In memory: Kirsty Milne

Former NS staffer Dr Kirsty Milne has died.

We are sad to report the loss of a former New Statesman editor, Dr Kirsty Milne.

After joining the New Statesman staff in 1993 following its merger with her former paper New Society, Kirsty wrote reviews and features for the NS and other publications, including the Times, Telegraph and a politics column for the Scotsman. She later became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and a Research Fellow specialising in early modern English and the classics at Wolfson College, Oxford.

She died this week and will be much missed. Sarah Baxter, a colleague at the magazine in the early 90s and now Deputy Editor at the Sunday Times, said: "Kirsty was a wonderful colleague, full of energy, mischief and fun. She loved political ideas and political intrigue, and wrote about them brilliantly. She was always insistent that her name was pronounced Keersty, not Kursty ... After being told off a few times, I've never been able to pronounce Kirsty any other way. She was my great friend and confidante at the Statesman, and I'll miss her dearly."

Below is a reprint of the first article she wrote for the NS entitled, "Inside the Glasgow glass envelope", and dated 21 November 1986.

Inside the Glasgow glass envelope

What can you do for a city undergoing an economic identity crisis? With dying industrial heartlands, unemployment running above 20 per cent and a reputation for social deprivation which continues to stick? 'Adapt or die' is the response most commonly to be heard in Glasgow, and the result is a remarkable phenomenon — a city in search of a future.

There's no question that Glasgow is in danger of being left behind, a casualty city which just happened to be, in the words of one council official, 'in the wrong place, facing the wrong way, and making the wrong things'. Like the rest of Britain, Glasgow has had to watch the slow decline of its traditional manufacturing base — in shipbuilding, steel and engineering. There are only two shipyards left; the Clyde used to be crucial to Glasgow and now people are saying bitterly that you can fish in it. Manufacturing in Glasgow contracted by 30 per cent between 1978 and 1983, and plants which were once familiar features of the city continue to close.

The rate of redundancies, which peaked in 1980, is slowing down, but the cumulative result is a bad case of long-term unemployment: latest figures show that of the 77,204 jobless in Glasgow, 9,280 have been out of work for more than six years. Where are the new jobs to come from? The electronics industry clearly isn't the knight on the high-tech charger that's required; it only provides 42,000 jobs in the whole of Scotland, and besides, computer companies have tended to locate in other parts of 'Silicon Glen', especially New Towns.

To the rescue come Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Development Agency (SDA), both of which have put their faith in the service sector as the only realistic area for growth in employment. To this end there's been a lot of emphasis on improving the quality of the city centre, which is visibly in the process of turning itself inside out. The whole area known as Merchant City, with its extravagant Victorian facades, is being redeveloped to provide shops, offices and up to 2,000 homes as bait for Glasgow yuppies. South of Argyle St a huge site awaits a glass envelope which will protect a shopping centre, an ice rink and a multi-storey car park from the incessant Scottish rain in the £62m St Enoch's development. Even the old fish market, the Briggait, has been turned into glossy umbrella forstalls and specialist shops, though with a view across the Clyde to the Gorbals it looks as much like Covent Garden as a fish out of water.

Nevertheless, Donald Dewar, Shadow Scottish Secretary and MP for Glasgow Garscadden, describes the general atmosphere with the greater precision: 'the place is hopping'. And much of the hopping takes place under the careful eyes of the council and the SDA, working to combine public spending with private investment in as many projects as possible. The SDA is a unique phenomenon (and the Treasury would like it to stay that way): a semi-independent, government- funded organisation set up by Harold Wilson in 1975 to do something about the Scottish economy. As a leading industrial landlord with a gross annual budget of more than £130m, the SDA is much respected by the 200 or so people who make up the Scottish establishment for being hard­headed and commercially-minded. Not surprising, then, that a Treasury review last month criticised the SDA for being too interventionist. Certainly it has a finger in innumerable pies — in Glasgow alone it put money into the Scottish Conference and Exhibition Centre, initiated the GEAR project to put money into the East End of Glasgow, and is managing the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival through a wholly-owned subsidiary.

Last year it set up a new group, Glasgow Action, to promote the city as a business location and the dynamic young director, David Macdonald, is as much interested in the music business as in merchant banks (Glasgow, remember, produced not only Ultravox and Simple Minds but the Associates and Strawberry Switchblade as well). His organisation has specific targets: relieving Glasgow of its status as a 'branch economy' (i.e. attracting more company HQs to Glasgow — Britoil was a recent success); improving air links with Europe and the USA; developing Glasgow's tourist industry (the Burrell Collection, opened in 1983, has now overtaken Edinburgh castle as Scotland's top tourist attraction).

However, there's nothing he can teach Glasgow City Council about selling the city; after all, for three years now Mr Happy has been seen on London buses proclaiming 'Glasgow's Miles Better' and the campaign has been given a boost since Glasgow won the British nomination for European City of Culture in 1990. Macdonald describes the council as 'solidly socialist and very pragmatic with it . . . the city's interests always come first'. Perhaps it's the pragmatism born of numerical supremacy (the Labour group has 50 councillors to the Conservatives' 5, and a visiting Hackney councillor was reputedly shocked when she saw how cosily collusive they all were).

The council needs its pragmatism when it comes to housing; as the biggest landlord in Europe it has the dubious distinction of presiding over some of the worst council housing in Britain: an estimate 10,000 homes in Glasgow don't have a bath. Government spending restrictions have limited the council's capital spending to modernisation and planned repairs, so it's small wonder that they should be encouraging private developers and housing associations to build and convert more homes — even selling council houses to tenants the deprived suburb of Easterhouse. But the core of the housing problem remains the post-war estates built on the periphery of the city: Pollok, Castlemilk, Easterhouse and Drumchapel. Almost one in four of the unemployed in Glasgow lives there.

What will the expansion of the service sector do for those one in four? Will it pick up the long-term unemployed? Retailing and office work may be subject to mechanisation and contraction of numbers in the future as manufacturing has been in the past. There are some economists that would argue that, anyway, the growth of the service sector goes hand in hand with the growth of the manufacturing industry. In Glasgow, Donald Dewar speaks of the need for a ‘balanced economy’ with ‘a core of manufacturing which is competitive’. Campbell Christie, General Secretary of the STUC is also unhappy about the over-reliance on the service sector. He would like to see Glasgow’s traditional areas of manufacturing, including the shipyards, sustained; new industries developed; and a major programme of expenditure on housing and construction projects to provide jobs and tackle Glasgow’s decaying infrastructure.

Earlier this month, the Invisible Export Council confirmed that employment in the UK service sector isn’t likely to increase substantially and won’t compensate for the jobs lost in manufacturing industry. But even if the service sector does represent the only real possibility for growth in Glasgow (and it’s worth pointing out that it’s remained more or less static since 1971), a depressing scenario suggests itself – that of a pepped-up city centre, a flourishing service sector, and, on the periphery, the long-term marginalised unemployed. In microcosm, it could be what’s in store for the British economy as a whole: 87 per cent of us in work and getting richer – and the rest out in the cold.

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John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.