In this week's New Statesman: Islamophobia on trial

China's rise, America's fall | Hari Kunzru dances to Kraftwerk | US Writing Special

Breivik's paranoid fantasies

As the trial of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik begins, the New Statesman reflects on the wider ideology, and hatred of multiculturalism, that informed his actions. Read the New Statesman's leader, "The most shocking thing about Breivik is how many agree with his opinions", here.

Without the declaration that Breivik is too insane to stand trial, Daniel Trilling, the author of the forthcoming Bloody Nasty People: the Rise of Britain’s Far Right, writes that we’re forced to ask where such hate doctrine in Europe and the US originates from:

To think that every cultural conservative is a secret extremist or a Breivik-style killer-in-waiting would be [a] paranoid fantasy. But the point about far-right ideology is that it is parasitical on the mainstream. 

The fascism of the 1920s and 1930s succeeded because it played on wider fears, winning the support of those who would never have thought of themselves as “extremists”. The Nazis used anti-Semitism because it already existed in German society. Their successors today use Islamophobia because it already exists in our societies. From a tiny grain of truth – the threat of Islamist terror – has been spun a whole mythology about the imminent collapse of western civilisation and, whether they realise it or not, conservative ideologues are helping spread the poison that enables the far right to grow. 

Elsewhere in the magazine, Peter Wilby considers Islamophobia’s insidious printed form, referring to “studies [that] suggest more than two-thirds of British press stories about Muslims portray them as a threat to British values.”

China's rise, America's fall

The financial crisis has seen the global economy turned on its head. In back-to-back essays this week, the New Statesman charts the economic rise of China against the US’s concurrent decline. 

In “The beginning of a new world order”, the journalist and co-founder of the think tank Demos, Martin Jacques, demonstrates how, as we emerge from the wreckage of the global recession, China - rather than America - is set to dominate through both soft and hard power.

Alongside this, Edward Luce, the author of Time to Start Thinking: America and the Spectre of Decline, reveals, from his extraordinary access to Pentagon officials, that even they admit the era of US global dominance is over.

Hari Kunzru dances to Kraftwerk

On 15 April, the novelist Hari Kunzru joined 449 neophiliacs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for one of an eight-night retrospective performance by Kraftwerk, “generally reckoned to be the most influential pop musicians of the past 30 years”. 

Kunzru reconsiders the German electronic outfit’s “rigorous aesthetic modernism” – “They seem to celebrate post-war Europe as perhaps the ultimate “nonplace”, banal but somehow perfected, and sing out its banality as a kind of transcendent pop joy” – and describes the joy instilled in him last Sunday by these four now middle-aged men:

We are experiencing the aural equivalent of Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International, a towering symbol of the New. And we are finding the New quite funky, thank you. The auditorium is soon filled with 450 very lucky New Yorkers succumbing to the sexual discipline of the disco, bodies jerking masochistically to relentless, synthetic, industrial beats.

In the Critics

The bulk of the Critics section this week is devoted to an American writing special. Mark Greif and Heidi Julavits, editors from two of the US’s leading literary periodicals, n+1 and the Believer, examine the recent flourishing of “little magazines” across the Atlantic. “The field of US small magazines has grown in the past few years,” Greif writes – especially magazines perched at the intersection of politics and culture. “The prospects for left-wing cultural life seem more generous in 2012. Maybe that’s because the ethos that you should make art and thought, not to feel like an artist, but because you have something to say, has found an opening in history again.” Julavits is slightly more pessimistic about the prospects for long-form literary and cultural journalism: “No matter how well (or not well) something might be written, the new challenge is this: how much time a reader will read any text before his or her brain flips to another text.”

Also in this US Writing Special, Sophie Elmhirst profiles Jonathan Safran Foer; the novelist and critic Ben Marcus asks why American writers today are obsessed with apocalypse; Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Shalom Auslander about his novel Hope: A Tragedy, in which the protagonist discovers an elderly Anne Frank living in his attic in upstate New York; Olivia Laing reviews The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal, a contribution to the debate raging in the US now about “how fictional non-fiction is allowed to be” and Jonathan Derbyshire revisits Michael Harrington’s book The Other America: Poverty in the United States on the 50th anniversary of its publication. 

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus Denis MacShane on the implications for the democratic left if François Hollande is victorious in the French presidential election, Nicholas Wapshott argues that it’s not yet time to write off Mitt Romney, and Mehrezia Labidi, a speaker in Tunisia’s parliament, tells Mehdi Hasan how Islam, feminism and democracy are compatible.


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

Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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Conservative disunity is not all good news for Labour

The Tory leadership election could squeeze Labour out of the conversation, just like Blair and Brown did to the Tories.

The first test of opposition politics is relevance. Other key yardsticks - political plausibility, economic credibility, setting the agenda and developing a governing vision - all matter greatly. But making yourself a central part of the relentless cycle of daily politics, the terms of which are generally set by the governing party, is the first hurdle. It matters not whether you sign up to new politics or old: be relevant or wither. 

The issue of relevance is becoming a pressing issue for Labour. Take George Osborne’s favoured issue of the so-called national living wage.  Leave to one side the rights, wrongs and nuances of the policy and just consider the basic political dynamic it creates.  Osborne has, quite deliberately, set up a rolling five year argument over a steadily rising wage floor. On one side, is the Chancellor arguing that his policy is the right thing for Britain’s ranks of low paid workers. Pitted against him are ranks of chief executives of low-paying big business. With each impending hike they will holler at Osborne to go no further and the media will happily amplify the row. In response the Chancellor will quietly smile.

Sure, on occasions this will be uncomfortable stance for Mr Osborne (and if the economy takes a downward turn then his pledge will become incredible; there are always big risks with bold strokes).  Yet the dominant argument between the Conservatives and big business leaves Labour largely voiceless on an issue which for generations it has viewed as its own.

We may well see a similar dynamic in relation to the new national infrastructure commission – another idea that Osborne has plundered form Labour’s 2015 manifesto. It’s far too early to say what will come of its work looking at proposals for major new transport and energy projects (though those asserting it will just be a talking shop would do well not to under-estimate Andrew Adonis, its first Chair). But there is one thing we can already be confident about: the waves of argument it will generate between Osborne’s activist commissioners and various voices of conservatism. Every big infrastructure proposal will have noisy opponents, many residing on the right of British politics. On the issue of the future of the nation’s infrastructure – another touchstone theme for Labour – the opposition may struggle to get heard amid the din.

Or take the different and, for the government, highly exposing issue of cuts to tax credits. Here the emerging shape of the debate is between Osborne on one side and the Sun, Boris Johnson, various independent minded Conservative voices and economic think-tanks on the other. Labour will, of course, repeatedly and passionately condemn these cuts. But so have plenty of others and, for now at least, they are more colourful or credible (or both).  

The risk for the opposition is that a new rhythm of politics is established. Where the ideological undercurrent of the government steers it too far right, other voices not least those within the Conservative family - moderates and free-spirits emboldened by Labour’s current weakness; those with an eye on the forthcoming Tory leadership contest – get reported.  Where Osborne consciously decides to tack to the centre, the resulting rows will be between him and the generally Conservative supporting interests he upsets. Meanwhile, Labour is left struggling for air.

None of which is to say there are no paths back to relevance. There are all sorts of charges against the current government that, on the right issues, could be deployed - incompetence, complacency, inequity – by an effective opposition.  Nor is the elixir of relevance for a new opposition hard to divine: a distinct but plausible critique, forensic and timely research, and a credible and clear voice to deliver the message. But as yet we haven’t heard much of it.

Even in the best of times being in opposition is an enervating existence. Those out of power rarely get to set the terms of trade, even if they often like to tell themselves they can. Under Ed Miliband Labour had to strain – sometimes taking big risks - to establish its relevance in a novel era defined by the shifting dynamics of coalition politics. This time around Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is up against a Chancellor willing to take risks and pick big fights: often with traditional Tory foes such as welfare claimants; but sometimes with people on his own side.  It’s also a new and challenging context. And one which Labour urgently needs to come to terms with.   

Gavin Kelly is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation