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.

Photo: Getty
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Labour's purge: how it works, and what it means

The total number of people removed will be small - but the rancour will linger. 

Labour has just kicked off its first big wave of expulsions, purging many voters from the party’s leadership rolls. Twitter is ablaze with activists who believe they have been kicked out because they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. There are, I'm told, more expulsions to come - what's going on?  Is Labour purging its rolls of Corbyn supporters?

The short answer is “No”.

If that opener feels familiar, it should: I wrote it last year, when the last set of purges kicked off, and may end up using it again next year. Labour has stringent rules about expressing support for other candidates and membership of other parties, which account for the bulk of the expulsions. It also has a code of conduct on abusive language which is also thinning the rolls, with supporters of both candidates being kicked off. 

Although the party is in significantly better financial shape than last year, it still is running a skeleton staff and is recovering from an expensive contest (in this case, to keep Britain in the European Union). The compliance unit itself remains small, so once again people from across the party staff have been dragooned in.

The process this year is pretty much the same: Labour party headquarters doesn’t have any bespoke software to match its voters against a long list of candidates in local elections, compiled last year and added to the list of candidates that stood against Labour in the 2016 local and devolved elections, plus a large backlog of complaints from activists.

It’s that backlog that is behind many of the highest-profile and most controversial examples. Last year, in one complaint that was not upheld, a local member was reported to the Compliance Unit for their failure to attend their local party’s annual barbecue. The mood in Labour, in the country and at Westminster, is significantly more bitter this summer than last and the complaints more personal. Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bfawu, the bakers’ union, one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters in the trade union movement, has been expelled, reported for tweets which included the use of the word “traitors” to refer to Labour opponents of Corbyn.  Jon Will Chambers, former bag carrier to Stella Creasy, and a vocal Corbyn critic on Twitter, has been kicked out for using a “Theresa May” twibbon to indicate his preference for May over Andrea Leadsom, in contravention of the party’s rules.

Both activities breach the letter of the party’s rules although you can (and people will) make good arguments against empowering other people to comb through the social media profiles of their opponents for reasons to dob them in.  (In both cases, I wouldn’t be shocked if both complaints were struck down on appeal)

I would be frankly astonished if Corbyn’s margin of victory – or defeat, as unlikely as that remains in my view – isn’t significantly bigger than the number of people who are barred from voting, which will include supporters of both candidates, as well as a number of duplicates (some people who paid £25 were in fact members before the freeze date, others are affliated trade unionists, and so on). 

What is unarguably more significant, as one party staffer reflected is, “the complaints are nastier now [than last year]”. More and more of the messages to compliance are firmly in what you might call “the barbecue category” – they are obviously groundless and based on personal animosity. That doesn’t feel like the basis of a party that is ready to unite at any level. Publicly and privately, most people are still talking down the chances of a split. It may prove impossible to avoid.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.