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Will there still be a New Statesman in 2113?

The signs are good - the printing press has been good enough for every generation since Gutenberg, after all.

Few occupations are as fruitless – or leave you as open to mockery – as future-gazing. Expertise and cast-iron certainty are no defence; just ask IBM’s chairman Thomas Watson, who declared in 1943:“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” (I imagine him adding: “OK, maybe more. Maybe, I dunno, seven?”) Fifty-two years later, Clifford Stoll wrote a piece for Newsweek magazine entitled “The Internet? Bah!” in which he argued that “cyberspace” would never catch on. His piece now appears on the web above an advert for “Newsweek on the iPad”; the title went online only earlier this year.

The accelerated pace of progress in the media landscape since the rise of the internet has both increased the number of “future of journalism” pieces and rendered them outdated embarrassingly quickly. In my first job on a national paper, less than a decade ago, we still sent black and white pages; sometimes we’d have to change the running order of the “book” in order to make sure a good picture ended up on a colour page. If you’d asked any of us then if there was a market for a website where people consumed their news in 140-character bursts, or a placemat-sized, black, shiny brick, we’d have been sceptical. And we’d never have believed that a British national paper would announce, as the Guardian did in 2011, that it was going “digital-first”, diving headfirst into a medium that has proved so stubbornly resistant to profitability.

But however inherently unpredictable the future may be, media commentators will persist in whipping out their crystal balls. My own collection of the worst offenders of the past decade is topped by Victor Keegan’s 2007 opus, “Will MySpace ever lose its monopoly?”. Around the same time, the website TechCrunch didn’t like “Twttr” either, sternly warning: “I imagine most users are not going to want to have all of their Twttr messages published on a public website.”

One recurring theme is the hailing of a new product as the “saviour of journalism”. Unsurprisingly, these calls get more frequent as the web sucks yet more money from the newspaper industry. In the early 2000s, it was CD-Roms: bundling a film or album in with the paper was supposedly sales Viagra. Next, in 2006, several titles unveiled “click and carry” – a PDF edition was available for download at lunchtime or home time, ready for you to print out and read. (The Guardian’s version, G24, still exists on a cobwebby part of their site and is still updated daily.) More recently, “social” has become the buzzword: getting readers to shove your content in front of their friends. Because of the higher ad revenues available, many print titles are trying video again, after disastrous earlier efforts involving rabbit-inheadlights reporters forced to make stilted conversation about their stories. This time, the idea is that users can make the content: sites such as Mail Online will bite your hand off for a video of an elephant seal crossing the road, or a toddler adorably explaining sexism in a toyshop.

Given all that, it’s no surprise that I’m reluctant to predict what the New Statesman will look like in 2113. Nonetheless, I’m willing to do it anyway, if only to give our Ant Overlords something to laugh about as they make another skyscraper entirely out of saliva and the charred remains of Alain de Botton’s back catalogue.

The first is that the New Statesman will survive: it’s already made it through two world wars and the waxing and waning of many smaller publications, some of which it has absorbed. The second is that it will still exist on paper: the printing press has been good enough for every generation since Gutenberg, after all, and as more of our lives move online, I think the attractions of reading a magazine with a glass of wine will become more, rather than less, apparent. My third prediction is that people will still pay for it: quality journalism costs money, and the decision on 26 March by the Sun and Telegraph to implement a paywall for their online content suggests that the industry’s desire to give content away free might be dwindling.

Yes, I’m probably wrong on all counts, and in the 22nd century some future deputy editor will be reading this beamed directly on to her eyeball and laughing heartily at my naivety together with the cryogenically frozen head of Clay Shirky. Then again, given the current trend of the retirement age, it’s possible that in 2113 I might still be working for the NS.

Helen Lewis is the New Statesman’s deputy editor. She also runs the NS website and tweets @helenlewis

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Centenary Special Issue

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Jeremy Corbyn has transformed Labour from resisting social movements to supporting them

The opposition's new leadership has brought about a historic shift in its relationship with social movements.

“Another world is possible,” declared John McDonnell last month in his first major speech as Labour’s new shadow chancellor. These four words show how Labour’s leadership views its relationship with activists and campaigners outside the Westminster system. The slogan is the motto of the World Social Forum, an annual alternative to the ultra-elite World Economic Forum, formed by social movements across the world to struggle against, and build alternatives to, neoliberalism.

How times change. In a speech given at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library in Texas, United States, in April 2002, Labour leader and British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered his support to the administrators of the global economy, not those demonstrating against them.

He said: “It's time we took on the anti-globalisation protestors who seek to disrupt the meetings international leaders have on these issues. What the poor world needs is not less globalisation but more. Their injustice is not globalisation but being excluded from it. Free enterprise is not their enemy; but their friend.”

In 2002, Labour’s leadership wanted to take on social movements. Now, it intends to engage with and support them. “The new kind of politics” of Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is about more than focusing on issues over personalities and (anti-) presentational changes.

It is also “a new politics which is based on returning the Labour party to its roots. And the roots of the Labour party was as a social movement, representing the vast majority of working people in this country,” as McDonnell, Corbyn’s closest political ally, explains to the New Statesman.

Campaigners outside of the Labour party are excited. John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, a campaigning anti-poverty NGO, tells the New Statesman, “there’s a really positive impulse to the Corbyn/McDonnell leadership reaching out” to social movements. For Hilary, the immediate policy changes on TTIP – the EU-US investor rights, regulation harmonisation and non-tariff barriers deal negotiated behind closed doors – and a Financial Transaction Tax have already sent “a message to a disenfranchised part of the electorate that Labour is back”.

But, for the campaigners outside of the Labour party, this moment is not without risks. Political parties have a long record of crushing the autonomy of social movements.

“It’s important they aren’t incorporated or have to work on the terms of the political system. It’s a matter of a respectful relationship,” explains Hilary Wainwright, a political activist and founder and co-editor of Red Pepper magazine. Wainwright argues for “close engagement [between Labour and outside campaigners] that isn’t a bossy dominating one. One that seeks to collaborate, not govern”.

McDonnell agrees. “The most important thing,” he says, “is that all of the campaigns and social movements that are campaigning at the moment and those that will campaign in the future, need to maintain their autonomy from government and political parties. We respect that . . . Otherwise, we’ll undermine their vitality and their independence.”

To remain “strong, independent and radical” is “the most helpful” campaigners can be to Labour’s leadership, according to Hilary. Labour’s leadership “don’t look to us to make the sort of political compromises that they might have to do in order to hold a much broader spectrum of people together. What we can do best is hold that line as we believe it be right and support the Labour leadership in taking a line as close as possible to that”, he says.

The task for social movements and campaigners outside of the party is “to show how there will be popular support for radical and principled positions”, according to Hilary.

To win in 2020, Labour will “bring together a coalition of social movements that have changed the political climate in this country and, as a result of that, changed the electoral potential of the Labour Party as well”, says McDonnell. For Labour’s shadow chancellor, the people's views on issues are complex and fluid rather than static, making the job of politicians to bump up as close to them as possible.

Movements can help shift political common sense in Labour’s direction. Just as UK Uncut placed the issue of tax avoidance and tax justice firmly on the political map, so too can other campaigners shift the political terrain.

This movement-focused perspective may, in part, explain why the Corbyn campaign chose to transform itself last week into the Momentum movement, a grassroots network open to those without Labour membership cards. This approach stands in contrast to Blair’s leadership campaign that evolved into Progress, a New Labour pressure group and think tank made up of party members.

In order to allow movements the space to change the terms of the debate and for Labour to develop policy in conjunction with them, the party needs “to engage with movements on their own terms”, according to Wainwright. This means “the party leadership need to find out where people are struggling and where people are campaigning and specifically work with them”, she continues.

McDonnell says it will. He says Labour “want to work alongside them, give them a parliamentary voice, give them a voice in government but, more importantly, assist them in the work that they do within the wide community, both in meetings, demonstrations and on picket lines”.

This position is not one you would expect from McDonnell’s five more recent predecessors: Chris Leslie, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson, Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown. So, “this may seem like a unique moment if you’re looking just within the British context. But, if you look outside Britain it’s actually much more in touch with movements in many places in the world”, says Hilary.

He adds: “Political parties are going to have to have much more honest engagements between parliamentary politics and the social movement hinterland. For us, it just means that in a wonderful way, Britain is catching up with the rest of the world.”

McDonnell too sees this shift in how Labour engages with movements as “a historic change that modernises the Labour party”.

But, perhaps for Labour, this is a recurrence rather than a transformation. The party grew out of Britain’s biggest social movement: the unions. Labour’s new leadership’s openness to campaigners “modernises it by taking it back to being a social movement again”, says McDonnell.