In this week’s New Statesman: Christmas Special

Richard Dawkins on the King James Bible | Ricky Gervais interview | Russell Brand on WikiLeaks.

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This week's New Statesman is a Christmas special, with 100 pages of the finest writing to see you through the festive period. The highlights include Richard Dawkins on why, despite his atheism, he reveres the King James Bible, an interview with The xx, acclaimed winners of this year's Mercury Prize, and Russell Brand on why WikiLeaks shows our leaders to be "ham-fisted chumps". Elsewhere, Sophie Elmhirst talks to Ricky Gervais, who discusses fame, elitism, and why he's an atheist and dislikes religious people ("The burden of proof is on you! You started it!").

Also this week, in the Christmas Essay, Dominic Sandbrook profiles Oliver Cromwell and declares him "the greatest man in our history, warts and all", Arianna Huffington tells us why the Tea Party is here to stay and Samira Shackle and myself review the most turbulent political year in decades.

All this, plus our regular array of columnists and writers. Don't miss John Pilger on why Julian Assange deserves our protection, Mehdi Hasan on why the coalition is a Tory government in all but name, David Blanchflower on what Oxbridge can learn from the US and Laurie Penny on how Twitter has changed dissent for ever.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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John McDonnell praises New Labour as he enters conciliatory mode

The shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present by crediting the 1997 government. 

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, John McDonnell has been on a mission to reinvent himself as a kinder, gentler politician. He hasn’t always succeeded. In July, the shadow chancellor declared of rebel MPs: “As plotters they were fucking useless”.

But in his Labour conference speech, Corbyn’s closest ally was firmly in conciliatory mode. McDonnell thanked Owen Smith for his part in defeating the Personal Independence Payment cuts. He praised Caroline Flint, with whom he has clashed, for her amendment to the financial bill on corporate tax transparency. Jonathan Reynolds, who will soon return to the frontbench, was credited for the “patriots pay their taxes” campaign (the latter two not mentioned in the original text).

McDonnell’s ecunmenicism didn’t end here. The 1997 Labour government, against which he and Corbyn so often defined themselves, was praised for its introduction of the minimum wage (though McDonnell couldn’t quite bring himself to mention Tony Blair). Promising a “real Living Wage” of around £10 per hour, the shadow chancellor sought to build a bridge between the past and the present. Though he couldn’t resist adding some red water as he closed: “In this party you no longer have to whisper it, it's called socialism. Solidarity!”

As a rebuke to those who accuse him of seeking power in the party, not the country, McDonnell spoke relentlessly of what the next Labour “government” would do. He promised a £250bn National Investment Bank, a “Right to Own” for employees, the repeal of the Trade Union Act and declared himself “interested” in the potential of a Universal Basic Income. It was a decidedly wonkish speech, free of the attack lines and jokes that others serve up.

One of the more striking passages was on McDonnell’s personal story (a recurring feature of Labour speeches since Sadiq Khan’s mayoral victory). “I was born in the city [Liverpool], not far from here,” he recalled. “My dad was a Liverpool docker and my mum was a cleaner who then served behind the counter at British Homes Stores for 30 years. I was part of the 1960's generation.  We lived in what sociological studies have described as some of the worst housing conditions that exist within this country. We just called it home.”

In his peroration, he declared: “In the birthplace of John Lennon, it falls to us to inspire people to imagine.” Most Labour MPs believe that a government led by Corbyn and McDonnell will remain just that: imaginary. “You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one,” the shadow chancellor could have countered. With his praise for New Labour, he began the work of forging his party’s own brotherhood of man.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.