<![CDATA[New Statesman Contents]]> http://www.newstatesman.com en-uk <![CDATA[ Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett: My family will never have a “perfect Christmas” – and that’s OK]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/12/rhiannon-lucy-cosslett-my-family-will-never-have-perfect-christmas-and-s-ok Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett Wed, 24 Dec 2014 GMT It’s pretty difficult to get excited about Starbucks finally getting the red cups in when one of the adults present at Christmas dinner could soil themselves at any moment. But even a bittersweet Christmas is worth having.

Here’s a handy – bastardised – literary  maxim for the festive season: “All un-crappy families are alike; each crappy family is crappy in its own way”.

It may not be Tolstoy, but it’s something I’ve certainly learned as I have got older. You think your family has problems? Divorce, disability, drug addiction, maybe some anger issues, a recent bereavement? Perhaps you’ve got someone literally going cold turkey in the upstairs bedroom? Tempting as it can be to lament how disappointingly unconventional your family is (and hell, at Christmas isn’t everyone dining out on their “weird” relatives?), there comes a time when you have to accept that you’re not the only one. 

Every family has its tragedies. As Christmas brings these sadnesses into sharper focus by bombarding us with wholesome images of happy, rosy-cheeked nuclear families in reindeer jumpers with no alcohol problems to speak of, remembering this factoid can be something of a comfort blanket when things get tough. It might not be as therapeutic as tanking up on more “port and brandy” (my Dad’s “cocktail” of choice) or nipping out the back to consume all the drugs you confiscated from your teenage offspring on Christmas Eve, but next time you’re midway through weathering the annual Yuletide rowpocalypse, do give it some thought. It helps. Tempting as it is to wallow in misery as you compare your eccentric, badly-behaved blood relatives with the respectable Joneses next door, it’s far healthier to assume that in all likelihood your neighbours have some dark secrets of their own too.

Still, you could give me all the “Christmas weed” (trust me, it’s a thing) in the world and I still wouldn’t view the festive period as a particularly happy time. After spending most of my teenage years wanting a Bing Cosby Christmas, by my mid-twenties, I finally accepted that 25 December  was never going to resemble the picture-perfect media confection I was presented with as a child. What can you expect with a family that is known to social services and has been ruptured by divorce? Unless you’re part of a tiny majority, you’re never going to see a supermarket Christmas advert that reflects your reality, whatever that might be – drunken rows, racist grandparents, Dad coming by to take you to his for that first Christmas dinner since the separation while your mum stays at home in her nightie, crying (and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have parents.) Factual depictions of real family dysfunction just wouldn’t sell enough chocolate logs, I guess. TV traditionally leaves that stuff to Eastenders.

Every Christmas I visit my severely disabled brother in his care home.  I help him open his presents and cuddle him while he sits there smiling in a Santa hat and then afterwards, every year, I cry because he is poorly and I wish he wasn’t. It’s always really sad and I always struggle to be the picture of festive joy and good tidings that I’m supposed to be because of it. It’s just not very “#Chrimbles” you know? What am I going to Instagram? His face as we drive away? Fuck that.

(Incidentally, I might be one of the few people on the planet who has a modicum of respect remaining for the film Love, Actually. That scene where she spends Christmas with her mentally ill brother breaks me, completely, every year.)

I know I’m not the only one who spends Christmas this way. Perhaps you’re visiting a terminally ill relative in hospital, are a victim of abuse, have a parent with a narcissistic personality disorder, or are one of the many hundreds of families who, thanks to our evil government Scrooge overlords, will be forced to rely on food banks and temporary accommodation this Christmas. If so, it can feel heartbreaking to have a life so imperfect when you are surrounded everywhere by Christmas cheer and crippled frog puppets announcing “God bless us, everyone!”

At Christmas, social inequalities become manifest – people naturally turn their thoughts to those who have nothing, donating money to those less fortunate via charities and Pret sandwiches. Unless, of course, you yourself have pretty much nothing, in which case you’re too busy worrying that you can’t give your children the Christmas they have been taught by advanced capitalism to want so desperately because your benefits have been cut and the fairy lights are fucked and Cancer Research only has dog-eared puzzles left on the shelves. I know Christmas is supposed to be a jolly time and it’s just not “done” to be too much of a Grinch about it, but it’s pretty difficult to get excited about Starbucks finally getting the red cups in when one of the adults present at Christmas dinner could shit themselves at any moment.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the person I’m currently in a relationship with absolutely loves Christmas. He comes from a big family (he’s one of nine children) that’s always considered Christmas as more of a festival than just a roast dinner with some extras and an excuse to get trashed. He maintains that, despite my suspicions, his family’s Christmas in no way resembles the “Home Alone” house, and yes, his family has its own issues (divorce, prison, veganism), but still nothing, and I mean nothing, comes in the way of Christmas. He struggles to understand why, for me, Christmas can feel emotionally fraught. There just aren’t enough of us to maintain a festive atmosphere, for a start. When it’s just you and your mum on the day itself it’s always going to feel a bit sad, no matter how much you might try and keep your spirits topped up.

I don’t want you to think that I’m feeling sorry for myself. I’m not – I do look forward to the day. I’d just like some media balance, because I’m sick of this peddled myth of Christmas perfection. None of us has the ideal family and every human has known sadness. This time of year, coming round as it does like clockwork throughout our lives, creates an impulse for nostalgia. Some of us will look back on the many Christmases we had as children, which will never be as innocent or as bounteous again. Others will remember those they loved whose seats around the table are now empty.

Personally, I try to balance sadness about my brother with the image of his excited, smiling face one December night a few years back when he still lived at home. Because my mum could not afford a tree, a good friend of mine agreed to risk the farmer’s shotgun to accompany me halfway up the mountain in the dark with a saw and “appropriate” one for us. It’s one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me or for my family. We may not be cookie cutter cut-outs, and we’re more than usually skint, but as a unit, we make it work.  It’s bittersweet, Christmas, for so many people, but somehow that’s what makes it mean something.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a founder of The Vagenda. She has donated the fee for this article to charity.

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<![CDATA[ Earmarking taxes for the NHS won’t guarantee more money for healthcare]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/earmarking-taxes-nhs-won-t-guarantee-more-money-healthcare India Keable-Elliott Wed, 24 Dec 2014 GMT By clearly linking a tax to overall spending on the NHS, it can help reconnect voters with the purpose of taxation, but makes healthcare spending vulnerable to macroeconomic shocks and cycles.

It is no secret that the NHS faces a huge funding shortfall. By 2020/21, the total health budget deficit could approach £30bn, up from £2bn in 2014/15. This has sparked a debate about how the funding gap could be narrowed, and renewed interest in the idea of hypothecating – or earmarking – taxation for the NHS.

Back in 2002, Gordon Brown increased National Insurance rates by 1p, and earmarked the revenues raised for increased NHS spending. Earlier this year, Labour MP Frank Field proposed repeating this policy, estimating that it would raise around £15bn by 2020/21 – or half of the predicted 2020 health budget deficit.

Nick Pearce, director of IPPR, also expressed support for the idea. He argues that an "NHS tax" or an increase in National Insurance could “play a significant – and immediate – role in reducing the funding gap”.

The thinking behind these proposals is that the public would be more likely to support a tax increase if they knew the additional funding was earmarked for the NHS. Indeed, a poll by Guardian/ICM found 48 per cent of respondents were in favour of tax-funded spending increases in the NHS.

But, as CentreForum reveals in a new report, earmarking taxes for the NHS won’t necessarily guarantee more money for healthcare.

In the report, we study the merits of what is known as "strong hypothecation", where a particular tax (and only that tax) funds an entire service, and "weak hypothecation", where revenues are notionally earmarked for an area of government spending. It is the latter that is proposed by Frank Field and IPPR. But we conclude that the former is the more viable of the two.

Whereas strong hypothecation promotes transparency, accountability and trust in government, weak hypothecation has significant disadvantages. Chief among them is that it would not guarantee that an increase in an earmarked tax rate led to higher spending on the NHS.

The government could "borrow" earmarked revenues for other programmes, or it could vary the designated service’s tax funding from other sources, leaving overall spending on the NHS unchanged.

Furthermore, even if the government could show that the tax rise led to increased spending on the health service in the first year, it is unlikely that subsequent spending reviews would treat the earmarked revenue as additional to the NHS budget. As the Barker Commission recently noted, weak hypothecation is “a soft form of the idea, and one that may rapidly become a lie”.

Strong hypothecation, on the other hand, has some merits. By clearly linking a tax to overall spending on a particular service, it can help to reconnect voters with the purpose of taxation, and gives the public a sense of what a particular service costs.

On the flipside, strong hypothecation would make health spending dependent on macroeconomic shocks and cycles, rather than need or demand for services. This risks insufficient funding during economic downturns, and wasteful spending during booms.

During a recession demand for healthcare is likely to increase, just when the money available for the NHS is falling, and so strong hypothecation would offer little wriggle room in providing a health service that meets the public’s expectations.

It is important to note as well that there are conflicting political motives among proponents of hypothecated taxation. While advocates on the left support earmarked tax increases as a means of raising revenue for the NHS, proponents on the right consider it an opportunity for a fundamental rethink on how the NHS should be paid for.

Conservative peer and Times columnist Danny Finkelstein, for example, has emphasised the role that strong hypothecation could play in deciding “how much healthcare we should offer people free at the point of use”, indicating that the right’s solution to the NHS funding gap may well be at odds with the left’s.

Although earmarking taxes is not inherently right or wrong, politicians must be clear about the objectives and implications of hypothecating taxation for the NHS. Or they will very quickly run into political difficulty.

India Keable-Elliott is an economic researcher at CentreForum and author of the CentreForum report "Hypothecated taxation and the NHS"

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<![CDATA[ WATCH: Christmas messages from David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/watch-christmas-messages-david-cameron-nick-clegg-and-ed-miliband Anoosh Chakelian Wed, 24 Dec 2014 GMT The three main party leaders have released their Christmas messages.

It's Christmas Eve, and our three main Westminster party leaders have each released a message to the electorate. Here they are:
 

David Cameron

The Prime Minister is the only one of the three leaders who describes himself as Christian. He focuses on looking out for not only those at home, but also those suffering overseas: 

This Christmas I think we can be very proud as a country at how we honour these values through helping those in need at home and around the world.

So this Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of Christ with friends, families and neighbours, let us think about those in need at home and overseas, and of those extraordinary professionals and volunteers who help them.

Ed Miliband

One hundred years ago soldiers on the Western Front stopped their hostilities to cross no man’s land, to shake hands and – famously – to play football.  In the midst of a tragic conflict the generosity, hope and sense of human solidarity that is characteristic of the Christian faith and culture came to the fore.  What an extraordinary and unexpected event.

We need the same sense of compassion in the face of the suffering and hatred that afflicts parts of our world.  And especially in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity.  Let us remember those caught up in fighting and in fear of their lives.

I am proud that the Labour movement has such deep roots in the Christian tradition of social activism and solidarity in the United Kingdom. This Christmas, I want to pay tribute to all who spend time, effort and skill in serving the needs of their fellow citizens in a voluntary and professional capacity.

Our country faces a choice next year.  Let’s choose generosity and inclusion. I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

The Labour leader has sent a message rather than a video. He concentrates on the First World War and the Christmas truce that took place a hundred years ago, and praises the "Christian tradition of social activism". He calls on voters to choose "generosity and inclusion" next May.

 

Nick Clegg

The Deputy Prime Minister also refers to the Christmas truce, and extends this to an urge for us to remember those "who are caught up in conflict or who need our help". He adds that the Christian values of Christmas are, "universal, speaking to and uniting people of all faiths and none".

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: World Affairs]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2014/12/best-ns-2014-world-affairs New Statesman Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, we choose the best foreign affairs coverage and reports from abroad.

From Portsmouth to Kobane: the British jihadis fighting for Isis

By Shiraz Maher.

British jihadis fighting for Isis What motivates the young men who leave Britain to join the murderous fanatics of Isis in the Middle East? Shiraz Maher spoke to dozens of them inside Syria to find out.
 

Life among the ruins: ten days inside the Gaza Strip

By Donald Macintyre.

The grossly asymmetrical casualties inflicted on the Palestinians have obscured another important question: how far have they even been worth it from Israel’s point of view?
 

High heels and hijabs: Iran’s sexual revolution

By Ramita Navai.

For more than 30 years, the Islamic Republic has been obsessively battling against sex, but as with anything that is suppressed or banned, people have learned to sidestep the punitive regulations.  


Miracle of the tsunami

By Xan Rice.

A family lost a son and daughter in the Indian Ocean disaster. Ten years on, they may have found them.
 

Blowback: who are Isis and why are young Brits fighting with them?

By John Bew and Shiraz Maher.

Hundreds of young British men are said to have joined the murderous group, first in Syria and now on its bloody incursion into Iraq. What happens when they come home?  


It is sobering to see how war has taken hold in Ukraine

By Lindsey Hilsum.

There is no question in my mind that Russia stirred up this war to destabilise Ukraine, but how will these people ever trust the government in Kyiv again?  


Can anyone bring back Nigeria's lost girls?

By John Simpson.

President Goodluck Jonathan has no strategy for dealing with Boko Haram – he just hopes the world will forget the 276 youngsters kidnapped by them in April.  


Project Martyr: the British doctor who went to work in Syria

By Martin Fletcher.

In 2011, Rami Habib, a 43-year-old doctor from Leicester, flew to Syria. Since then, he has watched the revolution against Bashar al-Assad fall apart – but he won’t give up.  

 

Two years after the infamous Delhi gang rape, India’s women still aren’t safe

By Samira Shackle.

India is only just beginning to understand the scale of its sexual violence problem. The public discussion in the wake of the Nirbhaya case has been encouraging, but until it translates into action, little will change.

 

At the gates of power: Marine Le Pen and the far right in France

By Charles Bremner.

Under her father, the Front National was the pariah party of France. Now Marine Le Pen has brought it closer to the mainstream – and people are getting worried.  

 

Francis Fukuyama: “America shouldn’t have permanent enemies”

By Sophie McBain.

The American political scientist and author once predicted that liberal democracy had won the battle of ideas. Now he says political Islam is not a serious threat to the west and we should not intervene in Iraq.
 

From Africa to Kent: following in the footsteps of migrants

By Daniel Trilling.

The guardians of Fortress Europe are fighting a lost battle: poor migrants will always try to find a better life for themselves, or die in the attempt. Daniel Trilling traces their steps, from the Middle East and Africa to the Kent countryside.  


Where has the French Left gone?

By Myriam Francois-Cerrah.

The recent dissolution of the government reflects the increasing pressure on Hollande to turn around a dire economic outlook.
 

I saw no evidence of Hamas using Palestinians as human shields

By Jeremy Bowen.

The BBC's Middle East editor reports from Gaza.
 

A tale of two cities: how San Francisco's tech boom is widening the gap between rich and poor

By Laurie Penny.

San Francisco is awash with tech money. Yet this city of innovation is also a place where you have to step over the homeless to buy a $20 artisan coffee.  

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Education]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/12/best-ns-2014-education New Statesman Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, we pick the best pieces about schools and universities.

Education’s Berlin Wall: the private schools conundrum

By David and George Kynaston.

Does a better social mix make these schools acceptable? The left has been silent on this issue for the past 40 years.
 

Our segregated education system perpetuates inequality and holds our nation back

By Michael Gove.

The education secretary responds to the NS debate on public schools.
 

Why do state-school pupils earn less over a lifetime? Because they aren’t taught to dream big

By Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.

Private schools instil their children with a sense of entitlement and confidence that is lacking among state-school pupils, argues Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett.
 

Michael Gove: my part in his downfall

By Jonn Elledge.

Seven habits of highly unpopular people. 


 

Inside the private schools educating China’s elite

By Zoe Alsop.

In recent years the number of private schools catering to Chinese nationals has grown rapidly. A Chinese-owned chain offering a Canadian curriculum dominates, with more than 30 schools across the country.  


"What I want to see is peace": When will Labour stop opposing academies?

By Harry Lambert.

Labour's unclear opposition to academies could drag high-performing chains like ARK back under local bureaucracy.  


Primary politics: parenting advice from Toby Young and Michael Rosen

By Melissa Benn.

Two publications ostensibly designed to provide reassurance and wisdom to parents of primary-age children and perhaps to tap in to the ever-growing “pushy parenting” market.  

The tests Nicky Morgan must pass if the Tories are to change on education

By Tristram Hunt.

The new Education Secretary should end the use of unqualified teachers and match Labour's pledge to teach English and maths till 18.


 

How failing schools help Ukip

By Tim Wigmore.

Schools are getting worse in Great Yarmouth, the second most likely seat for Ukip to gain their first MP next year.  


Grammar schools widen the gap between rich and poor. Why are we still surprised by this?

By Frances Ryan.

Meritocracy – embodied in the grammar school system – is concerned with achieving equality between equals and permitting inequality between un-equals.  


The free schools experiment spirals out of control

New Statesman leader.

All resources should be concentrated on ensuring that no child is denied the basic right to an education.  

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Politics]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/12/best-ns-2014-politics New Statesman Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, we choose our favourite political articles.

This year, the NS launched May2015, which does data-driven commentary and analysis on politics. We're very proud of it - take a look!

 

Ed Miliband’s problem is not policy but tone – and increasingly he seems trapped

By Jason Cowley.

The struggles and woes of the Labour leader.
 

How do we get questions of care up the political agenda, when carers are too knackered to complain?

By Helen Lewis.

The toll exerted by caring – and how little a capitalist society values such a vital activity – should be one of the key issues for feminism.
 

The Osborne audit: what have we learned?

By Robert Skidelsky.

Ahead of the budget, an economic historian examined how four years of austerity have affected Britain.


 

Thurrock: Ground Zero for Labour’s Ukip crisis

By Anoosh Chakelian.

Ukip has more support in Thurrock than any other seat in the country. The party’s rise starts here.
 

It’s no again to all things Euro: the rise of the new Eurosceptics

By Mark Leonard.

There are three groups Nigel Farage and Ukip must win over: the settlers, the prospectors and the pioneers. Can he do it?
 

A citizen's income of £71 a week per person would make Britain fairer

By Lauren Razavi.

With the potential to appease both the left and the right of the political spectrum, the citizen’s income concept could well mark the road to a fairer, more equal welfare system in Britain.
 

Head boy adrift: Cameron, Farage and the crisis of conservatism

By Simon Heffer.

The Conservative Party is in a state of deep uncertainty. Since the defection of Douglas Carswell to Ukip it has been accused of being on the verge of a split, but that, in fact, has already happened.


 

Comrades at war: the decline and fall of the Socialist Workers Party

By Edward Platt.

How a rape accusation has destroyed the Socialist Workers Party – whose members have included Christopher Hitchens and Paul Foot – and provoked a crisis on the far left.  

 

Quids in: how Poundland conquered the British high street

By Sophie McBain.

In 1990 it launched as a single shop; this year it posted sales of almost a billion pounds. How did a budget store flogging cheap tat grow so huge?  

 

Our island story: what England and Scotland share politically and morally

By Tom Holland.

Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath, Boswell and Johnson, Walter Scott and Disraeli – Scotland and England have long mirrored each other in many ways, says Tom Holland.
 

Westminster’s casual bullying of women shows how out of touch it is with modern society

By Laurie Penny.

When political historians are dusting off the gravestone of Lord Rennard’s Liberal Democrats, I doubt it will read “killed by feminism”.
 

The Boris audit: the man who would be king

By Mark Field, Sonia Purnell, Andrew Gimson, Sadiq Khan and Leo Robson.

From the Bullingdon Club to City Hall, Boris Johnson has left his mark. But does he have what it takes to be the next Tory leader? We asked five experts to appraise his life, career and talent.  


How do you solve a problem like Nigel?

By Rafael Behr.

Whether or not Ukip got its “political earthquake” in the European polls, it has changed the terrain of the next general election, argued Rafael Behr in May.
 

Having too many clever men around Ed Miliband is making the Labour Party stupider

By Ian Leslie.

The Labour leader is surrounded by brainboxes, but they’re all clever in the same way – their lack of diversity makes the whole group stupider.
 

“Hunger, filth, fear and death”: remembering life before the NHS

By Harry Leslie Smith.

Harry Leslie Smith, a 91-year-old RAF veteran born into an impoverished mining family, recalls a Britain without a welfare state.
 

Nigel Farage: “I’m not on the right or left. I’m a radical”

By Jason Cowley.

The Ukip leader on coalitions, immigration fears and why he’s chasing the Labour vote.
 

Ed Miliband wants to look normal – but can you imagine him eating a pear?

By Robert Webb.

In a TV interview, you’ve only got time to be one “thing”. Unfortunately, Ed’s “thing” seems to be “politician”.
 

New boys on the block: Your guide to the Kings of the Downing Street catwalk

By Media Mole.

Spoiler alert: they all wore suits.
 

The rise of Borgen nationalism

By Andrew Marr.

The conundrum of Britishness and the condition of Scotland.  

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Arts]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/12/best-ns-2014-arts New Statesman Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, we've picked the best pieces about art and music.

The awful cult of the talentless hipster has taken over

By Will Self.

Our generation is to blame – we’re the ones who took the avant-garde and turned it into a successful rearguard action by the flying columns of capitalism’s blitzkrieg.

 

Inside No 9; Bunkers, Brutalism and Bloodymindedness

By Rachel Cooke.

Two of the League of Gentleman offer up a sublime new series, while Jonathan Meades’s films about concrete architecture are his richest yet.

 

Poets and madmen: the art of Paolo Veronese

By Michael Prodger.

The Renaissance painter abhorred an empty canvas. Did his crowded scenes lack spiritual depth – or is it time to take a closer look?

 

Morph reborn: how everyone’s favourite plasticine man became a model for the digital age

By Anoosh Chakelian.

The last time Aardman's little clay man Morph went on any new adventures was almost two decades ago. Why is he now returning with another series?

 

Why the suit is the greatest British invention ever

By A A Gill.

Nothing else that comes from this pathetically stunted island has had anything like the universal acceptance, reach or influence of the suit.


 

Stop clap-shaming first-time theatregoers who like Martin Freeman from off the telly

By Caroline Crampton.

So-called “seasoned theatregoers” have complained about the audience clapping during Martin Freeman’s West End appearance as Richard III, in what is nothing more than a display of blatant snobbery.

 

Britpop: an insider’s tale of music’s last great gold rush

By John Niven.

Twenty years ago, it felt like John Niven and his fellow indie kids had won pop's cold war. But then the madness set in.

 

Who wants to live forever? The new frontiers of posthumous rock

By Kate Mossman.

In the next two decades there’ll be a mass departure of the people who brought us the best of rock’n’roll, but some bands are finding new ways to give their tunes eternal life.


 

The hunting of the snark: Friends, 20 years on

By Andrew Harrison.

Twenty years ago, a new sitcom was described as “not very entertaining, clever, or original”. But Friends went on to shape the way we live now.  

 

Kate Bush at the Hammersmith Apollo: the ecstatic triumph of a life’s work

By Tracey Thorn.

If we still ask, where has Kate Bush been all these years and why has she not done this before, my answer would be that I think she has been living the life that made this show possible.

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Science]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/2014/12/best-ns-2014-science New Statesman Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, the best articles about science.

Apocalypse soon: the scientists preparing for the end times

By Sophie McBain.

A growing community of scientists, philosophers and tech billionaires believe we need to start thinking seriously about the threat of human extinction.
 

This is (maybe) how we’d have colonised the Moon if the Soviet Union had got there first

By Ian Steadman.

A fascinating documentary from 1965 shows what Soviet scientists hoped would be possible with colonisation of the Moon.
 

The great ebola scare

By Michael Brooks.

It is being called the most severe health emergency of modern times. But are the fears of mass contagion in the west overblown?  


 

The sexist pseudoscience of pick-up artists: the dangers of “alpha male” thinking

By Ian Steadman.

We can mock the men in silly hats who claim to be experts in picking up women, but their weird anthropological worldview – of “alpha males” competing for “targets” – is a nonsense that has bled out into other sexist discourse.

 

Wandering in the heavens: how mathematics explains Saturn’s rings

By Ian Stewart.

How maths is changing cosmology - and why the best way to reach a comet near Mars is to go round the back of the sun.  

 

We may never teach robots about love, but what about ethics?

By Emma Woollacott.

Do androids dream of electric Kant?

 

The Periodic table versus the Apocalypse

By Michael Brooks.

Not just a faded poster on a lab wall, but “as impressive as the Pyramids or any of the other wonders of the world”. The table also holds the key to finding replacements for antibiotics.  

 

“Jews are adapted to capitalism”, and other nonsenses of the new scientific racism

By Ian Steadman.

Nicholas Wade's A Troublesome Inheritance argues that the genetic differences between racial groups explain why the West is rich and Africa is poor - but beneath the new science lies an old, dangerous lie.

 

Maths is all Greek to me: how language barriers influence mathematics

By Michael Brooks.

The Navier-Stokes equations, which describe how fluids such as air and water flow, may finally have been proved to work in every situation.  

 

Explorers … or nosy parkers

By Colin Pillinger.

The planetary scientist Collin Pillinger, who died aged 70 this year, argues that it’s our thirst for discovery that makes us human.

Death on Mars: would you take a one-way trip to space?

By Helen Lewis

Within a few decades, we will have the technological ability to send humans to the red planet - as long as they don't want to come back home again.

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Books]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/12/best-ns-2014-books New Statesman Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year - in this selection, the best book reviews and author interviews.

Mansplainers anonymous: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

By Helen Lewis.

Solnit’s lead essay became a viral sensation because many women recognised the experience of having their expertise instantly dismissed because of the lady-shaped package it came in.


The books of revelations: why are novelists turning back to religion?

By Philip Maughan.

There is a sense that, in recent years, novelists have formed part of a rearguard action in response to Richard Dawkins’s New Atheist consensus. Philip Maughan talks to Marilynne Robinson, Francis Spufford and Rowan Williams about God in literature.


How Jim fixed it: the strange, dark life of Jimmy Savile

By Rachel Cooke.

It is impossible to look back on the world of light entertainment in the Savile era and not come to the conclusion that it was strikingly weird.


“One man who made history” by another who seems just to make it up: Boris on Churchill

By Richard J Evans.

The book reads as if it was dictated, not written. All the way through we hear Boris’s voice; it’s like being cornered in the Drones Club and harangued for hours by Bertie Wooster.


David Mitchell, the master builder

By Erica Wagner.

When he was a child, the novelist David Mitchell drew maps. Now he creates worlds.


How James Joyce’s Dubliners heralded the urban era

By Eimear McBride.

It is through Joyce’s intimate rummagings through the city’s yens and wardrobes that we come closest to identifying its inhabitants.


The book that will make you quit your job

By Sophie McBain.

Paul Dolan believes all humans strive for happiness, which he defines as a combination of pleasure and a sense of purpose. The problem is that we are often very bad at maximising our own well-being.


Lena Dunham is not real

By Helen Lewis.

Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl is a confessional book where you cannot be sure if the confessions are true: it’s either a brilliantly ironic subversion of the form, or a deeply wearying put-on by someone who has no sense of who they are when no one is watching.


Too much information: how scientists and historians captured the brains of Amis and McEwan

By Leo Robson.

Novels by both authors seems to be creaking under the burden of researched fact and rehearsed message, but there was a time when their impulses flowed in the opposite direction.


Wilfred Owen: The Peter Pan of the trenches

By Rowan Williams.

The anti-heroic reading of the First World War did not begin with Blackadder - Wilfred Owen has far more to answer for than Richard Curtis, says the former Archbishop of Canterbury.


Phalluses and fallacies: the poetry of sex

By Germaine Greer.

All poetry is driven by sex, whether or not it acknowledges the impulse.


The moral universe of H P Lovecraft

By John Gray.

The weird realism that runs through Lovecraft’s writings undermines any belief system – religious or humanist – in which the human mind is the centre of the universe.  

The unfinished battles of Waterloo

By Simon Heffer.

How did a hamlet in Belgium become immortalised in the names of streets, districts, parks and buildings all over Britain? These five books, published in anticipation of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, explain why.

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<![CDATA[ The truth behind our political parties’ immigration policy arms race]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/truth-behind-our-political-parties-immigration-policy-arms-race Anoosh Chakelian Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT This year, all the main parties have been competing over who can curb benefits for migrants the most. Why is this their approach?

This year has seen an immigration policy arms race among the main Westminster parties. But policy-wise, it’s more specific than a question of who can generally talk the toughest on immigration. Each party has proposed policies on how far they would curb benefits for EU migrants.

The coalition has already clamped down on what migrants are allowed to claim, introducing a three-month wait for migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance, child benefit, and child tax credits. To stay longer than three months, they have to be in work or actively seeking it. And from April this year, new EEA migrant jobseekers have no longer been allowed housing benefit.

This was all part of a political race to who could promise the fewest benefits for migrants. Labour weighed in with a proposal for a two-year benefits delay. David Cameron responded with four years. In his Financial Times article laying out his view on immigration, Nick Clegg also backed curbing benefits for migrants, writing: “We should make sure that only migrants who have worked and contributed can receive the support. New jobseekers should not be eligible [for universal credit]”.

But why attack immigrants via benefits, when they overwhelmingly move to Britain to work and study?
 

There’s nothing else they can say

Ukip provides a simple answer to the question it poses about reducing net migration: it calls for Britain to exit the European Union. This would stop Britain being obliged to host EU migrants, as any renegotiation of our EU membership would be unlikely to overhaul the core freedom of movement principle.

So David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – all of whom currently support the UK remaining in the EU – cannot realistically promise to block EU migrants from coming to Britain without coming out in favour of leaving the EU. So their only option is to come down increasingly harder on the welfare available to these migrants.
 

It’s conveniently popular

It’s useful for Cameron et al that the only policy they can pursue in terms of immigration is most popular among voters. Polls recording attitudes to immigration have long shown that respondents see it as first and foremost a drain on the welfare state, ahead of any concerns about migrants taking their potential jobs. ComRes polling this time last year ahead of Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU’s freedom of movement area showed this clearly:
 

Click on table to enlarge

 

Click on table to enlarge
 

This year's NatCen Social Research British Social Attitudes survey showed 61 per cent of British people think immigrants from the EU should have to wait three years or more before they are allowed to claim welfare benefits. And that was before Cameron mooted four years.

This perception doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation; the concept of “benefits tourism” is a myth. While it is convenient for our politicians that the most popular approach to immigration policy – cracking down on benefits – is the one approach they can take without calling for Britain to leave the EU, this will cause problems in the long term. It is a “solution” to a problem that doesn’t exist. Not only will it do little to change immigration numbers in the way the rhetoric suggests – it’s also unlikely to change attitudes.

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<![CDATA[ We need an approach you can trust on TTIP]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/we-need-approach-you-can-trust-ttip Jude Kirton-Darling and Ian Murray Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT The Prime Minister shows contempt for people's concerns about this trade deal.

When David Cameron, together with the other prime ministers of the European Union, gave the green light to the European Commission to start negotiating a trade deal with the US, he would have been well-advised to keep a much closer brief on what was being discussed.

Now, nearly 18 months into the largest grassroots campaign on a trade deal since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was set up 20 years ago, the Prime Minister has been caught short, and his true contempt for people’s concerns is once more coming to shore.  When referring to widespread fears about safety, fairness and democracy as “nonsense” while asking for the unreserved trust of the very people he has spurned, David Cameron is only demonstrating that the public is better informed than he is on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  These warnings he should heed.

Legitimate concerns and distrust in our national and European institutions can also lead to misinformation and exaggeration. In truth, any positive or negative claims about what is or is not in TTIP should be taken with a pinch of salt as no common text has yet been agreed on any of the chapters of TTIP.  That, in itself, is one of the major problems.

To make sense of the TTIP debate, it is therefore crucial to understand the distinction between the various arguments being used. Arguments based on the content of the negotiating mandate can state with certainty what the European Commission is allowed to accept, what it cannot compromise over and what it is expected to achieve. Arguments based on the content of recently concluded trade deals, such as the agreement with Canada (CETA), give an indication on what the Commission is aiming for, and what the government has been doing in similar situations in the past. Claims based on anything else mostly reflect fears and hopes, and fears and hopes only. But it’s these fears and hopes that could easily derail TTIP.

As the Labour Party’s spokespersons on TTIP in the European Parliament and Westminster, we have heard the concerns voiced by thousands across the UK, and we will listen to thousands more in the weeks and months to come. We have also heard the positive expectations that this trade deal triggers. Faced with a choice between Cassandra and Pollyanna, we choose to stick to the only sensible approach we know: honesty and hard work.

To be honest is to recognise the legitimate concerns that TTIP could seriously hamper our ability to restore fairness in Britain. Insufficient exemptions for the NHS, and other public services could lead to serious legal challenges to any future re-nationalisation. There are concerns that TTIP could also challenge transparency and accountability, as any Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), even a reformed one, could create the perception of transferring power away from the people. There are also concerns that our safety could also be at risk. We will be campaigning hard to ensure that proper provisions on labour and environmental standards are included to prevent social dumping, pressures on wages and hampering our efforts to tackle climate change.

But honesty also implies to acknowledge that a deal which properly addresses every single one of our concerns would have to be welcomed. The economic impact of TTIP is widely debated, and it is important to bear in mind that it will entirely depend on its final scope. However, we do know from recent history that balanced trade deals do have a positive impact on economic activity and job creations. Regardless how large this impact might be, if we find that the final deal will help rather than hinder then it would be irresponsible to reject it. We are nonetheless aware that the impact of trade largely depends on the pre-existing levels of unemployment, and this is why we insist that TTIP will need to promote labour rights in the US, as the alternative is that it would harm workers in the EU.

Ultimately, TTIP represents a rare opportunity to regulate globalisation. This opportunity should not be discarded lightly. In a rapidly changing global economy, we are increasingly trading with partners such as China that do not recognise our rights and standards. This unregulated trade already challenges our social and environmental model. A balanced TTIP, one that promotes rather than weaken standards, regulating a quarter of all global trade, could mark a departure from this race to the bottom.

So rather than disengaging by already accepting or rejecting the deal unreservedly before it is even drafted, we have chosen to act in Brussels and in the UK to try to address all of these concerns.  Just as Clement Attlee’s post-war government led the left in regulating global trade by signing Britain up to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs – the forerunner of the WTO.  It’s in that spirit that we have set out our parameters and told the European Commission and the Coalition Government that we would not support the deal if our terms are not met. And we are working hard to build a consensus within the European Parliament and in the House of Commons on these parameters, so that when it comes to a vote the majority will be on the right side of the argument: the side of the people.

We are not prepared to accept any deal that is unfair to the British people. This underpins our arguments.  Crucially this means that public services, including the NHS, must be fully exempted from TTIP. The European Commission mandate prevents it from including  services that are still publicly funded. But it leaves the possibility to include services that have been privatised in recent years.,. TTIP must guarantee our full ability to provide any service publicly if the British people choose to do so. The coalition government claim that the NHS is safe but refuse to specifically exclude it in the draft text. That can only lead you to the conclusion that the biggest threat to our NHS is not TTIP but the Tory-led government.

We are not prepared to accept any deal that does not satisfy our concerns on safety. Upholding high food safety standards and the precautionary principle has been a constant stance of the European Union over the last 20 years, and we do not expect it to change with TTIP. The Commission mandate is very clear in this regard. We are however hugely concerned with the increasingly weak outcomes reached by the Commission in recent trade deals when it comes to protecting workers abroad. In order to be acceptable, TTIP will need to contain strong commitments from the US to establish a level playing field with the EU in terms of labour rights with the EU rights being the baseline on which to build. It goes without saying that any weakening of our own standards would be plainly counterproductive.

We must argue for a deal that puts transparency and accountability at its heart. Private arbitration mechanisms offering the possibility to investors to claim for compensation from the State in case of unfair treatments can be justified in trade deals amongst partners with uneven level of investment protection, and where due process of law cannot be guaranteed. It is not the case as far as both the US and EU are concerned, and we will argue strongly against any mechanism that would create a parallel justice for multinationals, subject to opacity, conflict of interests and able to make undemocratic rulings. Ultimately, TTIP must not challenge our ability to adopt and implement laws and regulations as we see fit and are elected to enact. 

There are ways that the agreement could deliver more for businesses in the UK and help create more jobs. A critical point is that the US States aren’t covered by the agreement and therefore their large procurement budgets wouldn’t be opened up for EU business including Britain. Opening up these procurement markets. This could be deliver big opportunities for our businesses.

We must get fully involved in the TTIP negotiations if we want to avoid our worse fears materialising, and push for a progressive regulation of global trade. The stakes are too high for Labour to afford any complacency, whether stemming from over-confidence that the deal will be positive no matter what or a complete lack of confidence that we cannot influence the negotiations. You can trust us to remain concerned, sensible and engaged about TTIP to ensure it provides the stated benefits and filters down to benefit both small businesses and consumers.

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, European Parliamentary Labour party spokesperson on TTIP; Ian Murray MP, Labour party shadow trade and investment minister

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<![CDATA[ Fastest US growth for 11 years spoils Osborne's boast]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/fastest-us-growth-11-years-spoils-osbornes-boast George Eaton Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT The Chancellor can no longer declare that the UK is the fastest growing major economy.

One of George Osborne's favourite boasts is that the UK is "the fastest growing of any major advanced economy in the world" (as declared in the second line of his Autumn Statement). That was true at the time, with Britain growing at an annual rate of 3 per cent, but revisions today have spoilt the Chancellor's brag.

Earlier today, the ONS downgraded year-on-year growth in the UK from 3 per cent to 2.6 per cent, leaving Britain behind Australia and the United States. Now, just to sharpen the contrast, annual US growth in Q3 has been revised up to 5 per cent: the fastest rate for 11 years and comfortably ahead of the 2.8 per cent posted by the UK over the same quarter. It's true, of course, that the UK has suffered more than its competitors from the stagnation of the eurozone (net trade is down) but Osborne can't make the comparison in good times and then reject it in bad times. And while US GDP is now 8.9 per cent above its pre-recession peak, the UK's is just 2.9 per cent above. 

After this, and Labour's blindsiding of him on spending cuts, the Chancellor would be wise to return a more humble figure in the new year. 

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<![CDATA[ Merry Christmas to all our readers (and some nerdy news and stats about this website)]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/helen-lewis/2014/12/merry-christmas-all-our-readers-and-some-nerdy-news-and-stats-about-website Helen Lewis Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT In the year the NS launched two new sites, and hired several new faces, here's what else has been happening behind the scenes at NS towers.

Well, here I am, wearing my fingerless gloves at my wooden desk in New Statesman towers, scratching this out by the light of a tallow candle. It's Christmas Eve, and we're about to pull down the shutters on the New Statesman website for the next two days while we argue with our families over who was the best Doctor and which is the worst rail franchise (David Tennant and First Great Western, obviously). We'll be back on 27 December. In the meantime, a few announcements and nerdy statistics to tide you over:

 

New sites

This year has been all about expansion: we've launched our sister sites Citymetric.com, helmed by Jonn Elledge and Barbara Speed; and May2015.com, edited by Harry Lambert. If you haven't seen either of them before, why not start with their most popular pieces of 2014: Citymetric's analysis of the problems with Google's driverless cars and May2015's investigation into whether opinion polls are over-estimating the SNP's chances of taking seats off Labour.

As part of May2015, we've launched "The 650" in print and online: yes, our writers are Leaving The Office (gasp) and getting around the country to some of the most interesting constituencies. Here's Anoosh Chakelian in Bristol West, which is the Greens' big hope next year, and Tim Wigmore in Great Grimsby, the former Labour heartland that's flirting with Ukip.

For super-nerds, May2015 has some great polling tools that you can play with: The Drilldown uses data from GQRR which allows you to segment voters by age, class, gender and affiliation. Harry is also updating his "poll of polls" with every new survey that comes out (it's currently predicting a hung parliament). 

 

The future of NewStatesman.com

Now that we have our new sites up and running, attention turns back to the behemoth that is the New Statesman website itself. You might have noticed a few cosmetic changes this year (like a mobile-friendly article page) but next year will see a much larger overhaul. We've been thinking hard about the type of publication we are, and what our readers want, and we hope to have a few tricks up our sleeve.

One of our aims will be to integrate our ads better into our design: the advertising team (and the wonderful Cameron Sharpe, author of our twice-weekly newsletter) have worked hard this year to balance profitability and readability, but there is always more to be done. The news that the advertising industry is moving to metrics other than simple page impressions (like engagement and viewability) is good news for readers, as it disincentivises a "race to the bottom" by plastering a site with as many ads as possible.

Over the last few years, one of the lessons has been that the website doesn't undercut the magazine: in fact, magazine subscriptions and news-stand sales have risen - unusually in our market - as our website traffic has grown. For the moment, we're sticking to our policy of making all our web-only content freely available, but withholding some magazine articles until the relevant issue is off sale in newsagents. 

You might have noticed that fewer articles now carry comments: moderation was proving a large burden on a small team, so we've decided to keep the conversations focused on specific pieces rather than inviting a free-for-all on everything. We've also noticed that as social media has become a bigger part of our readers' lives, on-page comments have decreased: it looks like the conversations about our pieces are happening on Twitter, Facebook and other sites. That's fine by us: social media is a big traffic driver, and we've ended the year with close to 100,000 Twitter followers and 75,000 on Facebook.

 

The nerdy stuff

On the subject of platforms, I agree with Shingy: next year is all about HoMo (that's using your mobile at home). Desktop computers now account for just half of our traffic, and mobiles 35 per cent. In 2012, the year I took over as editor of this website, those figures were 75 per cent and 17 per cent. 

As you'd expect, the UK is the biggest source of our traffic, followed by the US - the first non-English speaking country on the list is Germany, at number five. (Frohe Weihnacht!)

Like most sites, our biggest social referrer is Facebook, followed by Twitter; Reddit is third, StumbleUpon fourth and then - a surprise to me, at least - Disqus is in fifth. While much has been made of Facebook's declining influence due to Mark Zuckerberg turning down the dial on his News dashboard and turning it up on his Adverts and Baby Pictures dashboard, we haven't seen that yet. As a proportion of our social traffic, Facebook has gained importance since 2012 - although perhaps we should attribute this to Ian Steadman's expert Facebook skillz.

You guys love Chrome. It's by far the most popular browser used to access the site. A big shoutout to whoever managed to make their browser show up in our analytics as "MicroHard ScapeGoat Explorigator"; I applaud your commitment to cheap puns.

Equally, chapeau to the 180,000 people who spent more than 1801 seconds reading a single article in 2014. I'm guessing you either left the computer on while you went out, or you were trying to read a Will Self column without a thesaurus. 

Finally, this was our most retweeted tweet. Maths humour is the best humour.

And this was mine.

 

New Statespeople

In the New Year, we have a few staffing changes. Anoosh Chakelian, formerly acting Staggers editor, is now Deputy Web Editor, working with web editor Caroline Crampton to oversee all aspects of digital production and our outside bloggers. Stephen Bush has joined us from the Telegraph as Staggers editor, so he is the first point of contact for anything Westminster. Our new editorial assistant is Anna Leszkiewicz, and our new digital assistant is Stephanie Boland. Ian Steadman remains our science and tech correspondent, and gets the Golden Statuette of Beatrice Webb for writing our most popular article of the year - a very serious statistical investigation of how you are more likely to be bitten by Luis Suarez than a shark. It was a true viral hit* (*everyone else nicked the idea and wrote it up as if it were their own). 

Next year, we will also be hosting two new Wellcome Trust Scholars - an expansion of last year's successful initiative to encourage black and minority ethnic science writers. This year, we have two (paid) placements lasting six months up for grabs. Apply through our partners Creative Access here.

 

Our Top Ten Articles of The Year goes like this:

1. You are more likely to be bitten by Luis Suarez than a shark 

2. Laurie Penny on why patriarchy fears the scissors

3. Harriet Williamson meets the women speaking out about Terry Richardson

4. Laurie Penny on the Isla Vista shootings

5. Will Self on hipster hatred

6. Grayson Perry on Default Man

7. Musa Okwonga on Jeremy Clarkson and the N-word

8. Robin Ince on Christians and public life

9. Ed Smith on London's buried diggers

10. Tony Benn in quotes

This is a top ten that gives me hope for the Future of Journalism, because the uniting factor among all these pieces is this - they are good. Different styles, different targets, but all funny, fresh, angry, insightful pieces of journalism (OK, and one quick aggregation post, but even that relied on George having all the material already in his enormous brain). Many of our top 50 pieces were notable for their length, too: it turns out that the internet hasn't ruined our attention spans quite as much as we feared.

On that positive note, I am retiring to my Egg Nog Bunker to raise a toast to all our wonderful staff, to all our clever, witty, intelligent, beautiful bloggers - and of course, to you, reading this. It's been a great year, but next year is going to be even better. (Except for the bit on election night before any results come in and it's just David Dimbleby and three guests staring hopefully at Jeremy Vine, who is inexplicably dressed as a bear, explaining what Plaid Cymru want in a hung parliament. That bit will probably be just be weird.)

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<![CDATA[ Balls likely to hold early Budget if Labour win in 2015]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/balls-likely-hold-early-budget-if-labour-win-2015 George Eaton Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Shadow chancellor set to act before March 2016. 

Labour's pledge to spend £2.5bn extra a year on the NHS is based on its commitment to introduce a mansion tax on property values above £2m, a windfall levy on tobacco firms and a crackdown on tax avoidance. It's an astute policy: popular taxes to pay for the most popular public service. There's a catch, however: since the party plans to raise the money from new measures, it won't be available when it first takes office, creating the risk that the NHS won't receive the promised £2.5bn in 2015-16. Jeremy Hunt has attacked Labour for "dishonesty and hypocritical posturing", while Lib Dem health minister Norman Lamb has declared: "They have been found out. This turns out to be an attempt to deceive people."

Ed Balls's interview in today's Independent is designed to rebut these charges. The shadow chancellor announces that he hopes to raise revenue from the mansion tax in the 2015-16 financial year, even though that starts a month before the general election. He says: "Saving the NHS will be at the heart of our first Budget. I would like to see that revenue coming in in the first year of a Labour government, before the end of the financial year. We will have to see the practicalities."

This raises a new question: when would Labour's first Budget be? Balls hasn't yet commented on the subject but an aide told me this morning: "[It's] unlikely we will want to wait as long as March 2016 to start getting things done." Rather than waiting until the year after Labour takes power, Balls is likely to follow the example of other new chancellors (Geoffrey Howe, Gordon Brown, George Osborne) and deliver an "emergency" Budget (or at least one before 2016). Given the immediate policy and political objectives he would face, it's quite possible that this could be held before the summer recess begins on 22 July 2015. 

If Labour took power without a majority, a Budget would represent one of the first tests of whether it could govern. Balls will hope that the recent experience of the Swedish Social Democrats, who fell after their Budget was defeated, isn't repeated here.

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<![CDATA[ Priced out of matches and treated as commodities, football fans are finally starting to reclaim the beautiful game]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/12/priced-out-matches-and-treated-commodities-football-fans-are-finally-starting Martin Cloake and David Webber Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT In the space of two decades, English football has gone from a localised game rooted in working-class communities to a globalised brand controlled by the markets, excluding many of its loyal fans. But those fans are still there and they are fighting back. 

For the past 19 months, I’ve written a series of articles for the New Statesman about football. This magazine may not seem the obvious forum in which to write about the game. Hunter Davies’s irreverent observations have long been a staple and the sport has reared its head elsewhere in the print edition from time to time. But football is now more than simply a sport. It always was a cultural phenomenon too, a deeply-rooted part of the way we were. And increasingly it is a business. So, what I thought might be interesting was to write regularly about where these circles of influence intersect. What happens when entertainment meets business? When culture is commodified? When the game seeks to maximise its business value while simultaneously undermining what makes it valuable?

It seems that those articles struck a chord. I’m told they generate “good traffic” – the greatest honour a journalist can hope for these days – and they certainly get retweeted and discussed and referred to. I’ve written a book based on them and been asked to speak at meetings about the ideas in them. And I’ve met a lot of interesting people and had a lot of interesting conversations because of them. At times, I’ve also thought I was starting to make sense of the often ridiculous, frequently infuriating, invariably overhyped but still fundamentally beautiful game. Or at least, what is happening to it at the moment.

It seems absurd to take a simple sport so seriously. But, as I’ve often said in these articles, it’s the simple pleasure the game can give, and the loyalties it stirs, that makes it so attractive as a commodity. David Goldblatt captures the essence of what football means to all areas of our life in his brilliant latest book, The Game of Our Lives, and I’d recommend that as one of my reads of the year. But attempting to theorise about what is happening can seem a little ridiculous – pretentious even. That’s something I’ve been acutely conscious of as I’ve written. But theorising is just a way of making sense of the world. And making sense of the world is important if we are to shape it in order to make it better.

One of the interesting people I met over the past 19 months was David Webber. He’s a football fan. And an academic. And an activist. (One of the points I’ve often made is that “football fans” – like people everywhere – can also be defined in other ways. It’s something the football authorities might get to grips with in the next 10 years). Like me, he’s interested in what those intersections mean and where they could lead. Recently, at a very illuminating conference in Loughborough on football governance, organised by the Football Research in an Enlarged Europe project (FREE), he gave a speech in which he attempted to place all these observations about modern football into a context.

The context was based on the theories of an Austrian economist and sociologist called Karl Polanyi. Polanyi developed some ideas about the social and cultural effects of markets, and it seems to both David and me that they have some resonance in today’s discussions about modern football. So what follows is an edited version of David’s speech. The idea of a weighty piece of academic theory about modern football may strike you as pretty daft, overwrought hipster nonsense in a sport where the instruction “Just go out and fucking run around a bit” was briefly elevated to the level of tactical genius. But bear with us. The holidays are approaching and you may have a little more time to sit back and read. So knock yourselves out.

Martin Cloake

***

English football faces a paradox. In the midst of its enduring popularity is a growing sense of discontent among its core fans. What was once ‘the people’s game’ now no longer belongs to ‘the people’. A combination of greed and inequality has disconnected the sport from its working-class roots, and has taken the game away from the fans who, even by the Premier League’s own admission, ‘make the game’ what it is.

It is out of this discontent that a movement ‘against modern football’ has emerged. Fans of clubs as diverse as Liverpool, Manchester United, Coventry City and Hull City have all protested at the owners of their respective clubs, while others, spearheaded by groups such as Supporters Direct, have taken issue with rising ticket prices and the way in which the game is run.

Some fans have suggested that football and politics shouldn’t mix. However, these movements ‘against modern football’ are deeply political. Where did ‘modern football’ come from? How do the economics of the modern game shape our experiences as supporters, and how should we understand the politics of this movement ‘against modern football’? These are questions that football fans should be asking of those who currently govern the English game. They are important questions for they enable us to think about ways in which the ‘people’s game’ might be brought back to ‘the people’.

In finding answers to these questions, the work of the economic sociologist and historian, Karl Polanyi is useful. Writing in the midst of a period of political and economic upheaval in the middle of the 20th century, Polanyi was only too aware of the negative consequences of market activity. His work, The Great Transformation, first published in 1944, explored how market systems – that is, the spaces where goods and services are bought and sold – are formed, and how they are ‘embedded’ into different societies. Polanyi argued that these markets were not separate from society but intrinsically linked. This ‘embeddedness’ meant that any market activity would have clear social and cultural effects.

For over 100 years, football was a sport embedded within England’s working-class communities. Although it may have been the aristocracy that codified the sport, it was a game played and enjoyed predominately by the masses. Indeed, England’s biggest and most successful clubs have historically not come from London, but from the country’s industrial heartlands in the north-west. Over the past 50 years Merseyside and then Manchester have enjoyed unrivalled supremacy in the English game. For all the economic power and financial muscle of the capital, the London clubs remain perennial underachievers compared to their more decorated rivals in the north.

Insofar as the business of football was concerned, up until the 1990s, commercialism was limited by and large to a handful of local firms sponsoring the kit, the ball, and perhaps donating the odd bottle of champagne to the man-of-the-match. The grounds themselves were damp, creaking relics of Edwardian England, a million miles away from the space-age stadiums that today serve as monuments to global capitalism. Designed with the hard economics of the ‘matchday experience’ in mind, rather than the social ritual of ‘going to the game’, match-going fans of England’s biggest clubs are now able to sit in relative comfort, surrounded by brands and corporations recognised the world over as they consume a league simultaneously beamed across the globe.

What though has prompted English football’s own ‘great transformation’ and what does it mean for fans of the English game? Polanyi noted the first phase of what he termed a ‘double-movement’; a shift towards a society dominated increasingly by the market, rather than social interests. For Polanyi, such a shift does not occur by chance; markets are formed only when an appropriate regulatory framework is in place. For English football, this framework would be forged in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at an FA Cup semi-­final in April 1989.

Despite a succession of crises throughout the 1970s and 80s, it took the events of Hillsborough to finally force the football authorities to reconsider their treatment of fans. Appalled at the contempt with which supporters had been treated, Lord Justice Taylor demanded the conversion of terraced stands into all-seated stadiums within five years. This however presented even England’s biggest clubs with a problem. Years of underinvestment and high levels of indebtedness meant that they were simply unable to fund the improvements demanded by Lord Taylor through their own means. The government duly stepped in and provided a series of grants that would finance the rebuilding of England’s grounds.

Gazza’s tears and England’s fourth-placed finish at the 1990 World Cup went some way in redeeming the cultural image of the sport. However it was the legal and political framework rolled out in the wake of Hillsborough that would embed the economic transformation of English football. The implementation of the Taylor Report in 1990, followed a year later by the Football Association’s own Blueprint for the Future of Football, and the public funds used to rebuild England’s crumbling stadiums, all paved the way for a set of new market actors to enter and change the game.

Of these economic actors, no one has been more powerful than Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Corporation. While investors from the US, Russia and Dubai would in time come to skew the wealth of the sport in the 21st century, it is unlikely that they would have had the appetite to do so without the sustained financial firepower and global reach offered by Sky. Yet, it is unlikely that Sky itself would have seized the opportunity afforded it without the political framework put in place by both the British government and Football Association. It was this framework that, crucially, sealed ‘the great transformation’ of the English game.

In The Great Transformation, Polanyi spoke of the dangers to society of granting markets too much power. Driven by these commercial interests, however, English football has fulfilled Polanyi’s prediction. The game’s traditional working-class heartlands have been shoved about and used indiscriminately, causing acute social dislocation. Football’s reformed legal and political structure has allowed these market forces to dictate the direction of the English game. Yet while these riches have helped the Premier League attract some of the world’s best footballers, it has also created a widening inequality across English football.

Since the creation of the Premier League, around half of England’s 92 league clubs have faced financial difficulties, a number have gone out of business completely, and grassroots funding in the sport has fallen. Across all divisions, the cost of attending matches has soared. However it is in the Premier League that we have seen the price of tickets increase the most, outstripping even the value of house prices during this period. In 1990, the cheapest ticket at home to the then league champions, Liverpool, was just £4. Even accounting for inflation, that same ticket today should be a little over £7. Instead it costs £37 – an eye-watering increase of 925 per cent. 

English football is increasingly a rich man’s game. The elite players and managers come at a premium price commanding astronomical salaries. Multimillion-pound contracts mean that the average weekly wage of a Premiership footballer now exceeds the salary that most Britons receive in a year. For the increasingly cosmopolitan owners of England’s biggest clubs, success or failure on the pitch is judged not in terms of sporting achievement, but rather financial performance. Supporters, for their part, are now viewed as both consumers and commodities. They remain of course, a source of income for clubs but also, through the ‘spectacle’ of their support, a means of selling the club abroad to new and even more lucrative markets. 

Given this assessment of modern football, it is hardly surprising that there is this growing sense of discontent among fans. However, while the prospects for this changing any time soon may at the moment appear remote, there are positive signs that things are beginning to change. Fans are finding their political voice and have started to mobilise, calling for reform of the way in which the game is run and an end to the endemic greed in English football. Polanyi’s work is helpful again in explaining why this has happened and how the English game might be socially re-embedded.

Earlier I described how the first phase of Polanyi’s ‘double-movement’ might be used to understand the ‘disembedding’ of football from its traditional communities. Polanyi however, didn't stop here. In the second movement of his ‘double-movement’ thesis, Polanyi argued that wherever this market activity threatened social life, there would be an instinctive reaction against it by society. In the broader movement ‘against modern football’, we have seen precisely this occur. Fans, fed up of being politically and economically excluded from their own clubs, have set up independent supporter groups and supporter unions, such as the Spirit of Shankly. Some supporters, as those at Portsmouth and Wrexham, have gone further still. They have rescued their clubs from the financial mess created by previous owners by taking control themselves.

These movements are an important reminder that clubs are not simply businesses, but are in fact, socially always embedded. Local communities, families and/or friendship groups all revolve around a shared love of the game and affinity towards a particular club. Given that they invoke and reinforce strong bonds of identity and affection, these ties cannot and perhaps should not be easily commodified. It is hardly surprising then that the financialisation of football has been politicised and met with such resistance.

How England’s clubs might be socially re-embedded leads us back, rather appropriately, to Polanyi’s earlier observation concerning the formation of market structures. We suggested then that English football’s ‘great transformation’ was not inevitable, but rather a carefully constructed, deeply political response to the crisis experienced in the game, most notably in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. The political and legal framework mapped out in the early 1990s incentivised clubs to pursue a more market-minded strategy; one which has created the ‘modern football’ that fans are disillusioned with today.

Here, however, Polanyi’s work provides a note of optimism for those keen to deliver football back into the hands of its supporters. If ‘modern football’ required a distinct political structure in order to transform English football then this would suggest that if there was the political and social will, then the space exists to embrace an alternative, more socially-embedded game. Of course, these small movements face several challenges, not least between competing political and economic interests. Nevertheless, there is at least the possibility of political reform and social change within the game.

This, we suggest, is Polanyi’s chief legacy to football. The seemingly unassailable power that the economic actors within the game are currently assumed to have is actually only the result of a market structure embedded by a political elite. As ever-growing numbers of fans are demonstrating, real power and the capacity to change rests not in the market but in the hands of supporters – indeed, those that make the game what it is.

Martin Cloake writes regularly for New Statesman online and a number of specialist football publications and websites. He can be followed on Twitter @MartinCloake and his book, Taking Our Ball Back: English Football’s Culture Wars, is available now.

Dr David Webber is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. His research interests concern the cultural political economy of football, and he can be followed on Twitter @DrDaveWebber.

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<![CDATA[ Sometimes, a simple NHS prescription form can be as potent as the medicine]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/12/sometimes-simple-nhs-prescription-form-can-be-potent-medicine Phil Whitaker Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Dr Phil Whitaker’s Health Matters column. 

Megan’s and Shaun’s daughter, Rosie, was born with severe cerebral palsy – her intellect is intact but spasticity affects her muscles, distorting her trunk and contracting her limbs and rendering her speech slow and barely comprehensible. She is wheelchair-bound and, as she has grown bigger, she has come to need hoisting in and out of her bed, her chair, the bathroom and the adapted car.

She’s intelligent, loves her tech and is acutely aware of the world beyond her home and her special school. Like most teenagers, Rosie wants to fit in with her peers and she has struggled with how profoundly her body prevents her from enjoying the kind of life she would love to be living and from belonging to a group of firm friends.

A couple of years ago, Rosie began taking out her frustration and anger on her parents, particularly on Megan – Shaun works long hours as an engineer with a top motor racing team. The relationship between mother and daughter became progressively more dysfunctional, with Megan feeling cowed by Rosie’s tirades and her aggressive non-co-operation. Practicalities and deep-seated guilt made it hard for Megan to impose effective boundaries on Rosie’s behaviour, with the result that Rosie became akin to a tyrant.

The control she was able to exert over her mother made her feel horribly insecure, so she pushed ever harder, craving a fixed boundary. Megan felt powerless to exert authority and was filled with self-loathing for the resentment she often harboured towards her daughter.

Things came to a head when Rosie started to refuse school by means of some profoundly challenging behaviour. Care fell almost entirely on Megan’s already bowed shoulders. She consulted with me about something trivial, initially presenting the same cheerful coping face that she wears when dealing with the rest of the world. But the facade soon dropped, exposing the miserable entrapment she felt and the agitated hostility that was overwhelming her. She was desperate to get out, to run away, but paralysed by guilt and obligation and fear of other people’s condemnation. Suicide was the only escape she could see and thoughts of it were increasingly preoccupying her.

I wondered about prescribing an antidepressant but what she badly needed was respite: some time away from Rosie. Although social services were offering to support this, Shaun was implacably opposed to it, believing it would be another negative experience for Rosie.

We discussed things and I discovered that, as a child, Megan had loved holidaying with an aunt in south Wales. I opened the prescribing module on my computer and typed in: “A week’s break in Pembrokeshire, one to be taken every six to eight weeks.” I printed this out on the green NHS prescription form and told Megan to give it to Shaun and not to take no for an answer.

To my amazement, it worked. Although Shaun continued to dislike the idea, he grudgingly agreed to social services caring for Rosie to allow Megan a series of breaks. Her elderly aunt spoiled her and, for a week at a time, she drank deeply of freedom and the chance to be nurtured. She would return with her head above water and it never quite sank beneath the waves again before the next trip came around.

Although the situation still has its difficulties, Rosie eventually returned to school, Megan regained some daily “me time” and the relationship between them has gradually improved. Rosie has just had a change of social worker. In discussing needs with the new incumbent, Megan showed her the prescription from a couple of years ago. The young social worker expressed surprise that anyone could get holidays prescribed on the NHS and it tickled Megan no end to explain what it had been about. She thanked me again for writing it, because her impression was that the new social worker had also taken it very seriously and had assured her that respite care would continue to be funded. Sometimes the power of a prescription lies not just in the medicine but in the words themselves.

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<![CDATA[ An email makes me cry. I pull myself together... then get another from my accountant]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/12/email-makes-me-cry-i-pull-myself-together-then-get-another-my-accountant Nicholas Lezard Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Down and Out with Nicholas Lezard.

Three emails, hard on each other’s heels. (I know this is the second week in a row I have used recent emails as the kick-off for a column but you know what? They’re among the few human interactions I have these days.)

Email No 1 asks me to accept a 20 per cent pay cut for something. No 2 is from a TV company, which is making a programme on a subject the producers’ would rather I was quiet about pro tem. They want to bend my ear, for reasons that do not entirely elude me. No 3 is from another organisation, which is asking me to be on a panel for something related to the London Book Fair. It can pay my travel expenses but nothing else.

The first email involves me having a little bit of a panic and a cry, followed by a period of pulling myself together and replying – mindful that a 100 per cent pay cut is never going to be entirely out of the question and too outraged a tone might be catastrophically counterproductive – that a 10 per cent pay cut might be more acceptable at this end.

Email No 2 is easier to deal with, especially after email No 1. I tell them that in my experience, being interviewed by a TV company involves having people pinch my ideas for nothing – unless you count an undistinguished cup of coffee something – and then not being on the telly. I take some satisfaction from writing this. (When in doubt, ask yourself: what would Beckett do? And as far as I know, he never appeared on telly.)

I feel a bit worse about the London Book Fair gig but by this time my dander is up and I’m full of piss and vinegar. Even though the person chairing the panel is someone for whom I not only have a lot of professional respect but whose beauty maddens me like wine, I reply curtly that I do not work for free.

Then another email. It is from my accountants. As you might have suspected, for I have hinted at this for some time, I hide from my accountants. To get charged a substantial three-figure sum to be told that I am f***ed goes against what I consider to be the life well lived. And although they did go through my books some years ago and tell me that they had never seen someone so honest quite so f***ed – and went through such rudimentary books as I had at a level of detail that means I would happily pay them to have done so, for they deserve to be paid, if I were not f***ed – I am f***ed, so I can’t quite pay them right at this moment.

But anyway, there they are in my in-box and very politely so, considering the circumstances, if I may add. One detail does not escape me and that is the HMRC officers’ take on all this, which my accountants have thoughtfully passed on. They, too, have been patient but it is along the lines of “the wheels of justice grinding slow but fine”. And if I thought I was f***ed at the end of the first paragraph of my accountants’ email, that was nothing.

When, in the relevant paragraph, I see the penalties, I go into a kind of fugue state, for they are amazing. But not unjustifiable, on their part. I can see their point of view.

Maybe if I wasn’t so f***ed, I would hire an accountant to bring the figure down a bit but at the moment what I really need is the testimony of a mental health panel and I do not have the time or non-f***ed-upness to sort that kind of thing out, which is itself a kind of testimony. After all, if my friend Professor BetterNotNameHimOrHer can, after years of trying to persuade the relevant people that HeOrShe has attention deficit disorder, somehow manage to get a teaching post at a very prestigious university, why can’t I, with my piles of books, my inability even to ask for money I am even owed and my generally disastrous circumstances, persuade them of the same thing?

The answer to email No 1 comes back. They will accept my terms, which comes as a pleasant surprise. Email No 2 is answered with an assurance that I will be paid a small, three-figure sum for my time. This, too, is acceptable. Email No 3 has not, at the time of writing, received an answer but this is understandable, for I had been very curt, what with one thing and another, and had not made a jokey comment about how the chairperson’s beauty maddened me like wine, and so on.

But the wolves are gathering around the door and, in true bohemian style, my tiny hands are frozen. I was inoculated against TB at school but it’ll be something else that gets me, I warrant.

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<![CDATA[ Nina Caplan: Raise a glass to peace in the Champagne empire]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/12/nina-caplan-raise-glass-peace-champagne-empire Nina Caplan Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT Even I willingly acknowledge that the damage to the vineyards of Champagne was one of the lesser tragedies of the First World War.

There has been a lot of debate over the new Sainsbury’s Christmas ad, which reconstructs the Christmas truce of 1914 for the noble purpose of selling us stuff. The arguments indicate that we are still, a century on, a species notable for its quarrelsomeness, quite prepared to row over a truce if no better excuse presents itself.

That Christmas – when warring soldiers laid down their arms, exchanged presents and, in some places, played football – has to be one of the most poignant interludes in the pitiable history of war. Why did they obediently pick up their guns again? Having proved that they could communicate with their opposite numbers, even if their superiors could not, why didn’t they place a table on those mud-drenched battlefields and commence negotiations? They would even have had appropriate oil for the wheels of compromise to hand: the Western Front ran right through Champagne.

Even I willingly acknowledge that the damage to the vineyards of Champagne was one of the lesser tragedies of the First World War. The ancient cellars beneath the grapes served as shelter for the population, complete with cellar schools, cellar newspapers and workers who nipped out, when the Hun wasn’t looking, to work the vineyards. They had braziers and a great deal of fine liquid to warm them up: apparently, the cellar dwellers of Reims got through five million bottles in four years. Still, cellars are not meant to be lived in any more than vineyards are meant to be fought in and the First World War was a four-year distraction from the business at hand.

Not that the Champenois aren’t used to it. Their land has been a major European intersection since before the Romans kicked out the Celts; the vines get trampled every time one European state picks a fight with another. Champagne may soothe these woes (as Napoleon said, in victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it) but sometimes the locals, like their warring visitors, seem to emulate the agitation of their famous liquid.

That’s what happened in 1911, when several poor harvests, plus the government’s decision officially to delineate Champagne’s borders, provoked riots. Winemakers in the Aube, which was going to be excluded, were outraged. The vintners of the more favoured Marne retaliated by pointing out that when they accused merchants of diluting their product with cheaper “foreign” grapes, they meant, in part, those grown in the Aube. Vineyards burned and wine barrels  were upended in the streets as the incensed peasants foreshadowed the more deadly rivalries to come.

These days there’s peace, give or take the tensions between the big brands and the grower producers. To make their magnificently consistent, globally marketed wines, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Louis Roederer and others must buy in grapes from smaller fry. Some of those fry now bottle their own output and these are the “grower champagnes”, wonderful reflections of individual terroirs: the creamy hazelnut of Egly-Ouriet or Tarlant’s glacial lemon freshness; the zinging minerality of Champagne Peters or the warm, apricot lusciousness of Alfred Gratien.

These small producers aren’t a threat to the big boys, any more than the Celts were to the Romans or, come to that, Belgium was to the Kaiser’s Germany in 1914. Nonetheless, as we peer across the Channel from our outcrop of Cretaceous chalk to theirs, it is worth considering that the English, erstwhile French allies, are now competitors in sparkling wine. And while our tiny market of fine fizzes is even less of a problem for the Champagne empire than its own small growers, we should be wary: if those belligerent incomers have taught the Champenois anything, it’s that you don’t win the game by leaving the competition in peace.

Next week: John Burnside on nature

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<![CDATA[ WATCH: BBC reporter gets high during a report on burning opium]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/media-mole/2014/12/watch-bbc-reporter-gets-high-during-report-burning-opium Media Mole Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT "Don't inhale."

BBC's Middle East correspondent Quentin Sommerville has released a clip filmed four years ago of him being too high to complete a news report. It has never been aired until now. He was reporting on a pile of burning heroin, opium and hash, so you can't really blame him for corpsing.

Here's the clip:

All this mole can say is the BBC's gone to pot.

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<![CDATA[ Former Tory universities minister slams Theresa May's plan to curb overseas student numbers]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/former-tory-universities-minister-slams-theresa-mays-plan-curb-overseas-student Anoosh Chakelian Tue, 23 Dec 2014 GMT The former universities and science minister, David Willetts, blasts the Home Secretary's proposal for a student visa overhaul.

It was reported this week, as part of proposals apparently mooted so far for the Conservatives' 2015 manifesto, that the Home Secretary plans for overseas students to leave the UK and reapply for work visas once they've completed their studies.

Today, the Tories' former universities and science minister, who left the cabinet table in July this year, has condemned these plans in an article for The Times. Its headline reads: "May’s mean-spirited plan will damage Britain".

He writes:

We have already tightened up the rules and cracked down on bogus colleges to stop our student visa regime being exploited. But eventually you reach a tipping point. A further tightening of post-study work, as floated by the Home Office at the weekend, would do real damage to our universities and drive away overseas students. Indeed the Indian papers followed up yesterday with headlines such as “UK government plans to kick out foreign graduates”.

Willetts dismisses May's idea to deport students once they've finished their degrees “mean-spirited and inward looking”, and calls students studying abroad "an expanding global market" that Britain should keep, and increase, its share of.

Willetts, a veteran Tory frontbencher, is a respected figure (his nickname is "Two Brains", and he has written a number of well-received political books) and his remarks will prove embarrassing for the Home Secretary if the Tories decide to go ahead and put this proposal on their manifesto for the next election. Her plan to curb overseas students is being seen as gesture politics, to look tough on immigration to the UK, and mark herself out from other potential contenders for the Tory leadership.

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Religion]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/12/best-ns-2014-religion New Statesman Mon, 22 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year - this selection covers God, religion and atheism.

After God: how to fill the faith-shaped hole in modern life

By Rowan Williams, Melvyn Bragg, Lucy Winkett, Robin Ince, Vicky Beeching and Julian Baggini.

Religion used to define our seasons and our days. But now that it’s in decline in the west, what rituals can take its place?  

 

The new intolerance: will we regret pushing Christians out of public life?

By Cristina Odone.

In this provocative challenge to the left, the former New Statesman deputy editor Cristina Odone argues that liberalism has become the new orthodoxy – and there is no room for religious believers to dissent.  

 

Christians aren’t being driven out of public life – they’re just losing their unfair advantages

By Robin Ince.

A reply to Odone's piece from an atheist.  

 

What the jihadists who bought “Islam for Dummies” on Amazon tell us about radicalisation

By Mehdi Hasan.

Pretending that the danger comes only from the devout could cost lives.

 

Is religion to blame for history’s bloodiest wars?

By John Gray.

From the Inquisition to Isis, religion is blamed for brutality. But violence is a secular creed too.

 

Wahhabism to ISIS: how Saudi Arabia exported the main source of global terrorism

By Karen Armstrong.

Although IS is certainly an Islamic movement, it is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century.

Gloriana’s underbelly: the terror of life as a Catholic in Elizabethan England

By Anna Whitelock.

Jessie Childs's God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England is a detailed and absorbing account of the difficulties of being Catholic in England in the 17th century.

 

Meet Libby Lane, the Church of England’s first woman bishop

By Caroline Crampton.

After decades of wrangling, the Church of England has finally appointed its first woman bishop. Caroline Crampton went to meet Reverend Libby Lane, the new Bishop of Stockport.

 

Six feet under: meeting Britain’s Gravedigger of the Year

By Xan Rice.

To his surprise, Jonny Yaxley, a former landscaper, found he enjoyed the craftsmanship involved in preparing a perfect grave. And he liked learning about the lives of the deceased.

 

The Myth of the Moderate Muslim

By Bina Shah.

Everyone seems to know that the moderate Muslim exists, but nobody seems to really agree on what he or she looks like, how he or she acts, behaves, what she believes in, how he or she practises.

 

On a vote and a prayer: how evangelical groups could influence the election

By Oliver Bullough.

Labour does not “do God”, in the words of Alastair Campbell, but a group of believers from Luton do – and they won the party the seat. Could their success be replicated?

 

Is the BBC’s “The Big Questions” the worst thing on television?

By Willard Foxton.

It’s one of the broadcaster’s flagship religious programmes, yet it makes religious people look unfairly crazy.

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Essays]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/12/best-ns-2014-essays New Statesman Mon, 22 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year - this selection gathers memoirs and features.

The last World Cup: after Brazil 2014, is the tournament finished?

By Jason Cowley.

Football is a supreme instrument of soft power and can unite people as little else can. But allegations of Fifa corruption have tarnished the image of the beautiful game. Can anything be done to save it?

Bring back the big cats: is it time to start rewilding Britain?

By George Monbiot.

Rewilding means the mass restoration of damaged ecosystems. It involves letting trees return and allowing parts of the seabed to recover. Above all, it means bringing back missing species.  

Humour in ancient Rome was a matter of life and death

By Mary Beard.

It has always been bad for your public image to laugh in the wrong way or to crack jokes about the wrong targets, not least in the presence of Caligula…  

Why are old people in Britain dying before their time?

By Danny Dorling.

Mortality rates for elderly people are rising across the country. Initially, the authorities blamed merely cold weather.  

Invisible subjects: the men who fuel the demand for prostitution

By Lucy Fisher.

If prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, then punting is the oldest consumer activity. Yet it remains broadly unexamined, perhaps because the questions it raises are too uncomfortable.  

Caroline of Ansbach: the Georgian queen who brought the Enlightenment to Britain

By Caroline Crampton.

Three hundred years ago, an unlikely set of circumstances led to a minor German aristocratic family becoming the British royal family. Once the Georges arrived, Britain took the first steps towards becoming the nation it is today.  

The rise and fall of Default Man

By Grayson Perry.

How did the straight, white, middle-class Default Man take control of our society – and how can he be dethroned?  

Anxiety nation: why are so many of us so ill at ease?

By Sophie McBain.

It is difficult to quantify whether it is our feelings of anxiety that have changed, or whether we’ve just watched too much Woody Allen.

Life and death at his fingertips: watching a brain surgeon at work

By Erica Wagner.

Henry Marsh is one of the country's top neurosurgeons and a pioneer of neurosurgical advances in Ukraine. Erica Wagner witnesses life on a knife-edge.  

How not to be a boy

By Robert Webb.

Nobody ever told me: you don’t have to waste years trying to figure out how to be a “man” because the whole concept is horseshit.  

Why empires fall: from ancient Rome to Putin's Russia

By Tom Holland.

Moscow, to western eyes, does not look much like Rome. But if there is any country in the world where the tug of the Roman ideal can be felt, it is Russia.  

What the Battle of Waterloo teaches us about Europe today

By Brendan Simms.

The centenary of the start of the First World War has reopened old wounds. Yet Germany and Britain once enjoyed a special relationship – as when they defeated Napoleon at Waterloo – and they could do so again  

More than old crocodile brains

By Brian Blessed.

Each of us has over a hundred billion cells in our brain, comparable to the number of stars in a giant galaxy. The cerebral cortex is our liberation.  

The terrible poignancy of the thinning pate

By Alain de Botton.

Baldness has been spun as synonymous with exaggerated potency, but the bald know that, far from having the vigour of a skinhead, most of them look like nothing so much as a fragile librarian.  

The long ride to Riyadh

By Dave Eggers.

A tense taxi journey across the Saudi desert makes the author consider the folly of nationality.  

Before the First World War: what can 1914 tell us about 2014?

By Richard J Evans.

Old world decline, rogue empires, killing for God – looking at 1914, we can discover that there are many uncomfortable parallels with our own time.

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<![CDATA[ The best of the NS in 2014: Interviews and Profiles]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/12/best-ns-2014-interviews-and-profiles New Statesman Mon, 22 Dec 2014 GMT Our best pieces from the past year. In this selection, our favourite interviews and profiles.

Hilary Mantel: “I do think the level of public debate is debased”

By Erica Wagner.

The novelist reflects on life as a public figure, and the adaptation of her books for the stage and screen.

How mistakes can save lives: one man’s mission to revolutionise the NHS

By Ian Leslie

After the death of his wife following a minor operation, airline pilot Martin Bromiley set out to change the way medicine is practised in the UK – by using his knowledge of plane crashes.

 

Thomas Piketty: a modern French revolutionary

By Nick Pearce.

Piketty’s book Capital is being acclaimed as the most important work of political economy to be published in decades. It has certainly caught the attention of Ed Miliband’s inner circle.

 

Tim Minchin: The satirist who ran out of upwards to punch

By Helen Lewis.

What happens when a satirist becomes a superstar? His targets have to get bigger, too – as Tim Minchin is finding out.

 

Alistair Darling: “Salmond is behaving like Kim Jong-il”

By Jason Cowley.

With just 100 days to save the Union, Alistair Darling fights back.

 

Who was Franz Ferdinand?

By Simon Winder.

The Habsburg heir was a rose-fancying, pious man, fond of hunting and above all his family – yet his assassination a hundred years ago led to the fall of empires.

 

The voice of the Iron Lady

By Caroline Crampton.

Meeting the man behind Spitting Image's rubbery Maggie.

 

Narendra Modi: man of the masses

By William Dalrymple.

Modi, implicated in a massacre in 2002 while chief minister of Gujarat, has been elected as India’s new prime minister. Is he a dangerous neo-fascist, as some say, or the strongman reformer that this country of 1.2 billion people craves?

 

Rupert’s red top: the rise and fall of Rebekah Brooks

By Peter Jukes.

A journalist who watched the former tabloid editor’s extraordinary composure in court on every day of the hacking trial. Her story tells you everything you need to know about the way power works.

 

Geoff Dyer: “There should be an annual festival devoted to me”

By Philip Maughan.

Geoff Dyer likes to take down “dim-witted academics”. So what happened when he turned up at a conference on . . . Geoff Dyer?n

 

Sunny with a chance of rain: the many moods of John Goodman

By Kate Mossman.

John Goodman, who plays a jazz musician and junkie in the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis talks to Kate Mossman about wigs, panic attacks and reuniting with Roseanne.

 

“It seems to me that I am more to the Left than you, Mr Stalin”

By H G Wells.

In 1934, Wells arrived in Moscow to meet a group of Soviet writers. While there Stalin granted him an interview.

 

Vivienne Westwood: “Julian Assange likes the combat look”

By Mark Lawson

Vivienne Westwood tells Mark Lawson about designing for Julian, hoarding instincts – and why people who care about news should never read newspapers.

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<![CDATA[ Adorable dogs (and Nasa) benefit from 3D printing's continual improvements]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/future-proof/2014/12/adorable-dogs-and-nasa-benefit-3d-printings-continual-improvements Ian Steadman Mon, 22 Dec 2014 GMT The flexibility and speed of 3D printing makes pet prosthetics and digitally-downloaded space tools a reality.

There's no surprise that the below video of Derby - a cute, loveable border collie born with stunted front legs - has been going viral over the last few days. It's not just that Derby is cute (and the internet loves cute), but because of the prosthetic paws he's now wearing, thanks to a 3D printing company called 3D Systems.

Of course, prosthetics for animals aren't a new concept, but 3D-printed prosthetics still have something of a novelty about them. And there's a good reason to 3D-print artificial limbs: since every person or animal is unique in their need, it's possible to create prosthetic limbs which are exactly the right shape on a computer, better than anything mass-produced. And, as 3D Systems have said, it's possible to iterate new versions rapidly as and when needed, be it for replacements, or because they want Derby to get used to running with shorter legs before "being fitted with progressively longer legs until he reaches his optimal height":

This is the beauty of 3D printing. It's not a replacement for large-scale manufacturing, and never will be, but what it does give users is personality and customisation, of the kind we normally associate with handmade goods.

It also opens up a whole load of new distribution possibilities. Think of what iTunes has done for music, and now apply that to physical objects - anywhere you've got a printer and an internet connection, you can "download" the plans to print an object. And not just on Earth. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have successfully printed out a ratchet using a new 3D printer.

Normally, getting a spare part up to the ISS could take weeks or months - however long until another launch is scheduled. That's not ideal if there's an emergency, like a crucial part of the life support system breaking down, but this ratchet was apparently designed, tested, certified and printed within a week.

When astronauts on Mars are eight months - at best - away from a resupply mission, the development of sophisticated 3D printing techniques will be a nice insurance policy against mechanical part failure.

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<![CDATA[ Johnny Rotten: “You find the truth by ridiculing yourself”]]> http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/johnny-rotten-you-find-truth-ridiculing-yourself Kate Mossman Mon, 22 Dec 2014 GMT NS pop critic Kate Mossman talks to the former Sex Pistol about Ed Miliband, Ukip and “men’s dangly bits”.

Punk veteran Johnny Rotteb in October 2014. Photo: Jason Alden/Eyevine

Johnny Rotten is sitting by a brazier on the terrace at Kings Place in London, where the Regent’s Canal bends round to form a little marina covered in duckweed. Wearing an oversized camel coat and gesticulating with a fag in hand, he looks like a magic tramp in a Terry Gilliam film: the only things missing are the fingerless gloves. He’s talking about the problem with anarchy in the UK – not the song he wrote 38 years ago but the concept. Today anarchy is just a “mind game for the middle classes”, he says, when asked about the activities of Russell Brand. Various writers are lining up for a one-on-one, eyeballing each other suspiciously. “Oh, you journalists must not be afraaayd of one another!” Rotten wails.

The voice is part Albert Steptoe, part Uriah Heep. The hair is bleached and erect. The eyes are wild but loose; they fix on a point far over my shoulder when he talks to me, as though staring down a tiny enemy in the distance. The cartoon dimensions of the man are so inflated that it is almost impossible to imagine him being able to hold a conversation but he can.

“In humour I find a great sense of truth,” he says, apropos of nothing. “You find the truth by ridiculing yourself and others. The Irish side of our family were always very strong on that – you laugh at funerals and you cry at weddings. At my dad’s funeral, I was quite happy to stand up and say: ‘That was my dad, he was a sod!’ Then I bent into the coffin and gave him a big kiss and it was a very nice goodbye. And I put a few articles in there, like an Arsenal scarf. I miss him dearly. It’s kind of odd, though – he died with a great smell of [dramatic bulge of the eyes] formaldehyde . . .”

Was that the first time Johnny Rotten had seen a dead body?

“Oh, come off it. With the lifestyles that poorer people led, coffins were being dragged in and out of the flats all the time at a fairly steady pace.”

 

****

 

He was born John Lydon in 1956 in Holloway, north London, and grew up on Benwell Road, within spitting distance of Arsenal Stadium. His father was a labourer; his parents had emigrated from Cork to a neighbourhood that was predominantly Irish and Jamaican. The eldest of four boys, Lydon was a bright but unpleasant pupil at the St William of York Catholic school in Islington, where he was taught by “fuck-arse hateful nuns” and from which he was eventually expelled. He both loved and loathed his English teacher “Piss Stains” Prentiss, as he knew him. “A fantastic, amazing teacher,” he says today. “Instilled in me a deep fascination for literature and language. He ignored me but that didn’t matter. He taught me that words can empower you. Poetry was important to me. All that came from Piss Stains.”

Earlier this year, Rotten released an auto­biography called Anger Is an Energy and went up and down the country in a camper van, promoting it. His is a strange and solipsistic vision, a narrow corridor of thought in which he is right and everyone else is wrong, and as such it is one of the most entertaining accounts of the well-worn punk story: Malcolm McLaren was a phoney, Joe Strummer was “out to grab himself a crown”, Sid Vicious was a loser junkie with “lifestyle issues”.

Much of the pre-Sex Pistols part of the book focuses on a childhood bout of spinal meningitis that put Rotten in hospital for a year. He lost his memory, which makes for a mysterious chapter in his life; it’s no clearer when he describes it today. He was in “a whole bunch of hospitals right there at the top of Archway”, he says.

What were the visiting hours like?

“How would I know? I was seven and didn’t know who I was.”

Was there any entertainment laid on for the children in those days? Any clowns?

“Nothing! It was complete sensory deprivation and the scary thing is you get cosy with that. There was a great fear of my being institutionalised, as far as my parents were concerned. Every now and again, strangers would sit at the end of your bed and try to touch you and you didn’t know who they were. The whole thing was very, very creepy. I felt like I was up for sale.”

During his recovery months, the precocious child, who had been reading and writing since four, was often discovered by his parents in the Holloway library after school, re-teaching himself the alphabet, possibly by the light of a candle stump. Motor skills came back slowly. Using a knife and fork was hard and speech was harder.

“I thought I was conversing quite eloquently,” he recalls. “Apparently not! My parents were told by the doctors to keep me angry – to keep the edge going. I’d be babbling and they’d say, ‘What? I don’t understand you! Say that again!’

“I was deeply mentally frustrated,” he tells me. “It’s an amazing thing to look inside yourself and feel like two different people – one without the memory and the other one trying to kick you awake. Even today, I don’t like going to sleep at night. I’m no saint. I love all kinds of chemicals that keep me awake but I won’t take anything that is sleep-inducing.”

A lot of rock stars have an early trauma that drives them into wanting to become entertainers, I suggest. “A lot more don’t!” he says. But surely the man who has made a career out of being – or at least looking – angry had his formative moment in that hospital? When he came out, he had thick glasses and a curvature of the spine.

“Well, you can accept that you are no one or you can fight,” he replies. “That’s a part of working-class life anyway – being told that you are no one, know your place, shut up, say nothing. I had a double-barrelled shotgun of that.”

 

****

The Sex Pistols in 1977, with Johnny Rotten third from left. Photo: Getty

It’s nearly 40 years since Malcolm McLaren’s friend Bernard Rhodes spotted the 19-year-old Rotten on the King’s Road, near McLaren’s and Vivienne Westwood’s boutique, Sex. He was wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt with the words “I hate” written across it and the band’s eyes scratched out. Swiftly, after a meeting in a pub, he was enlisted to “sing” for the McLaren-managed punk band the Strand, which included the future Sex Pistols members Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook (they had already tried out Midge Ure and Kevin Rowland as frontmen).

It’s easy to forget that the Sex Pistols’ career spanned just two years and that they released only one album. You can’t watch a rock documentary these days without the narrative suffering a seismic fracture at the moment punk emerged, sweeping away the hubristic guitar gods of previous years. It is 38 years since the Sex Pistols were persuaded, by the host Bill Grundy, to swear on Thames Television’s Today programme (“fucking rotter”), propelling them on to the cover of the Daily Mirror. This year, John Humphrys tried to provoke Rotten on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and Rotten called him a “silly sausage”.

“What’s the biggest misconception about punk?” I ask him.

“That the alleged adults who were supposedly there to look after us created it all,” he says. “They didn’t. They stole every­thing from us and quite happily, too. That was a nice education . . . There are thieves everywhere!”

And by “alleged adults”, he means . . . ?

“Vivienne Westwood at the moment is portraying this nonsense that she conceived the idea of anarchy in the UK. Well, then, why didn’t she write the song? I mean, what an audacity! Malcolm spoke this way, too – pursuing their every waking thought as an artistic statement. That is completely, always, the voice of the talentless.”

Earlier this year, Westwood told the New Statesman that she saw punk primarily as a “marketing opportunity”. I let him know.

“That contradicts the idea of ‘anarchy’ in the UK rather nicely then, doesn’t it!” he flashes. “She never spoke to me. Never liked me, never wanted anything to do with me, hated me on sight. Now she’s trying to move in on my territory. Nobody ever put words in my mouth, not ever. Now that Malcolm’s gone – rest in pieces! – she’s moved in on the territory he was trying to cover. I think it’s very cheap and nasty.”

She wouldn’t have admitted it was a marketing opportunity at the time, would she?

“At the time, she was nothing more than someone doing knock-off Teddy boy suits and sex toys. And that was it. She didn’t invent the Teddy boy! I tell you, Vivienne’s costumes were always awful – those zips! She had no concept of men’s dangly bits. Safety pins had to be used to keep them together because the stitching was never finished and anything with a button or a buckle would just fly off – really, really poorly done. She was very clever at exaggerating the complexities of the concept, rather than focusing on the execution and reality.

“Well, there we differ. When I start a thing, I finish it and I make sure it’s well and truly sewn up.”

 

****

 

Though he was expected to destroy functioning society in 1976, Rotten is a lifelong Labour voter. His childhood in Holloway appears to have instilled in him a certain respect for politicians. His local MP was Michael O’Halloran (“Never forgot him”), who was popular with the Islington Irish community and held his seat at a time when Labour was struggling in the polls.

“I would go to the Labour town hall meetings with my mum and dad and I have fond memories of it,” he says. “When we lived on Benwell Road it was two rooms and an outdoor toilet shared with everyone on the street. My mum and dad were desperate for a council flat because at that point there were four kids and two adults in two rooms. They got one. And there you go – I’ve got a fond attachment there. Labour do care, they do build housing for the poor. They do look out for us in a much more serious way than a Conservative government would.”

Rotten thinks that grass-roots involvement is important. “There is nothing on television,” he says, “and you can’t afford the pub – well, go to the town hall meetings and listen to some real fun! Approach it like vaudeville!”

But where are these town hall meetings happening, I ask him? Surely the closest thing we have to vaudeville now is Ukip?

“Nah, Ukip are that bunch that will always appeal to the people that don’t like to think for themselves,” he says. “There will always be that sinkhole. And it’s important that it’s there, because by comparison other politicians shine like a beacon.

“You need that, you absolutely do. The clarity is waiting here for you, as a contrast to that mud going on.”

He doesn’t worry about the far right?

“I’d say keep an eye on it but at every opportunity you get, shout them down. Have they the right to be racist? Yes, they have the right. Are they right? No, they are not. Remind them of that consistently. Lest we forget, Britain is an island of immigrants, always has been. If you want to go their way, you’re going to have to start thinking about removing the Romans.”

Is he concerned about the future of Labour under Ed Miliband?

“I’ve met the fella,” he says, “and he seems honest enough. He dresses like a Tory, he talks like a Tory, so I’m confused. But there’s a softer edge to Labour than there is to any of the others and therefore that is the right way. There really isn’t an alternative. You can’t be handing it back to the landed gentry because they don’t give a fuck about any of us and they never will. They think it’s their moral obligation to be wealthy.”

When Rotten left the Sex Pistols, he had to fight McLaren in court for the use of his name. “The ownership of Mr Rotten was in dispute,” he recalls. “I suppose he wanted my teeth, too.” (The name was a reference to his dental hygiene.) You can believe him when he says the character was his creation, given how little his identity has changed through later musical projects, butter ads, TV appearances and all other facets of his rich but not exactly varied career. The funny thing is that he sort of makes more sense now than he did 40 years ago.

“If you want right of assembly, your local town hall is as good a place as any I know,” he says, back on the politics. “No point trying to chisel tiles and lead off the roof. I’m not despondent about it. I can see that it can be changed. But you’ve got to stand up and make a noise, [his voice at its most whiney, eyes at full-capacity bulge, palm slapping the tabletop] MAKE A NOISE!

“A lot of nonsenses were attached to me,” he muses, sucking on the stump of his Marlboro. “Malcolm’s idea, to give the press a free hand, would drive me crazy because I don’t like things to be misinterpreted. I like things to be very precise.

“Come to me with your misconceptions and I am very happy to clarify. And that’s a butter term.” 

“Anger Is an Energy: My Life Uncensored” is published by Simon & Schuster (£20)

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