In this week's New Statesman: Spring Double Issue

100 page Easter special | Alexander McCall Smith story | Alex Crawford interview | Richard Mabey on

This week's New Statesman is a double issue featuring 100 pages of the finest writing. For this Easter special the NS commissioned the artist David Young to create a bespoke oil painting, based on Anthony van Dyck's original, with a cheeky nod to Raisa the retired police horse.

 

Ed Davey: Cameron's famous veto was a "blip" in Britain's EU relations

In the Politics interview, Ed Davey, the Climate Change Secretary, says he is not discouraged by the Euroscepticism of his Tory colleagues. Davey tells Rafael Behr:

In due course, this government might well turn out to be seen as more constructive, more engaged, indeed, more pro-European than its Labour predecssors.

In what is sure to be taken as a challenge to his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrat says that both David Cameron and foreign secretary William Hague are following a pro-European approach; what Davey deems "the old Heseltine line". 

Alex Crawford interview

Last August during the Libyan civil war, Alex Crawford made the news as well as reported it. The Sky News foreign correspondent was widely praised for her front-line reporting on the Battle of Tripoli, shooting live footage as she rode into the city in a convoy of rebel fighters. In this week’s NS Interview, Crawford tells Samira Shackle that, in doing her job:

You have to be a bit scared, because otherwise you’re not careful enough.

On reporting in patriarchal environments – both close and far from home – Crawford says:

The most difficult thing was operating as a woman in a western newsroom and getting the job. Operating in the dictatorial regimes across the Middle East and North Africa was a breeze in comparison.

South Sudan: photo essay

At the centre of this special Easter issue of the New Statesman is an exclusive photo essay from South Sudan by the photographer Cédric Gerbehaye.

Images from the war-ravaged borderlands in the Nuba Mountains between Sudan and newly independent South Sudan show a people proud to have won their freedom, but ill-equipped to resolve old tensions over oil or to hold their own against Khartoum. Words by the Sudanese journalist Nesrine Malik accompany the pictures.

A religion is born: Tom Holland and Nabeelah Jaffer

Tom Holland’s new book, In the Shadow of the Sword, explores the questionable historical origins of the Quran. Nabeelah Jaffer asks: is he expecting a backlash? Holland responds:

"I think it is one measure of the effect of the [Salman] Rushdie affair in this country that it is now widely taken for granted that writing anything about Islam will make angry men with beards – and probably hooks as well! – come to kill you. Whenever I have told people what the book was about, the word ‘fatwa’ has invariably surfaced."

"That being so, it was probably inevitable that the most eye-catching chapters in the book would be the ones about Islam. But why should any Muslim be offended by what I have to say? . . . Yes, it is sceptical; but no, it is never contemptuous of the longing of people to know God.”

In the Critics: Richard Mabey, Craig Raine, A L Kennedy

In an extended Critics section for Easter, the leading nature writer Richard Mabey offers the second in a series of “seasonal diaries”. The first premonition of spring this year, Mabey writes, "happened on 2 March . . . and, guessing where the action would be, I sped to the vast liminal marshland of north Norfolk"

Our Critic at Large is the poet Craig Raine, who visits the Damien Hirst retrospective at Tate Modern but is not impressed."“Hirst has so few ideas he tends to milk them. The spot paintings are a case in point. Null and repetitive, with the artist apparently unable to decide which pieces work best." Elsewhere in Critcs, the novelist A L Kennedy contributes an essay on her belated embrace of Scottishness.

Also in the magazine

  • In an long-form Science Essay, “Riddle of the wandering stars”, Ian Stewart, emeritus professional of mathematics at the University of Warwick, shows how much the idea of the “clockwork universe” is an illusion. We live in a chaotic solar system, Stewart writes, as he explains and illustrates the complex, riotous maths that guides the motions of the planets.
  • For an Easter treat, we publish “The Director”, a new short story by The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency author, Alexander McCall Smith.
  • The author and journalist John Cornwell asks whether the Catholic Church is heading for the sort of schism that appears to be the destiny of the Anglicans.
  • Mehdi Hasan asks how much longer Sayeeda Warsi will remain as Conservative party chairman as she tells Tories they won't win without black and Asian votes. 
  • In Observations, Abi Miller, an atheist, embarks on an Alpha course, attending a “Holy Spirit Weekend Away”; Samira Shackle meets Felicity Aston, the first woman to ski solo across Antarctica; and the New Statesman’s science columnist, Michael Brooks, explains how a leaking well in Chipping Norton could extend our lives and that of the government.
  • As Britain faces a double-dip recession, George Osborne will have to follow Ted Heath’s 1972 lead and flip his economic policy, David Blanchflower argues in the Economics Column.
  • Edward Platt visits Newcastle on his third English Journey for the New Statesman.

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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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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