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 Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.