret of the world’s best-paid sports manager? Ask the Chicago Cubs

Theo Epstein is a star because he values the person as much as the player.

As I write, the Chicago Cubs, perennial underachievers, are three wins away from reaching baseball’s World Series for the first time since 1945. By the time you read this they may have crashed out. Besides, baseball – like cricket – is a language that asks a lot of its translators. So, in writing about the Cubs, I’ll skip the baseball bits. Fortunately, the lessons of the Cubs’ success (they were the outstanding team of 2016, even if they don’t win the World Series) transcend baseball.

To understand the future of sport – and perhaps employment – I recommend a pair of profiles of Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, one published in the New York Times and the other written by David Axelrod (Barack Obama’s strategist) for the New Yorker.

Epstein, 42, has just agreed a contract extension worth $50m over five years, making him the highest-paid non-player in professional sport. There is plenty in the profiles on his whizzy use of data analytics; his algorithmic tests that measure players’ co-ordination (essentially using neuroscience to measure talent); as well as the Cubs’ coaching programme dedicated to mental health and managing stress. Most timely and important of all is Epstein’s emphasis on character. He talks about “scouting the person more than the player”. He wants the right kind of people on the field.

“In the draft room [where the team decides which players to sign], we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player,” he has said. “We ask our scouts to provide three detailed examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field.”

Epstein is well known for empowering a “geek department” inside his baseball teams. Yet instead of perceiving a conflict between science and the human realm, he sees the two as part of the same big picture. He craves players with character who can benefit from the insights of science.

“Character” is a vexed subject inside sport. It sets off uncomfortable associations. Talking too much about character – building it, or even just valuing it – sounds dangerously close to endorsing an amateur ethos. Victorian public schools often celebrated sport explicitly in opposition to intelligence, even achievement. H H Almond, the headmaster of Loretto from 1862, got an A for candour (if nothing else) when he ranked his school’s priorities: “First – Character. Second – Physique. Third – Intelligence.”

The Victorian notion of games cast a long shadow over sport and society in the 20th century. The first phase of ultra-professionalism, in the office as well as on the sports field, was a reaction to Almond’s set of values. The concept of character was recast as a consolation prize, doled out to the class dunce or the twelfth man. Crucially, reformers and nostalgics alike bought in to the historical perception of a separation or conflict between character, intellectual life and sporting achievement.

The Cubs, however, know better. To adapt Almond’s clumsy saying: intelligence and physical skills derive, significantly though not entirely, from character. Character is now being understood not as the destination, but the foundation, even the process.

This is an overdue reassessment. In the loosest terms, I would identify three phases in the development of professional sport. Phase one optimised the body. Sadly, though we are still inching forward, the human body is now reaching the outer wall of virtuosity. All sports will tail off in speed of progress, in terms of pure physicality.

Phase two of modern sport turned to psychology. Realising how hard it is to gain an edge through physical conditioning, everyone suddenly started talking about the mind: the inner game of this, the mental game of that. However, reconfiguring the mental approach of elite athletes – already in their twenties and thirties, with deeply ingrained habits and highly evolved psychological software – is also exceptionally difficult. That is why many top athletes recoil from conventional “sports psychology”; the discipline is oversold and under-sceptical.

We are now entering phase three: the whole person. Sustained high achievement relies on something much deeper than a few sessions with a sports psychologist. So you need the right people in the room.

Coaches in future will be numerate and intellectually unthreatened by the scientific advances that illuminate sport. But the best coaches will never lose sight of a parallel truth: that although science can help us to understand what happens on the sports field, and sometimes how to do it better, it cannot conveniently convert athletes into inert particles, as though it were a ­physical science. Coaching can benefit from ­science but remains an art – one that revolves around understanding and helping people.

In most sports, players and coaches are really in the business of decision-making. The winning team, as Pep Guardiola says, makes more good decisions. Sport, in other words, advances when it trains people to make better decisions. There are now highly evolved analytical techniques for understanding how those decisions influence results. However, the athletes themselves are still people, imperfect and imperfectible. If you want machines, you get dummies.

This month, I was asked to found a new institute of advanced sports studies at the University of Buckingham. The mission is to create undergraduate and postgraduate courses that attend to the entire mindset – critical thinking, ethics and leadership, as well as data analytics and sports science: a kind of “PPE of sport”. After a misleading triple fissure – character, body, mind – sport is starting to put the pieces back together again. That’s why, this month, I’m rooting for Epstein’s Cubs.

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood