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.

Getty.
Show Hide image

Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.