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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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