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The NS centenary, Miliband’s one-nation groove and Mulho’s apology

The New Statesman will be 100 years old on 12 April this year. Founded by Beatrice and Sidney Webb with £5,000-worth of donations from friends, including £1,000 from George Bernard Shaw, the new “paper” was originally called the Statesman; Arthur Balfour, the former Tory prime minister, suggested that the adjective be added after it was pointed out that one of India’s leading English-language newspapers had the same name. The first editor was Clifford Sharp, who was a drunk, a spy and, to the irritation of the Webbs, an ardent admirer of the Asquith Liberals. He was also competent, a skilled typesetter and copy editor. He hung on, just, until 1928, when he was replaced by Charles Mostyn Lloyd, who in 1930 was succeeded by the man who became the NS’s greatest editor, Kingsley Martin.

Beatrice Webb was pessimistic about the prospects of her weekly review of politics and the arts. “If I were forced to wager, I should not back our success,” she wrote in a diary entry. A hundred years later, here we still are, having absorbed or merged with any number of venerable titles along the way: the Weekend Review, the Nation, New Society, Marxism Today.

And, today, because of our ever-expanding website (which has more than one million unique visitors a month) and our availability in digital formats such as Kindle, we are arguably reaching more readers than ever before. Why, even the circulation of the old paper magazine itself is rising again, without marketing, at a time when so many print titles are dying. We’re feeling chipper.

I’ve been burrowing deep into the NS archive, which is surely the richest and most distinguished of any surviving British periodical. Over the months ahead, we shall republish some of the best articles from it in special issues and a book. Do please let me know of any of your favourites by writing to

Trans sisters’ circus

In his final interview, conducted by Richard Dawkins and published in our 2011 Christmas issue, Christopher Hitchens said that a writer should never be afraid of stridency. One would never accuse Julie Burchill of being anything other than strident. On Monday the editor of the Observer, John Mulholland, removed, or “unpublished”, from the Guardian website a column Burchill had written, in which she mocked transsexuals and those who self-identify as transgender.

The column was pretty wild and provoked the inevitable “Twitter storm”. My colleague Laurie Penny, on her personal blog, denounced Burchill’s column as “the most disgusting piece of hate-speech printed in a liberal newspaper in recent years”.

The Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone idiotically called for both Burchill, who is freelance, and Mulholland to be sacked. (Can you sack a freelance?) Sometimes an editor makes a mistake and holds up his or her hand and says so. Mulholland’s response was characteristically sensible. He apologised. Accept it. Move on.

Get out of the groove

I enjoyed Ed Miliband’s keynote speech to the Fabians’ annual conference delivered last weekend. It had a low-key, conversational, early-Saturday-morning-after-thenight- before softness and intimacy, as if Ed were merely addressing a gathering of friends rather than using the platform to speak to the wider movement and the nat­ion.

All the preoccupations of his leadership were recycled: social responsibility, changing the rules of the market, the need for pre- and as well as redistribution, and so on. But this latter-day George Clinton should be wary of overworking the one-nation groove, even if he believes the nation is on the move (please don’t stop him now!).

The “one nation” theme has resonance and has given Ed a banner slogan, but ultimately what does he mean by it and how far can he stretch it? “When I use a word,” Humpty- Dumpty said to Alice, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” The Labour leader should beware of wandering too far into Wonderland.

Back to the barricades

Miliband speaks of the need to create “the idea of a country which we rebuild together, where everyone plays their part”. He alludes to the spirit of the Attlee government and the whole patriotic nation-building project that defined the postwar period of reconstruction and led to the creation of the National Health Service and the welfare state.

It is unashamedly romantic, this desire of his to recapture a sense of “common endeavour”, but how possible is it when, in an age of globalisation and open labour markets, so many of us have become so atomised? Richard Crossman, writing in 1952, said that the NHS – and, by implication, the welfare state – was a “by-product of the Blitz”. Is Miliband asking of us nothing less than to recapture the spirit of the Blitz?

Footing Theo’s bills

True football fans are essentially irrational. They commit to a football club in early childhood and it becomes a bond of love and affection, never to be broken. This was why the marketeers, at the advent of the Rupert Murdoch-financed Premier League in 1992, spoke coldly but presciently of fans as being a captive market ripe for exploitation.

Recently there has been much grumbling about high ticket prices. Arsenal fans are especially agitated about what they are being charged to watch Arsène Wenger’s increasingly erratic side at the Emirates Stadium in north London. At the same time, they are demanding that Wenger spend heavily on transfer fees and wages.

Arsenal have been locked in a tediously protracted dispute with the “contract rebel” Theo Walcott, who is said to be demanding £100,000 a week to stay at the club for another five years. Surely the fans understand that there is a correlation between Walcott’s wages and ticket prices? If they don’t, or refuse to, then the bars of their self-created prisons are even thicker than I’d imagined.

Jason Cowley has been shortlisted for the European Press Prize for outstanding journalism. Details:

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.

This article first appeared in the 21 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The A-Z of Israel

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.