Announcing the New Statesman Centenary Issue

We celebrate 100 years with the largest single issue of the magazine in its history.

The New Statesman, founded in 1913, will mark its centenary with a 180-page souvenir issue, to be published on Thursday 11 April. It will be the largest single issue in the magazine’s history. The centenary edition will include contributions from leading writers and political figures, including Julian Barnes, A S Byatt, David Hare, Mark Mazower, Melvyn Bragg, Michael Gove, David Miliband and Robert Skidelsky. There will also be a number of yet-to-be-announced guest writers and reprints of classic articles by T S Eliot, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell and others.

Under the award-winning editorship of Jason Cowley, who joined at the end of 2008, the title has been revitalised, thanks to a stable of talented writers, a series of agenda-setting scoops and notable guest-edits by Jemima Khan, Richard Dawkins, Rowan Williams and the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

Among the scoops that have helped to transform the profile of the New Statesman are: Hugh Grant’s hugely popular article “The bugger, bugged”, which turned the tables on a former News of the World journalist; the controversial attack on the austerity policies of the coalition government by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, which led to a rift between Downing Street and Lambeth Palace; Vince Cable’s recent intervention on the government’s economic strategy; Jemima Khan’s denunciation of Julian Assange; and the discovery and publication of “Last Letter”, a poem by Ted Hughes about the night his then wife, Sylvia Plath, committed suicide.

Boosted by Kindle and digital subscriptions, the circulation of the magazine is approaching 30,000. Meanwhile, newstatesman.com has had a 300 per cent increase in traffic since 2009. It is now the country’s biggest politics website, with 1.4 million unique visitors and 3.6 million page views during this March alone – exceptional numbers for such a small team. The first episode of a weekly New Statesman podcast went out this week and a new iPad app for the magazine will go live in May.

“A great magazine with the status of a national treasure.”

– Richard Dawkins

 

“The New Statesman distinguishes itself not just by the quality of its writing and the thoughtfulness of its content but by the breadth of its editorial mind - something from which other publications of both left and right can learn much.”

- Simon Heffer, the Daily Mail

 

“A great magazine...grab hold of a copy.”

– Russell Brand

 

“Under its current editorial team, the New Statesman is the best it’s been in my lifetime . . . sharp and interesting and valid.”

– Daniel Finkelstein, the Times

 

“The NS has become a consistent home for important points of view ignored by other media - and therefore plays a crucial role in the moral and intellectual health of the nation.”

– Alain de Botton

 

“The new New Statesman is thoughtful and surprising. Britain needs fresh progressive thinking and debate, and the NS is generating it.”

- David Milliband

Jason Cowley said:

The New Statesman is no longer on life support and is returning to robust health. I’m confident that it is now the best written and most intellectually stimulating magazine in Britain. We have rethought it and relaunched the website. We have broadened our political range and collaborated with some interesting and unexpected people. We have drawn influence from our Fabian tradition but also from Keynesian Liberalism – it is often forgotten that in 1931 the New Statesman merged with the Nation, the old voice of Bloomsbury social liberalism. 

The centenary issue will be full of great journalism and cultural criticism in the best tradition of the magazine. We will be looking back but we’ll also be asking what the next 100 years might bring in politics, public life and culture. Whatever that is, we are now confident that the New Statesman will be here to engage with it, online and on paper.”

Centenary celebrations began on 4 April with a sold-out debate on the future of feminism, chaired by our web editor, Caroline Crampton, and featuring the New Statesman’s crack squad of feminist bloggers. On 18 April, editor Jason Cowley will chair a second debate with the motion “This house believes the left won the 20th century”, in which the Daily Mail’s Simon Heffer, the Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan and the New Statesman’s deputy editor, Helen Lewis, will be pitted against ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie, the Independent columnist Owen Jones and Ruth Porter of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The New Statesman Century, a 300-page special issue of the magazine showcasing the most incisive, influential and amusing articles from the New Statesman archive, will be published in the summer. A book will follow.

In this centenary year, the New Statesman will also be working with Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 programme on a series featuring some of the leading thinkers and writers of our time. From 29 April and continuing every week into the summer, Jonathan Sachs, Brian May, David Puttnam, Stephen Hawking, Mary Robinson, Susan Greenfield, Alain de Botton and others will attempt to answer the most fundamental question of all: “What makes us human?” Their essays will be read and discussed on Jeremy Vine’s radio show and published in the New Statesman.

The New Statesman was founded on the eve of the First World War by the social reformers and economists Beatrice and Sidney Webb, with support from George Bernard Shaw and other members of the Fabian Society. From defying Fascism under long-standing editor Kingsley Martin, to kicking off the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, as well as arguing for women’s, LGBT rights and constitutional reform, the magazine has backed many radical causes over the years, in spite of libel costs and funding difficulties which resulted in near bankruptcy in the 1990s.

Throughout its colourful history, the New Statesman has remained committed to publishing the best writers and journalists. The roll call of great political and cultural writers who have contributed to the magazine includes H G Wells, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Paul Johnson, Julian Barnes, Virginia Woolf, Christopher Hitchens, Will Self and John Gray. More recently, the magazine has been a platform for a new generation of talented journalists such as Laurie Penny, Mehdi Hasan and Helen Lewis.

The New Statesman Centenary Issue will be availble for purchase on newsstands and on our website from next Thursday, 11th April 2013.

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Angela Merkel's call for a burqa ban sets a disturbing precedent

The German chancellor's plan for a partial ban of the full-face veil is a clearly political move, which will do more to harm those women who wear it than protect them.

 

In these febrile times, women’s freedom and autonomy has become a bargaining chip in the poker game of public propaganda — and that goes double for brown, Muslim and migrant women. Angela Merkel should know as well as any other female politician how demeaning it is to be treated as if what you wear is more important than what you say and what you do. With the far-right on the rise across Europe, however, the German chancellor has become the latest lawmaker to call for a partial ban on the burqa and niqab.

We are told that this perennial political football is being kicked about in the name of liberating women. It can have nothing to do, of course, with the fact that popular opinion is lurching wildly to the right in western democracies, there’s an election in Germany next year, and Merkel is seen as being too soft on migration after her decision to allow a million Syrian refugees to enter the country last year. She is also somehow blamed for the mob attacks on women in Cologne, which have become a symbol of the threat that immigration poses to white women and, by extension, to white masculinity in Europe. Rape and abuse perpetrated by white Europeans, of course, is not considered a matter for urgent political intervention — nor could it be counted on to win back voters who have turned from Merkel's party to the far-right AFD, which wants to see a national debate on abortion rights and women restricted to their rightful role as mothers and homemakers.

If you’ll allow me to be cynical for a moment, imposing state restrictions on what women may and may not wear in public has not, historically, been a great foundation for feminist liberation. The move is symbolic, not practical. In Britain, where the ban is also being proposed by Ukip the services that actually protect women from domestic violence have been slashed over the past six years — the charity Refuge, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the UK, has seen a reduction in funding across 80% of its service contracts since 2011.

It’s worth noting that even in western countries with sizeable Muslim minorities, the number of women who wear full burqa is vanishingly small. If those women are victims of coercion or domestic violence, banning the burqa in public will not do a thing to make them safer — if anything, it will reduce their ability to leave their homes, isolating them further.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, racist and Islamophobic attacks spiked in the UK. Hate crimes nationally shot up by 42% in the two weeks following the vote on 23 June. Hate crimes against Muslim women increased by over 300%, with visibly Muslim women experiencing 46% of all hate incidents. Instances of headscarves being ripped off have become so common that self-defense videos are being shared online, showing women how to deflect the “hijab grab”. In this context, it is absurd to claim that politicians proposing a burqa ban care about protecting women: the move is transparently designed to placate the very people who are making Muslim women feel unsafe in their own communities.

When politicians talk about banning the burqa, the public hears an attack on all Islamic headscarves — not everyone knows the difference between the hijab, the niqab and the burqa, and not everyone cares. The important thing is that seeing women dressed that way makes some people feel uncomfortable, and desperate politicians are casting about for ways to validate that discomfort.

Women who actually wear the burqa are not invited to speak about their experiences or state their preferences in this debate. On this point, Islamic fundamentalists and panicked western conservatives are in absolute agreement: Muslim women are provocative and deserve to be treated as a threat to masculine pride. They should shut up and let other people decide what’s best for them.

I know Muslim women who regard even the simple hijab as an object of oppression and have sworn never to wear one again. I also know Muslim women who wear headscarves every day as a statement both of faith and of political defiance. There is no neutral fashion option for a woman of Islamic faith — either way, men in positions of power will feel entitled to judge, shame and threaten. Either choice risks provoking anger and violence from someone with an opinion about what your outfit means for them. The important thing is the autonomy that comes with still having a choice.

A law which treats women like children who cannot be trusted to make basic decisions about their bodies and clothing is a sexist law; a law that singles out religious minorities and women of colour as especially unworthy of autonomy is a racist, sexist law. Instituting racist, sexist laws is a good way to win back the votes of racist, sexist people, but, again, a dreadful way of protecting women. In practice, a burqa ban, even the partial version proposed by Merkel which will most likely be hard to enforce under German constitutional law, will directly impact only a few thousand people in the west. Those people are women of colour, many of them immigrants or foreigners, people whose actual lives are already of minimal importance to the state except on an abstract, symbolic level, as the embodiment of a notional threat to white Christian patriarchy. Many believe that France's longstanding burqa ban has increased racial tensions — encapsulated by the image earlier this year of French police surrounding a woman who was just trying to relax with her family on the beach in a burkini. There's definitely male violence at play here, but a different kind — a kind that cannot be mined for political capital, because it comes from the heart of the state.

This has been the case for centuries: long before the US government used the term“Operation Enduring Freedom” to describe the war in Afghanistan, western politicians used the symbolism of the veil to recast the repeated invasion of Middle Eastern nations as a project of feminist liberation. The same colonists who justified the British takeover of Islamic countries abroad were active in the fight to suppress women’s suffrage at home. This is not about freeing women, but about soothing and coddling men’s feelings about women.

The security argument is even more farcical: border guards are already able to strip people of their clothes, underwear and dignity if they get the urge. If a state truly believes that facial coverings are some sort of security threat, it should start by banning beards, but let's be serious, masculinity is fragile enough as it is. If it were less so, we wouldn't have politicians panicking over how to placate the millions of people who view the clothing choices of minority and migrant women as an active identity threat.

Many decent, tolerant people, including feminists, are torn on the issue of the burqa: of course we don't want the state to start policing what women can and can't wear, but isn't the burqa oppressive? Maybe so, but I was not aware of feminism as a movement that demands that all oppressive clothing be subject to police confiscation, unless the Met’s evidence lockers are full of stilettos, girdles and push-up bras. In case you're wondering, yes, I do feel uncomfortable on the rare occasions when I have seen people wearing the full face veil in public. I've spent enough time living with goths and hippies that I've a high tolerance for ersatz fashion choices — but do wonder what their home lives are like and whether they are happy and safe, and that makes me feel anxious. Banning the burqa might make me feel less anxious. It would not, however, improve the lives of the women who actually wear it. That is what matters. My personal feelings as a white woman about how Muslim women choose to dress are, in fact, staggeringly unimportant.

If you think the Burqa is oppressive and offensive, you are perfectly entitled never to wear one. You are not, however, entitled to make that decision for anyone else. Exactly the same principle applies in the interminable battle over women's basic reproductive choices: many people believe that abortion is wrong, sinful and damaging to women. That's okay. I suggest they never have an abortion. What's not okay is taking away that autonomy from others as a cheap ploy for good press coverage in the runup to an election.

This debate has been dragging on for decades, but there's a new urgency to it now, a new danger: we are now in a political climate where the elected leaders of major nations are talking about registries for Muslims and other minorities. Instituting a symbolic ban on religious dress, however extreme, sets a precedent. What comes next? Are we going to ban every form of Islamic headdress? What about the yarmulke, the tichel, the Sikh turban, the rainbow flag? If this is about community cohesion, what will it take to make white conservatives feel “comfortable”? Where does it stop? Whose freedoms are politicians prepared to sacrifice as a sop to a populace made bitter and unpredictable by 30 years of neoliberal incompetence? Where do we draw the line?

We draw it right here, between the state and the autonomy of women, particularly minority and migrant women who are already facing harassment in unprecedented numbers. Whatever you feel about the burqa, it is not the role of government to police what women wear, and doing it has nothing to do with protection. It is chauvinist, it is repressive, it is a deeply disturbing precedent, and it has no place in our public conversation.

 
 
 
 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.