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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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