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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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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