In this week’s New Statesman: Spring Double Issue

100 pages of the finest writing, in time for Easter!

Spring has sprung (well, one can dream) and the NS brings you a celebratory Easter Double Issue packed with top quality writing, political commentary, cultural criticism, photography and fiction. FEATURING:

Felix Martin on the calamity facing Europe after the Cyprus crisis

Denis Healey: Rafael Behr interviews the former Chancellor, veteran Labour frontliner and poetry enthusiast

David Selbourne on the “void” in the new Tory party

A diary piece from Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow

GQ editor Dylan Jones on the perfect re-emergence of David Bowie

Why Allende Had to Die: the extraordinary 1974 essay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“The Old Country” – a photo essay on Romanian migration

Crime correspondent Duncan Campbell on our enduring fascination with the Great Train Robbery

Jenny Diski on the paradox of fairness

A new short story from Deborah Levy

Will Self on Byron burgers

And much, much more....

 

Denis Healey: “Thatcher was good-looking and brilliant”

In the Politics Interview, Rafael Behr sits down with Denis Healey, the former defence secretary and chancellor of the exchequer who was on the front line of Labour politics for more than 40 years. Now, at 95, he has forgotten the squabbles and wants to take the long view. He also reveals an unexpected passion for poetry.

Read this interview in full on our website now.

 

David Selbourne: The new blue void

“The Tory void truly is a hollow place,” writes David Selbourne in an exclusive essay for the New Statesman. Selbourne argues that “Toryism no longer has a distinct core of belief”: “It is a commonplace criticism of today’s Conservative Party – especially among Conservatives – that it is poorly led by David Cameron, without coherent policy and therefore without sense of direction.” So, why can’t the new Conservative Party define itself? A failed “modernization” project lies at the heart of the void, argues Selbourne:

This was “we-believe-in-society” in intellectual fancy dress . . . “Brand” has taken precedence over brain, a new logo has counted for more than a new logic, and a photo opportunity more than a philosophy. Cameron’s “new product”, as David Davis called it in March 2007, has failed and the Conservative Party has failed with it . . .

The grim truth is that the Conser­vative Party is not able to make up its mind on most of the central issues of the day. This is ascribable not only to its present intellectually feeble leadership; it is because the Conservative Party is divided about what exactly it is and how to present this chimera to the public – as the Upbeat, Can-Do, Going-Somewhere Party of the Bright (if imaginary) Future, or as the party of those who are honest enough to say what a rough condition the country is in.

 

Jon Snow: The Diary

The Channel 4 news lead presenter writes a diary piece for us these week, covering everything from tea with Queen Judi, to bicycling in Amsterdam and hunting for WMDs with Hans Blix.

Midday on Tuesday. To the New Horizon Youth Centre near King’s Cross for our monthly meeting of the management council, which I chair. It’s a day centre for vulne­rable and homeless young people. We talk of finance and gangs – the former remains tough but survivable. As to the latter, “Not many gangs round here,” I venture. I come and go from the centre by bike, oblivious to the tensions in the streets around me.

The youth centre workers correct me. “We have one gang to the north, one to the south, and then there’s the Kilburn Crew out to the west.” Gangs are about identity, family even, for often deeply insecure, isolated youngsters who yearn for community and get it at the blade of a knife or worse.

That afternoon, I cycle over to the Noël Coward Theatre to interview Judi Dench, who is starring in her first post-Skyfall West End play – Peter and Alice. We squash our camera kit into the little rococo withdraw-ing room at the back of the theatre, all gold, blue and mirrored. Tricky to film without spotting one of the cameras in one of the mirrors. Dame Judi is an extraordinarily jolly yet formidable presence. At once apparently stern and then breaking out into a completely infectious laugh.

 

Gabriel García Márquez: Why Allende had to die

Forty years have passed since the Chilean president Salvador Allende died in La Moneda Palace in Santiago, attempting to defend himself with an AK-47 he had been given by Fidel Castro. Here, in a piece from the New Statesman published in March 1974, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez explores Allende’s record in Chile, his rivals’ dealings with the United States and the rise of his successor – the army general Augusto Pinochet.

It was towards the end of 1969 that three generals from the Pentagon dined with five Chilean military officers in a house in the suburbs of Washington. The host was Lieutenant Colonel Gerardo López Angulo, assistant air attaché of the Chilean Military Mission to the United States, and the Chilean guests were his colleagues from the other branches of service. The dinner was in honour of the new director of the Chilean Air Force Academy, General Carlos Toro Mazote, who had arrived the day before on a study mission. The eight officers dined on fruit salad, roast veal and peas and drank the warm-hearted wines of their distant homeland to the south, where birds glittered on the beaches while Washington wallowed in snow, and they talked mostly in English about the only thing that seemed to interest Chileans in those days: the approaching presidential elections of the following September. Over dessert, one of the Pentagon generals asked what the Chilean army would do if the candidate of the left, someone like Salvador Allende, were elected. General Toro Mazote replied: “We’ll take Moneda Palace in half an hour, even if we have to burn it down.

 

Duncan Campbell: Fun-loving criminals

It wasn’t a particularly successful crime, nor the most significant in British history, so why, 50 years on, are we still so fascinated by the Great Train Robbery? Duncan Campbell, the Guardian’s former crime correspondent, investigates, beginning:

Over the police radio came the astonished comment: “You won’t believe this – but they’ve just stolen a train.” The first official notification of the theft of £2.6m from the Glasgow-to-Euston mail train came at 4.30 in the morning on 8 August 1963. Now, nearly 50 years on, we are about to experience a blizzard of anniversary television programmes, reissued books and chin-stroking commentary pieces about what was initially called “the Cheddington train robbery” but soon acquired a more grandiose title.

But why, half a century later, are we still familiar with the names of those involved in the Great Train Robbery? How has professional crime changed since then? And what, if anything, does it say about the nation’s fascination with villainy?

 

Jenny Diski: The paradox of fairness

In an essay and personal story, writer Jenny Diski wonders if the world would be a better place if the vicious suffered for their viciousness. And what exactly are “just deserts”? She begins:

For as far back as I can remember language, and uttered the very last time I saw her, one of my mother’s most repeated sentences was: “Every dog has its day.” She said it aloud to herself and to the knowing, listening universe, though, when I was in the room, her eyes might be pointing in my direction. It was an incantation, voiced in a low growl. There was something of a spell about it, but it was mainly an assertion of a fundamental and reassuring truth, a statement to vibrate and stand in the air against whatever injustice she had just suffered or remembered suffering. It was, I understood, a reiterated form of self-comfort to announce that justice, while taking its time, was inevitably to come; perhaps, too, a bit of a nudge for the lackadaisical force responsible for giving every dog its day.

 

In the Critics:

  • Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, visits “David Bowie is” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
  • Ed Smith reflects on the music Richard Wagner on the bicentenary of his birth.
  • Man Booker shortlisted writer Deborah Levy contributes a surreal new short story
  • Will Self visits Byron burger joints
  • And more...

Read our full “In the Critics” blog here.

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at: subscribe.newstatesman.com

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

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Who will win in Copeland? The Labour heartland hangs in the balance

The knife-edge by-election could end 82 years of Labour rule on the West Cumbrian coast.

Fine, relentless drizzle shrouds Whitehaven, a harbour town exposed on the outer edge of Copeland, West Cumbria. It is the most populous part of the coastal north-western constituency, which takes in everything from this old fishing port to Sellafield nuclear power station to England’s tallest mountain Scafell Pike. Sprawling and remote, it protrudes from the heart of the Lake District out into the Irish Sea.

Billy, a 72-year-old Whitehaven resident, is out for a morning walk along the marina with two friends, his woolly-hatted head held high against the whipping rain. He worked down the pit at the Haig Colliery for 27 years until it closed, and now works at Sellafield on contract, where he’s been since the age of 42.

“Whatever happens, a change has got to happen,” he says, hands stuffed into the pockets of his thick fleece. “If I do vote, the Bootle lass talks well for the Tories. They’re the favourites. If me mam heard me saying this now, she’d have battered us!” he laughs. “We were a big Labour family. But their vote has gone. Jeremy Corbyn – what is he?”

The Conservatives have their sights on traditional Labour voters like Billy, who have been returning Labour MPs for 82 years, to make the first government gain in a by-election since 1982.

Copeland has become increasingly marginal, held with just 2,564 votes by former frontbencher Jamie Reed, who resigned from Parliament last December to take a job at the nuclear plant. He triggered a by-election now regarded by all sides as too close to call. “I wouldn’t put a penny on it,” is how one local activist sums up the mood.

There are 10,000 people employed at the Sellafield site, and 21,000 jobs are promised for nearby Moorside – a project to build Europe’s largest nuclear power station now thrown into doubt, with Japanese company Toshiba likely to pull out.

Tories believe Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on nuclear power (he limply conceded it could be part of the “energy mix” recently, but his long prevarication betrayed his scepticism) and opposition to Trident, which is hosted in the neighbouring constituency of Barrow-in-Furness, could put off local employees who usually stick to Labour.

But it’s not that simple. The constituency may rely on nuclear for jobs, but I found a notable lack of affection for the industry. While most see the employment benefits, there is less enthusiasm for Sellafield being part of their home’s identity – particularly in Whitehaven, which houses the majority of employees in the constituency. Also, unions representing Sellafield workers have been in a dispute for months with ministers over pension cut plans.

“I worked at Sellafield for 30 years, and I’m against it,” growls Fred, Billy’s friend, a retiree of the same age who also used to work at the colliery. “Can you see nuclear power as safer than coal?” he asks, wild wiry eyebrows raised. “I’m a pit man; there was just nowhere else to work [when the colliery closed]. The pension scheme used to be second-to-none, now they’re trying to cut it, changing the terms.”

Derek Bone, a 51-year-old who has been a storeman at the plant for 15 years, is equally unconvinced. I meet him walking his dog along the seafront. “This county, Cumbria, Copeland, has always been a nuclear area – whether we like it or don’t,” he says, over the impatient barks of his Yorkshire terrier Milo. “But people say it’s only to do with Copeland. It ain’t. It employs a lot of people in the UK, outside the county – then they’re spending the money back where they’re from, not here.”

Such views might be just enough of a buffer against the damage caused by Corbyn’s nuclear reluctance. But the problem for Labour is that neither Fred nor Derek are particularly bothered about the result. While awareness of the by-election is high, many tell me that they won’t be voting this time. “Jeremy Corbyn says he’s against it [nuclear], now he’s not, and he could change his mind – I don’t believe any of them,” says Malcolm Campbell, a 55-year-old lorry driver who is part of the nuclear supply chain.

Also worrying for Labour is the deprivation in Copeland. Everyone I speak to complains about poor infrastructure, shoddy roads, derelict buildings, and lack of investment. This could punish the party that has been in power locally for so long.

The Tory candidate Trudy Harrison, who grew up in the coastal village of Seascale and now lives in Bootle, at the southern end of the constituency, claims local Labour rule has been ineffective. “We’re isolated, we’re remote, we’ve been forgotten and ignored by Labour for far too long,” she says.

I meet her in the town of Millom, at the southern tip of the constituency – the opposite end to Whitehaven. It centres on a small market square dominated by a smart 19th-century town hall with a mint-green domed clock tower. This is good Tory door-knocking territory; Millom has a Conservative-led town council.

While Harrison’s Labour opponents are relying on their legacy vote to turn out, Harrison is hoping that the same people think it’s time for a change, and can be combined with the existing Tory vote in places like Millom. “After 82 years of Labour rule, this is a huge ask,” she admits.

Another challenge for Harrison is the threat to services at Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital. It has been proposed for a downgrade, which would mean those seeking urgent care – including children, stroke sufferers, and those in need of major trauma treatment and maternity care beyond midwifery – would have to travel the 40-mile journey to Carlisle on the notoriously bad A595 road.

Labour is blaming this on Conservative cuts to health spending, and indeed, Theresa May dodged calls to rescue the hospital in her campaign visit last week. “The Lady’s Not For Talking,” was one local paper front page. It also helps that Labour’s candidate, Gillian Troughton, is a St John Ambulance driver, who has driven the dangerous journey on a blue light.

“Seeing the health service having services taken away in the name of centralisation and saving money is just heart-breaking,” she tells me. “People are genuinely frightened . . . If we have a Tory MP, that essentially gives them the green light to say ‘this is OK’.”

But Harrison believes she would be best-placed to reverse the hospital downgrade. “[I] will have the ear of government,” she insists. “I stand the very best chance of making sure we save those essential services.”

Voters are concerned about the hospital, but divided on the idea that a Tory MP would have more power to save it.

“What the Conservatives are doing with the hospitals is disgusting,” a 44-year-old carer from Copeland’s second most-populated town of Egremont tells me. Her partner, Shaun Grant, who works as a labourer, agrees. “You have to travel to Carlisle – it could take one hour 40 minutes; the road is unpredictable.” They will both vote Labour.

Ken, a Conservative voter, counters: “People will lose their lives over it – we need someone in the circle, who can influence the government, to change it. I think the government would reward us for voting Tory.”

Fog engulfs the jagged coastline and rolling hills of Copeland as the sun begins to set on Sunday evening. But for most voters and campaigners here, the dense grey horizon is far clearer than what the result will be after going to the polls on Thursday.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.