Jude Kelly: “In another hundred years, men and women will play different roles altogether”

The artistic director of the Southbank Centre takes the NS Centenary Questionnaire.


Illustration: Ellie Foreman-Peck

What is the most important invention of the past hundred years?

Contraception. It has allowed a part of the population to be economically independent, in terms of monitoring how they want to use time in their lives. That’s why I still find it extraordinary that the world doesn’t look upon the Catholic Church as if it’s trying to prevent human rights.

What is the most important scientific discovery of the past hundred years and why?

String theory. It allows you into the extraordinary imaginative proposition that space and time are the same. You can see how vague I’m being – it took me three attempts to pass A-level science. It’s theory I find the most exciting and creative.

What is the greatest sporting event of the past hundred years?

The first Paralympics in 1948 – they changed our understanding of what human beings are capable of doing.

Who is the most influential or significant politician of the past hundred years?

Nelson Mandela. To have used his time in detention to build a picture for himself of what peace could look like and then implemented it is politics at its finest.

And author?

Doris Lessing. She was an extraordinary intellect and an amazing charter of the sexual, political and economic conflicts of women. I’m amazed she got the Nobel Prize so late in life.

And playwright?

Samuel Beckett. He’s an absolute minority taste, an example of an artist who reshaped form. He is the ultimate playwright, who dramatised our existential quest for meaning.

How about anyone in business?

Anita Roddick. When I was growing up she was overt and unabashed about saying that business could and should be ethical. She was often ridiculed and was very much a lone voice, so she has been a huge influence.

And sportsperson?

Muhammad Ali. Boxing is something I instinctively want to turn away from, as I feel slightly repelled by the idea. But he used his celebrity status and incredible talent to speak about politics and racism.

What is your favourite quotation?

I love the thought that went into “the price of everything and the value of nothing”. If economic value is the most valid proof that people want, it’s a bit like wanting to prove that love has fiscal value.

What is your favourite speech?

Prospero’s speech in Act IV, Scene One of The Tempest. It’s a speech about understanding mortality. It is wonderfully poignant and is essentially about being able to say farewell to everything on a daily basis.

What do you think will be the most significant change to our lives in the next hundred years?

The next phase of women’s emancipation. Life is already unrecognisable in some countries in some ways. Although progress feels slow, you look back to women still trying to get the vote at the turn of the 20th century and you think, “That’s extraordinary change.” I’m convinced in another hundred years men and women will play different roles altogether.

What is your greatest concern about the future?

Climate change. Because it’s another one of those things that can be abused. First of all, none of us has any idea of the real impact of what could happen. Millions could become refugees – and then how would other countries cope?

What will be the most dramatic development in your own field of work?

Speaking about the coming 100 years, can everyone learn to read and write? Could they or should they? No one asks that any more. In my field of work there is still the idea that some people have artistic feelings and others don’t. I don’t think that’s true: everyone has a powerful imagination and the capacity to be expressive. The most radical thing is already happening. And it is that the population will participate in the arts not as audiences, but they will become part of the expressive work. It will become part of their normal activities, and will change their cultural status.

What is the top priority for the future well-being of people and our planet?

Learning how to navigate the brain. Neuroscience is telling us an enormous amount about what triggers operate in us; where we store our memories and our feelings. We’re beginning to understand scientifically and intuitively a great deal about our sense of being. That could change both domestic and community life.

Jude Kelly is the artistic director of the Southbank Centre

This article first appeared in the 08 January 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The God Gap

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses