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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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.