This week's New Statesman: The new patriotism

What the Olympics tell us about modern Britain + Fiction special

The Olympic Afterglow by Ed Smith

In this week’s New Statesman cover story, the former England cricketer and NS columnist, Ed Smith, considers how the Olympics can “reboot” Great Britain. Sceptics, writes Smith, once argued that the Games have become detached from sport; in which case “the logic follows that Britain must have succeeded at something much more important”.

While “[a]rguing that a sports tournament could heal the scars [of last summer’s riots] sounds quixotic,” the Olympics has provided the “surface and the pretext . . . the opportunity to reboot” the capital – or even the country. One logic, at least, has been left underexplored:
Team GB could not have won many of its medals without the support of the state. Only a few sports can nurture elite athletes (and their coaches, equipment and nutritionists) in a free market; most require handouts from the taxpayer.

And Smith draws a parallel between the success of the Olympic champion Mo Farah and that of London itself, host city of the Games:

[C]oldly calculating, London should be able to stage a great Games, just as Farah was favourite to win the 10,000 metres. But somehow that only exacerbated the tension. It was hard, watching the race, not to imagine all the ways in which it could go wrong . . . We had all imagined similarly disastrous scenarios for the whole Games . . . Farah’s victory brought to life what we had hoped these Olympics would be about.

David Blanchflower: The recession deniers are wrong. Build now!

Following the Q2 reports of a 0.7 per cent drop in GDP – confirmation that Britain is in a double-dip recession – the New Statesman’s economics editor, David Blanchflower, predicts growth for the year of below -1 per cent: “a long way from the 2.8 per cent predicted for 2012 by the Office for Budget Responsibility in its cloud-cuckoo-land ‘emergency’ Budget forecast of June 2010”.

The data from the quarter, writes Blanchflower, points to “a collapse in construction, driven by the coalition’s decision to kill off public investment”. Data from the ONS and RICS survey show no sign of private-sector recovery to offset the cuts, “leaving little optimism for recovery in the near future.”

Employment data is also consistent with this trend. Blanchflower notes, through comparison of the UK and US’s labour markets of the last two years, that “in job-creation terms, Barack Obama and his Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, easily beat Cameron and Osborne”.

Summer fiction special with a new short story by Adam Foulds

This week’s Critics opens with “A kindness”, a new short story about hope, charity and a chance encounter in Britain’s bleak winter by Adam Foulds, the award-winning author of 2009’s The Quickening Maze.

Elsewhere in this Fiction special, Leo Robson, the NS’s lead fiction reviewer, explores the lofty ambitions of first-time novelists; Claire Lowdon is only faintly amused by Nicola Barker’s Man Booker Prize-longlisted novel, The Yips; Jonathan Coe admires Javier Marías’s attempts to reimagine the novel and Sophie Elmhirst meets the essayist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson

The Quiet Australian: Tim Soutphommasane

Ed Miliband’s new political guru, Tim Soutphommasane, is the subject of this week’s NS Profile. Speaking to George Eaton, Soutphommasane explains why “liberal patriotism” holds the key to Labour’s success at the next election:

“The task of rebuilding and reshaping the British economy after the financial crisis and after austerity is something that could be a patriotic project.”

He argues that the success of the Olympics and the praise for Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony is an opportunity for Ed Miliband to redefine the debate over national identity:

“Sometimes political parties can let these moments do the work for them. But the patriotic goodwill generated by the Olympics does provide an opportunity for Labour. It is almost as though Boyle has managed to pave the way for a new chapter of British nation-building.”

Elsewhere in the magazine

  • Peter Wilby on Lords reform, work-life balance and snacking on salad in First Thoughts

  • In the Politics Column Rafael Behr explores whether the coalition is tearing itself apart 

  • In the NS Essay, Malcolm Beith reports from the vicious drug war in Mexico

  • John Burnside on Berlin’s wild wasteland in the Nature column

 

All this and more in this week's issue of the New Statesman, coverdated 13 August 2012, and available on newsstands around the country from today or for purchase online here

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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Two referendums have revived the Tories and undone Labour

The Scottish vote enabled the Conservatives' rebirth as the party of the Union; the Brexit vote has gifted Theresa May a project to reunite a fragmented right.

In the final week of the Scottish independence referendum campaign, as the Union appeared in peril, David Cameron pleaded with voters to punish his party rather than Scotland. “If you are fed up with the effing Tories, give them a kick,” he said. Cameron’s language reflected a settled view: the Conservatives were irredeemably loathed by Scots. For nearly two decades, the party had no more than one MP north of the border. Changing the party’s name for devolved contests was discussed.

Since becoming Conservative leader, Theresa May has pursued a hard – she prefers “clean” – Brexit strategy that Scots voted against and the Conservatives have achieved a UK-wide poll lead of 20 points.

Yet rather than regressing, the Scottish Conservatives have resurged. On 22 April, a Panelbase poll put them on 33 per cent in Scotland (a rise of 18 points since 2015). A favoured Labour barb used to be that there were more pandas (two) in Scotland than Tory MPs (one). The poll would leave the Tories with 12 seats and Corbyn’s party with none. Tory aides confess that they were surprised by the figures but declare there are “no limits to our ambitions” in Scotland.

The roots of this recovery lie in the 2014 independence referendum. The vote, and the SNP’s subsequent landslide victory in the 2015 general election, realigned Scottish politics along unionist and nationalist lines. Led by Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservatives have ably exploited the opportunity. “We said No. We meant it,” the party’s official slogan declares of Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for a second referendum. Under Ruth Davidson, the Tories have already become the official opposition at Holyrood.

Labour is torn between retaining unionists and winning back nationalists. It has been punished for its equivocation, as it is being punished over its confused response to Brexit. In April 2016, the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, said that it was “not inconceivable” that she could back independence if the UK voted to leave the EU (and earlier suggested that MPs and MSPs could be given a free vote). Jeremy Corbyn recently stated that he was “absolutely fine” with a second referendum being held.

“For us it’s a badge of honour but there are some people in Scottish Labour who are quite queasy about that word [unionist] and I think Jeremy Corbyn would be very queasy about it,” Adam Tomkins, a Conservative MSP for Glasgow and public law professor, told me. “Don’t forget the Northern Ireland dimension; we’ve all seen the photos of him rubbing shoulders with leading republicans. The Scottish Union is very different to the Irish Union but the word migrates.”

The irony is that Corbyn allies believed his anti-austerity, anti-Trident platform would allow Labour to recover in Scotland. Yet the pre-eminence of the national question has left it in a political no-man’s land.

In contrast to the rest of the UK, Scots backed Remain by 62 per cent to 38 per cent. Far from protecting EU membership, as David Cameron had promised in the referendum campaign, the preservation of the Union now threatened it. Theresa May has since yielded no ground, denying Scotland both a second independence referendum on terms dictated by the SNP and single market membership. But polls show no rise in support for independence.

Conservative aides believe that Sturgeon miscalculated by immediately raising the prospect of a second referendum following the Leave vote last June. Families and communities were riven by the 2014 contest. Most had little desire to disrupt the uneasy peace that has prevailed since.

Nor are the politics of Brexit as uncomplicated as some assume. Thirty-six per cent of SNP supporters voted Leave and more than a third of this bloc have since turned against independence. As elsewhere, some Remainers have accepted the result and fear the instability that secession would cause. Scotland’s trade with the UK is worth four times as much as that with the EU. Davidson, who was one of the most forceful advocates for Remain, says that pursuing independence to counter the effects of Brexit would be “stubbing your toe to then amputate your foot”.

Theresa May, who spoke of the “precious” Union when she became Prime Minister, has devoted great attention to Scotland. Cabinet ministers are instructed to develop a “Scottish plan” when they formulate policy; buildings funded by the UK government now bear its insignia. Davidson’s influence was crucial to May’s decision to retain the 0.7 per cent foreign aid commitment – an emblem of compassionate conservatism.

After a decade of SNP rule, Tory aides believe that their rival’s poor domestic record, most notably on education, is “catching up with them”. More than a year has elapsed since the Scottish Parliament passed new legislation. “We’ve got a government that simply isn’t very interested in governing,” Tomkins said. “I thought that Nicola [Sturgeon] would change that. I was wrong.” What preoccupies the SNP is the constitutional question.

Shortly after the remarkable Scottish polls, a new survey showed the Tories on course to win the most seats in Wales for the first time since 1859. For some former Labour supporters, voting Ukip is proving a gateway drug to voting Conservative.

Two referendums have now realigned politics in the Tories’ favour. The Scottish vote enabled their rebirth as the party of the Union; the Brexit vote has gifted May a project to reunite a fragmented right.

Before the 2015 general election, Labour derided the Tories as a southern English force unworthy of their official name: the Conservative and Unionist Party. Partly through accident and partly through design, May and Davidson are now reclaiming it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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