Jemima Khan to guest-edit the New Statesman

A free speech special issue featuring contributions from Julian Assange, Anish Kapoor, Oliver Stone,

The human rights campaigner Jemima Khan will be guest-editing the New Statesman this week for a special issue focusing on freedom of information and free speech. Inside the 72-page issue, Khan has interviewed the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who speaks candidly about life in the coalition government, his relationship with David Cameron and the pain of being hated.

A wide range of writers have been commissioned, from Tony Benn – who outlines how the information age has enabled the Arab revolts – to the Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins, whose witty and provocative article takes the press to task. Another Oscar winner, Oliver Stone – the director of JFK, Nixon and W – gives his verdict on the US president, Barack Obama.

There's an exclusive article by Julian Assange, who argues that WikiLeaks follows in the best traditions of the radical press. He will also be speaking at the sold-out New Statesman/Frontline Club debate on whistleblowing in London on Saturday 9 April.

Alongside columns by the comedian Russell Brand, the singer Jarvis Cocker and the England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, the issue features reportage on New Orleans from James Fox, a hard-hitting essay on the dangers of foreign "over-intervention" by the Conservative MP Rory Stewart and a condemnation of Pakistan's blasphemy laws by the Lahore-based human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, said: "I asked Jemima Khan to guest-edit the New Statesman because I admired her work as a human rights activist in Pakistan and her support for freedom of information.

"We met for a Marmite-and-toast breakfast in January and have been planning the issue ever since. Her enthusiasm and diligence have delighted the whole team. The issue has many surprises and some first-rate journalism, as well as outstanding bespoke artwork, as will be revealed on Thursday."

Jemima Khan, writer and campaigner, said: "I am very grateful to Jason for inviting me to guest-edit this week's issue of the New Statesman. I am a huge fan of the magazine. My task was to bring in new writers – a daunting one, as New Statesman regulars include some of my favourite writers, such as my fellow WikiLeaks supporter John Pilger, my favourite Question Time panellist, Mehdi Hasan, and the philosopher John Gray. I had great fun working with the NS team and enlisting the help of writers who express my own thoughts but with more eloquence, clarity or wit."

Among the contributors in this special issue of the New Statesman are: Simon Pegg, Anish Kapoor, Damien Hirst, Alain de Botton, Helena Kennedy, Daisy Donovan, Mariella Frostrup, John Pilger, A A Gill and Karma Nabulsi.

The issue, cover-dated 11 April, will be on sale in London on Thursday 7 April and in the rest of the country from Friday 8 April. International buyers can obtain copies on our website at newstatesman.com.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.