Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, guest-edits the New Statesman

The magazine will contain contributions from Jonathan Sacks, Maurice Glasman, and Iain Duncan Smith,

This week's New Statesman magazine is guest-edited by Rowan Williams and features contributions by Philip Pullman, A S Byatt, Gordon Brown, Richard Curtis, Jonathan Sacks and other surprise guests.

For this 80-page edition of the magazine, Dr Williams has commissioned a wide range of essays, articles and reports, interviewed a senior cabinet minister and written the leading article.

The issue examines all the complexities of David Cameron's flagship policy idea of the "big society", with analysis and commentary from the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, Maurice Glasman and Iain Duncan Smith, among others.

There are contributions from two vicars -- Rev Lucy Winkett recounts visiting a casino in a dog collar, and Rev Mary Bide relives the highs and lows of minding the church next to the tennis courts at Wimbledon -- as well as an actor who plays a vicar on television: Tom Hollander, star of the Bafta-winning sitcom Rev.

There are atheists and secularists in the mix, too. Among the other writers in this bespoke issue of the New Statesman are: Philip Pullman, who explains why he's a "Church of England atheist"; Terry Eagleton on secularism; the award-winning film director Richard Curtis, who writes about the scourge of malaria; and Victoria Coren, who addresses the vexed question of faith versus poker.

The Booker Prize-winning novelist A S Byatt contributes a new short story, "The Lucid Dreamer", written specially for the issue.

Jason Cowley, editor of the New Statesman, said: "I have long admired Rowan Williams as a thinker and public intellectual. His previous contributions to the magazine under my editorship have been both thoughtful and thought-provoking. We agreed that he would guest-edit the magazine over lunch at Lambeth Palace in January; we have been working on the issue ever since.

"Although the New Statesman is a secular magazine, we recognise Dr Williams's contribution to public and political debate, and this is an important intervention from him. I'm delighted with the issue."

Dr Rowan Williams said: "This is not a platform for the establishment to explain itself -- any more than the New Statesman ever is. The hope is that it may be possible to spark some livelier debate about where we are going, perhaps even to discover what the left's big idea currently is."

The issue, cover-dated 13 June, will go on sale in London on Thursday 9 June and in the rest of the country from Friday 10 June. International buyers can obtain copies through our website.

Photo: Martin Whitfield
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Labour MP for East Lothian Martin Whitfield: "I started an argument and ended up winning an election"

The former primary school teacher still misses home. 

Two months ago, Martin Whitfield was a primary school teacher in Prestonpans, a small town along the coast from Edinburgh. Then he got into an argument. It was a Saturday morning shortly after the snap election had been called, and he and other members of the local Labour party began discussing a rumour that the candidate would be an outsider.

“I started an argument that this was ridiculous, we couldn’t have a candidate helicoptered in,” he recalls. He pointed out that one of the main issues with the Scottish National Party incumbent, the economist and journalist George Kerevan, was that he was seen as an outsider.

“I kept arguing for an hour and a half and people started gently moving away,” he jokes. “About two days later I was still going on, and I thought enough’s enough.” 

He called Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour veteran, who interrupted him. “He said, 'Right Martin, are you going to put up or shut up?’ So I filled in the forms.

"Then I had to have a very interesting conversation with my wife.”

One successful election campaign later, he is sitting in the airy, glass-roofed atrium of Westminster’s Portcullis House. Whitfield has silver hair, glasses, and wears a Labour-red tie with his shirt. He looks every bit the approachable primary school teacher, and sometimes he forgets he isn’t anymore. 

I ask how the school reacted to his election bid, and he begins “I have”, and then corrects himself: “There is a primary four class I had the pleasure to teach.” The children wanted to know everything from where parliament was, to his views on education and independence. He took unpaid leave to campaign. 

“Actually not teaching the children was the hardest thing,” he recalls. “During the campaign I kept bumping into them when I was door-knocking.”

Whitfield was born in Newcastle, in 1965, to Labour-supporting parents. “My entire youth was spent with people who were socialists.”

His father was involved in the Theatre Workshop, founded by the left-wing director Joan Littlewood. “We were part of a community which supported each other and found value in that support in art and in theatre,” he says. “That is hugely important to me.” 

He trained as a lawyer, but grew disillusioned with the profession and retrained as a teacher instead. He and his wife eventually settled in Prestonpans, where they started a family and he “fought like mad” to work at the local school. She works as the marketing manager for the local theatre.

He believes he won his seat – one of the first to be touted as a possible Labour win – thanks to a combination of his local profile, the party’s position on independence and its manifesto, which “played brilliantly everywhere we discussed it”. 

It offered hope, he says: “As far as my doorstep discussion in East Lothian went, some people were for and against Jeremy Corbyn, some people were for and against Kezia Dugdale, but I didn’t find anyone who was against the manifesto.”

Whitfield’s new job will mean long commutes on the East Coast line, but he considers representing the constituency a “massive, massive honour”. When I ask him about East Lothian, he can’t stop talking.

“MPs do tend to say ‘my constituency’s a microcosm’, but it really is Scotland in miniature. We have a fishing industry, crabs and lobsters, the agricultural areas – the agricultural soil is second to none.” The area was also historically home to heavy industry. 

After his first week in Westminster, Whitfield caught the train back to Scotland. “That bit when I got back into East Lothian was lovely moment,” he says. “I was home.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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