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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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