Brian Cox and Robin Ince to guest-edit the Christmas issue of the New Statesman

A special edition on evidence, out Wednesday 19 December.

Next week will see a special issue of the New Statesman, featuring contributions from Ricky Gervais, Alan Moore, Mark Gatiss, Phill Jupitus, Alexander McCall Smith, Ben Miller, Maggie Philbin, Laura Bates, Tom Humberstone, Natalie Haynes, Josie Long, Ralph Steadman, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Mehdi Hasan, Jim Al-Khalili and an exclusive interview with David Attenborough.

Inside the 100-page double issue, Brian Cox and Robin Ince address the question of evidence – Why do we need it? How can we evaluate it?

They speak to some of the brightest thinkers in the world of science, investigate the year’s discoveries and bid farewell to Voyager-1 as it leaves the solar system. Inside, Mark Gatiss discusses ghost stories, Alexander McCall Smith writes a short story, Ralph Steadman draws the Large Hadron Collider and Alan Moore demolishes the very concept of evidence.

There are also cartoons from Phill Jupitus and Tom Humberstone, a galaxy of space images and faith leaders addressing the conflict between religious belief and science . . . and Ricky Gervais talking about atheism.

Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman, said:

“Brian and Robin will be familiar to millions as champions of science, through their join Radio 4 programme The Infinite Monkey Cage, and their separate endeavours. Robin’s Nine Lessons have become a Christmas institution, and Brian’s programmes have brought physics into the nation’s living rooms.

“As David Attenborough says in his interview with them, to be a full citizen in the modern world, it is vital to understand science and technology. We are delighted to devote a whole issue to the cause. This special issue is full of wonder and surprise.”

Robin Ince and Brian Cox said:

“One of the delights of working on Infinite Monkey Cage is the variety of ideas trawled through in the green room beforehand and the pub afterwards. 

“So when asked to hijack a magazine and fill it with our worldview and the views of others we like, obviously our monstrous egos demanded that we say yes.”

The issue will be on sale in London on Wednesday 19 December and in the rest of the country from Thursday 20 December. International buyers can obtain copies on our website at It will be on sale for two weeks, with the next issue out on Thursday, 3 January.

Other New Statesman guest editors have included Rowan Williams, Richard Dawkins, Jemima Khan, David Miliband and Ai Weiwei.

Brian Cox and Robin Ince. Photo: Muir Vidler for the New Statesman
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.