Celebrating the New Statesman's biggest-ever issue

A hundred years on, the magazine is the best it's ever been.

The New Statesman was launched 100 years ago today and, as we celebrate with the publication of our centenary issue which is now on sale across the country, I’m naturally delighted that our latest scoop is dominating the political news as well as newspaper front pages.

One of the many pleasures of my job is being able to publish some of my favourite writers, politicians and journalists in the magazine. Very few people say no when the New Statesman asks them to write – and that’s very satisfying for a small magazine and website.

This week’s centenary issue is the BIG ONE in every sense, the single largest we have published in our long history. Among the political highlights are a wonderful, generously spirited column from Boris Johnson; a bold intervention from Tony Blair, which has been making the political weather and unsettling the Labour high command; a good column by Vince Cable discussing his political journey and the tensions that exist on the left between liberals and social democrats; and a fine piece by our political editor, Rafael Behr, who was travelling on a train with Ed Miliband when the Labour leader was told that Margaret Thatcher had died.

The New Statesman has been rethought and reinvigorated over the last few years. We have broadened our range and collaborated with some unexpected and interesting people. We have reintroduced cartoons, poetry and fiction. We have drawn influence from our Fabian tradition but also from J M Keynes, who was our chairman in the 1930s – it is often forgotten that in 1931 the New Statesman merged with the Nation, the old voice of Bloomsbury social liberalism. I am confident – forgive my immodesty! - that the New Statesman is now the best-written and most intellectually stimulating magazine in Britain.

As if to prove my point, we have, in the centenary issue, contributions from Booker Prize-winning novelists (Julian Barnes, A S Byatt) as well as from many other major literary writers, including Craig Raine, Alexander McCall Smith, David Hare, Will Self and Ali Smith. We have tremendously wide-ranging essays on geopolitics, the European ideal and economics from John Gray, Mark Mazower and Robert Skidelsky. We have published some centenary clerihews from the incomparable Craig Brown. There’s a very funny column from the stand-up comedian Stewart Lee and, as usual, outstanding cultural criticism and book reviews by the likes of Will Hutton, Norman Stone, Douglas Hurd, Jon Cruddas and our brilliant young fiction critic, Leo Robson.

We also include articles from the archive by Keynes, T S Eliot, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene and Angela Carter. And in the “Orwell Wars”, D J Taylor and Adrian Smith tell the story of how and why the New Statesman refused to publish the great political writer’s reports from the Spanish civil war (not one of our more glorious moments).

Next week we are hosting our latest Centenary Debate. The question is, “Did the left win the 20th century?” Michael Gove, David Miliband, Lisa Nandy, Justin Webb, Matthew Parris, Mathew d’Ancona, Jonathan Freedland, Peter Oborne and Andrew Rawnsley are among those who attempt to answer the question in the magazine. (All contributions will go live on our website next week, ahead of the debate. And thanks to everyone for taking part.)

All in all, it’s a collector’s issue. Do buy it.

And here, from the magazine, is my Editor’s Note, which explores something of the history of the New Statesman.


Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

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No, IDS, welfare isn't a path to wealth. Quite the opposite, in fact

Far from being a lifestyle choice, welfare is all too often a struggle for survival.

Iain Duncan Smith really is the gift that keeps on giving. You get one bile-filled giftbag of small-minded, hypocritical nastiness and, just when you think it has no more pain to inflict, off comes another ghastly layer of wrapping paper and out oozes some more. He is a game of Pass the Parcel for people who hate humanity.

For reasons beyond current understanding, the Conservative party not only let him have his own department but set him loose on a stage at their conference, despite the fact that there was both a microphone and an audience and that people might hear and report on what he was going to say. It’s almost like they don’t care that the man in charge of the benefits system displays a fundamental - and, dare I say, deliberate - misunderstanding of what that system is for.

IDS took to the stage to tell the disabled people of Britain - or as he likes to think of us, the not “normal” people of Britain -  “We won’t lift you out of poverty by simply transferring taxpayers’ money to you. With our help, you’ll work your way out of poverty.” It really is fascinating that he was allowed to make such an important speech on Opposite Day.

Iain Duncan Smith is a man possessed by the concept of work. That’s why he put in so many hours and Universal Credit was such a roaring success. Work, when available and suitable and accessible, is a wonderful thing, but for those unable to access it, the welfare system is a crucial safety net that keeps them from becoming totally impoverished.

Benefits absolutely should be the route out of poverty. They are the essential buffer between people and penury. Iain Duncan Smith speaks as though there is a weekly rollover on them, building and building until claimants can skip into the kind of mansion he lives in. They are not that. They are a small stipend to keep body and soul together.

Benefits shouldn’t be a route to wealth and DWP cuts have ensured that, but the notion that we should leave people in poverty astounds me. The people who rely on benefits don’t see it as a quick buck, an easy income. We cannot be the kind of society who is content to leave people destitute because they are unable to work, through long-term illness or short-term job-seeking. Without benefits, people are literally starving. People don’t go to food banks because Waitrose are out of asparagus. They go because the government has snipped away at their benefits until they have become too poor to feed themselves.

The utter hypocrisy of telling disabled people to work themselves out of poverty while cutting Access to Work is so audacious as to be almost impressive. IDS suggests that suitable jobs for disabled workers are constantly popping out of the ground like daisies, despite the fact that his own government closed 36 Remploy factories. If he wants people to work their way out of poverty, he has make it very easy to find that work.

His speech was riddled with odious little snippets digging at those who rely on his department. No one is “simply transferring taxpayers’ money” to claimants, as though every Friday he sits down with his card reader to do some online banking, sneaking into people’s accounts and spiriting their cash away to the scrounging masses. Anyone who has come within ten feet of claiming benefits knows it is far from a simple process.

He is incredulous that if a doctor says you are too sick to work, you get signed off work, as though doctors are untrained apes that somehow gained access to a pen. This is only the latest absurd episode in DWP’s ongoing deep mistrust of the medical profession, whose knowledge of their own patients is often ignored in favour of a brief assessment by an outside agency. IDS implies it is yes-no question that GPs ask; you’re either well enough to work or signed off indefinitely to leech from the state. This is simply not true. GPs can recommend their patients for differing approaches for remaining in work, be it a phased return or adapted circumstances and they do tend to have the advantage over the DWP’s agency of having actually met their patient before.

I have read enough stories of the callous ineptitude of sanctions and cuts starving the people we are meant to be protecting. A robust welfare system is the sign of a society that cares for those in need. We need to provide accessible, suitable jobs for those who can work and accessible, suitable benefits for those who can’t. That truly would be a gift that keeps giving.