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

Ralph Steadman's cover for the 5 January 1990 issue of the New Statesman.
Ralph Steadman's cover for the 5 January 1990 issue of the New Statesman.

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 jcowley@newstatesman.co.uk.

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 On Monday the editor of the Observer, John Mulholland, removed, or “unpublished”, from the Guardian website a column Burchill had written, in which she mocked transsexuals and those who self-identify as transgender.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: europeanpressprize.com