In this week's New Statesman: Putin's reign of terror

Oliver Bullough reports from Chechnya. PLUS: A Poetry Special in The Critics.

Oliver Bullough: Far beyond Moscow

In this week’s cover story, Oliver Bullough authors a sweeping piece from Chechnya, the “flat, tawny grasslands” situated at the heart of Putin’s “trail of fear and repression”. It was here, in this year’s presidential election, that Vladimir Putin swept more than 99 per cent of the vote. Bullough writes:

In the presidential election on 4 March this year, this scrubby patch of steppe soared above not only the rest of Chechnya, but the whole of the Russian Federation. Here, Vladimir Putin achieved his single best result in the country – 99.89 per cent. Of 28,616 votes cast, Putin won 28,584. No other candidate got anything higher than single figures, and had there not been nine spoiled ballots, Putin would have breached the 99.9 per cent mark.

Bullough - author of Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus — reveals the story of a region with conflicting narratives: both of economic growth and restored nationalism under Putin’s premiership, but also a “more sinister story too: of arbitrary detention, of murder and of fear.”

“It is Putin’s Russia in microcosm”, writes Bullough.

 

Graham Brady: “I owe my career to grammar school”

In The Politics Interview this week, our online editor Caroline Crampton sits down with Graham Brady, official host of the recent “Friends of Grammar Schools” reception at the House of Commons, chair of the Conservative Party’s influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs and a powerful campaigner for more selection in state education.

Brady defends his stance on grammar schools despite the critical backlash again him and fellow Tories who support selective education — the people who David Cameron called “inverse class warriors” in 2007. In Brady’s own words:

“The more I’ve been involved in the debate about the selective system, the more it becomes clear to me that, for a great many people discussing this issue, [they] are doing so in a time warp – they are debating the selective system as it was 40 years ago . . . It’s not just the quality of the grammar schools, it’s the outstanding quality of the [non-selective] high schools as well which I think brings us closer to a genuine selective system.”

Crampton writes that Brady stands by his argument that academic selection in schools is “an unequivocal good” despite powerful counterarguments: that it benefits only a small pool, that it privileges the middle class over the working poor. He argues that the solution to underperformance among disadvantaged children is an education system with more selection, not less.

“In my view, it’s about the quality of the other schools. There’s something tragically British in the way we approached this when the postwar settlement was implemented. If the weakness was the secondary moderns, it was tragic that what we did was abolish most of the grammar schools rather than improve the quality of the secondary moderns . . .

“The logic of what the government is doing with education – and I very strongly endorse it – is actually to transfer the power and the choice away from the government and give it far more genuinely to communities and parents to choose the kind of schools they want.” He pauses. “It’s in that context that it is more perverse than ever that the government then prohibits [one of the choices].”

 

Rafael Behr: Unlike Brown, Balls knows he can’t fulfill his ambition by plotting

In the Politics Column this week, Rafael Behr take a close look at the relationship between “the two Eds” — the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, and his shadow chancellor, Ed Balls. Despite frequent comparisons with the “machinations” that undermined Tony Blair’s tenancy, Behr asserts that Balls has everything to lose by “plotting alone”.

Balls has tested his leadership appeal in an election and lost. For now, his ambitions are limited to becoming chancellor and, confident though he might be of his intellectual primacy, he knows that to sabotage Miliband’s bid for No 10 would be to rob himself of the Treasury.

Despite a 20-year working partnership, differences between the two still “niggle”, especially on points of economic idealism.

Balls . . . is no evangelist for Miliband’s signature economic theme – “responsible capitalism”. The shadow chancellor is not by nature a moral philosopher. He stares down lofty abstractions with a cold, utilitarian eye trained in the Treasury. He won’t put his political muscle behind the Big Idea until he knows what it involves in practice.

In The Critics: A poetry special

In The Critics this week, Sophie Elmhirst reaffirms the New Statesman’s commitment to publishing original verse. Since the NS was founded in 1913, many of the finest poets in the English language have had their work published in its pages. “Poetry in Britain,” she writes, “is rich, energetic and varied.”

The New Statesman is again doing its bit to ensure that some of that energy finds its way into print. In an accompanying opinion piece, Fiona Sampson, the author of Beyond the Lyric: a Map of Contemporary British Poetry, takes the measure of the contemporary poetry scene. “British poetry is, as it has been for a very long time, cantankerous, quarrelsome, fascinating and extraordinary,” Sampson writes. Her essay is followed by original work by Samuel Beckett, James Lasdun, Rachel Boast, Azfa Ali and John Burnside.

Our Critic at Large this week is Alwyn W Turner, who considers the enduring charm of the BBC’s best-known baddies – the Daleks. Anticipating their return in a new series of Doctor Who, Turner examines the way the Daleks, when they first appeared on TV screens in the mid-1960s, drew on fears of Nazi occupation. Now, however, the “sigh of Daleks in London . . . evoke[s] the Swinging Sixties”.

Elsewhere in The Critics: Rachel Cooke on British crime drama and BBC1’s Good Cop; Ryan Gilbey on David Robert Mitchell’s debut feature, The Myth of the American Sleepover; Antonia Quirke is bored by a radio interview with the composer John Williams; Alexandra Coghlan goes to the Proms; and Will Self discovers that Las Vegas has become child-friendly.

 

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

For Observations, Jonathan Wynne-Jones visits the Chicago neighbourhood where Barack Obama began his political career. Alex Hern reflects on Neil Armstrong and the future of space exploration. Michael Brooks reports on climate change and protecting wildlife. PLUS: Jonathan Derbyshire on Niall Ferguson Inc., Nelson Jones on atheism, and our columnist Martha Gill on the psychology of decision-making.

In Books, Daniel Swift reviews Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, D T Max’s biography of the late David Foster Wallace. What is most moving in Max’s book, Swift writes, is the “spectacle of care . . . [Wallace] cared about writing because he believed in its offer of transcendence, community and touch.”

John Sutherland also reviews Miriam Gross’s memoir An Almost English Life; Rebecca Abrams reads Naomi Alderman’s novel The Liars’ Gospel; David Shariatmadari reviews The Pursuit of the Nazi Mind by Daniel Pick; and Robert Ronsson explores the secret life of the Glaswegian socialist and publisher John Wheatley.

All this and more in this week's New Statesman, on newsstands around the country and available for purchase here

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Don't blame Jeremy Corbyn - polls show only Tory voters could have kept us in the EU

Despite deep divisions in the Labour Party, it's the Tory voters who let Remain down. 

The Labour Party was already having enough difficulty keeping itself together without a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union coming along. The party was reeling from the election of a leader who was not only well to the left of most of his parliamentary colleagues but also did not obviously have the personal skills needed to do the job. However, the referendum on the EU compounded the party’s difficulties by exposing another fissure - between its traditional white working class supporters and its public sector socially liberal middle class ones (including the vast bulk of its parliamentary party). In combination the two divisions threaten to tear the party part.

Elections in the UK are usually about the left and right of politics, whether the government should do a little more or a little less. On this Labour’s working and middle class supporters tend to be at one with each other. They all, albeit to varying degrees, want the state to do more, to curb the excesses of the capitalist market and produce more equitable outcomes. So long as political conflict focuses on this issue they are a viable electoral coalition.

However, the EU referendum was not about the size and the role of the British state. It was about what Britain’s relationship should be with an intergovernmental organisation that epitomises one of the major social and economic phenomena of our time, globalisation. This phenomenon has had significant economic and cultural consequences, including, not least, substantial flows of migrants in search of work in an internationalised labour market. 

Young graduates vs working class pensioners

Among young university graduates this development is regarded as an opportunity rather than a problem. It is the kind of world in which they have grown up. They have acquired the skills required to compete in the global market place. Indeed, they may well become migrants themselves, deploying their valued skills in Berlin or Barcelona. Meanwhile the experience of university, in which international students are often commonplace, has led them to embrace the cultural diversity that immigration brings.

This world looks very different to many an older white working class voter, who left school at the earliest possible opportunity. They are used to a world in which everyone speaks the same language and shares a common set of cultural values.  As a result, the relatively high levels of immigration that the UK has experienced in recent years is regarded as a threat. They want back the country in which they grew up and in which they once felt comfortable. Meanwhile, they suspect that the inflow of migrants helps explain why they have seen little if any increase in their living standards.

With questions of immigration and identity at its core, the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU inevitably cut across Labour’s electoral coalition. Those with different educational experiences voted very differently. According to a large poll conducted on polling day by Lord Ashcroft, graduates and those still in education voted in favour of remaining in the EU by 59 per cent to 41 per cent, while those whose educational experience did not extend beyond secondary school voted by 65 per cent to 35 per cent to leave. Similarly, in their on the day exercise YouGov found that graduates voted in favour of Remain by 68 per cent to 32 per cent, while those whose highest qualification is a GCSE or its equivalent voted by 70 per cent to 30 per cent in favour of Leave. The party’s middle class supporters were in a very different place on this issue than their more working class ones.

White voters vs ethnic minorities

Just to compound Labour’s difficulties, there was a clear ethnic division in the referendum too. Those from an ethnic minority background, who have never shown much inclination to back UKIP, seemingly found the Leave side’s emphasis on reducing immigration relatively unattractive. Lord Ashcroft estimates that only 32 per cent of those from an ethnic minority background voted to Leave, compared with 53 per cent of those who regard themselves as ‘white’. Consequently, another part of Labour’s electoral coalition, Britain’s ethnic minority population, were also on the other side of the referendum divide from the party’s traditional white working class base.

Against this backdrop it was, in truth, hardly surprising that the highest level of support for Leave was in predominantly working class local authority areas in the North and Midlands of England where Labour tends to be relatively strong.  In the 2014 European Parliament election, Labour won on average 28 per cent of the vote in those local authority areas where less than 22 per cent have a degree, whereas the party won just 20 per cent in areas where more than 32 per cent are graduates. Now in the referendum, on average Leave won as much as 64 per cent of the vote in those places that fall into the former group, but as little as 42 per cent in the latter. A t the same time, no less than 71 of the 90 local authority areas in England and Wales with fewest graduates are in the North of England and the Midlands, whereas just 13 of the 83 areas with most graduates do so.

In short, the principal explanation for the fact that Leave did so well in the West Midlands (59 per cent), the East Midlands (59 per cent), the North East (58 per cent), and in Yorkshire & Humberside (58 per cent) in particular lies in the demography of Leave support and of those regions rather than in any particular failings on the part of the Labour party. Indeed, once we have taken the demographic character of an area into account, if anything Remain tended to do rather better the stronger Labour was locally. For example, amongst those council areas in England and Wales with relatively few graduates Leave won 62 per cent of the vote on average in places where Labour won over 25 per cent of the vote in 2014, compared with 67 per cent where Labour won less than 15 per cent.

Meanwhile, it was, of course, the other parts of its coalition, the socially liberal middle class and the country’s ethnic minority population, that ensured that London was the one part of England and Wales that did vote decisively in favour of remaining  (by 60 per cent to 40 per cent).  No less than 24 of the 33 council areas in the capital have a population in which over 32 per cent are graduates, while no less than 27 of the 41 most ethnically diverse parts of England and Wales are located in the capital. Again demography was crucial.

Corbyn not to blame

Against this backdrop it was hardly surprising that across Britain as a whole only around two-thirds (63 per cent according to Lord Ashcroft, 65 per cent as estimated by YouGov) of those who voted Labour in 2015 voted to remain in the EU. The party was never likely to achieve much more than this. And at least the party’s coalition did not fracture as badly as the one that backed David Cameron a year ago; well under half (42 per cent according to Lord Ashcroft, 39 per cent, YouGov) of those who voted Conservative in 2015 voted to remain. The real source of the Remain side’s difficulties was the failure of David Cameron to bring his own voters on board.

Yet it is Jeremy Corbyn who is taking the blame for the inside much of the Labour party for the Remain side’s failure, as the party’s pre-existing division about his leadership interacts with the division made manifest by the referendum. Of course, MPs are entitled to make their own judgement about Mr Corbyn’s capabilities for the job, a judgement that his performance in the referendum appears to have reinforced and which they may feel has become more pressing given that the outcome of the referendum makes an early general election more likely. But in truth there is little in the pattern of the results of the referendum to suggest that Mr Corbyn was personally responsible for Remain’s defeat. The referendum outcome looks more like a pretext for `an attempt to secure Mr Corbyn’s removal than a reason.

However, the referendum does raise questions for all wings of the Labour party, including above all its parliamentary party in which middle class graduates predominate. As we have argued before, unless the party can persuade the less well-off in Britain that social democracy can tame the tiger of globalised capitalism so that their interests and concerns – cultural as well as economic – can be met, it is at risk of losing their support. We have already in Scotland how the politics of identity can cause much of Labour’s working class support to melt away, and there is a risk that a similar politics could have the same effect in England should UKIP be able to sustain a post-referendum purpose and appeal. 

Certainly, there was little in the Remain side’s case – as espoused by Labour as well as the Conservatives – that met those concerns. There was, in truth, no answer on how to deal with immigration, while there was little attempt to explain how the UK’s membership of the EU could be used to advance the economic interests of the less well of. Instead the only reason offered for voting to remain was the allegedly deleterious consequences of leaving. Telling working class people that they have to put up with the consequences of globalisation is simply not good enough. Labour needs to take note – whoever leads it.
            
John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University and a columnist for IPPR’s journal Juncture