Editor's picks: Jason Cowley on the best pieces from 2013

The New Statesman editor selects some of his favourite reviews, essays and comment published in the magazine in 2013 - from John Gray on Edmund Burke to Will Self's tribute to pessimism.

One of the many pleasures of being editor of the New Statesman is the opportunity it allows to commission and publish writers I admire writing about subjects that interest me.

Let’s call it a higher form of self-indulgence. Anyway, here are 25 articles published in the New Statesman in 2013 which are worth reading if you missed them. If you didn’t, they are worth reading again.

John Gray - "What Machiavelli Knew" (July)

John Bew on Alex Ferguson - "The last great Briton" (December)

Hedley Twiddle - "The last days of Nelson Mandela" (October)

Jemima Khan on Julian Assange - "How the Wikileaks founder alienated his allies" (February)

Michael Barrett on the remarkable travels of David Livingstone - "Presumed innocent" (July)

Vince Cable on the Great Stagnation - "When the facts change, should I change my mind?" (March)

John Gray on Edmund Burke and the Tories - "History has no author" (May)

Brendan Simms on the German Problem - "Cracked heart of the old world" (March)

Robert Skidelsky - "Creative Destruction: Keynes, Hobson, Marx – and the crisis of capitalism" (May)

Will Self - "In praise of pessimism" (April)

Peter Wilby - "A Dissenting Tradition: the New Statesman and the left"

Simon Heffer - "Margaret Thatcher was not right-wing" (May)

Richard Mabey - Writing on nature

Ian Bremmer From G20 to G-Zero - "Why no one wants to take charge in the new global order" (June)

John Bew On the Geopolitics of the Syrian War - "Las Vegas rules don't apply in Syria" and "The west humiliated" (July and September)

Rachel Cusk - "On narcissim: the mirror and the self" (August)

Danny Dorling - "Why aren’t young people working?" (August)

Simon Kuper - "I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic: ghetto superstar" (September)

John Bew - "Clement Attlee: An unromantic hero" (September)

David Marquand on Britain and the EU - "First Brexit, then break-up" (October)

Steven Poole - "The pseudo-profundity of Malcolm Gladwell" (October)

David Pilling - "Shinzo Abe’s second coming" (October)

Russell Brand on revolution - “We no longer have the luxury of tradition” (October)

Rupert Everett - "Bring on the guillotine: Rupert Everett on the gay rights revolution" (October)

Bryan Appleyard - "Is this the death of Apple?" (November)

And here’s something by me – "Eton Eternal: How the old ruling class became the new ruling class" (May)

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.