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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Over a Martini with my mother, I decide I'd rather not talk Brexit

A drink with her reduces me to a nine-year-old boy recounting his cricketing triumphs.

To the Royal Academy with my mother. As well as being a very competent (ex-professional, on Broadway) singer, she is a talented artist, and has a good critical eye, albeit one more tolerant of the brighter shades of the spectrum than mine. I love the RA’s summer exhibition: it offers one the chance to be effortlessly superior about three times a minute.

“Goddammit,” she says, in her finest New York accent, after standing in front of a particularly wretched daub. The tone is one of some vexation: not quite locking-yourself-out-of-the-house vexed, but remembering-you’ve-left-your-wallet-behind-a-hundred-yards-from-the-house vexed. This helps us sort out at least one of the problems she has been facing since widowhood: she is going to get cracking with the painting again, and I am going to supply the titles.

I am not sure I have the satirical chops or shamelessness to come up with anything as dreadful as Dancing With the Dead in My Dreams (artwork number 688, something that would have shown a disturbing kind of promise if executed by an eight-year-old), or The End From: One Day This Glass Will Break (number 521; not too bad, actually), but we work out that if she does reasonably OK prints and charges £500 a pop for each plus £1,000 for the original – this being at the lower end of the price scale – then she’ll be able to come out well up on the deal. (The other solution to her loneliness: get a cat, and perhaps we are nudged in this direction by an amusing video installation of a cat drinking milk from a saucer which attracts an indulgent, medium-sized crowd.)

We wonder where to go for lunch. As a sizeable quantity of the art there seems to hark back to the 1960s in general, and the style of the film Yellow Submarine in particular, I suggest Langan’s Brasserie, which neither of us has been to for years. We order our customary Martinis. Well, she does, while I go through a silly monologue that runs: “I don’t think I’ll have a Martini, I have to write my column this afternoon, oh sod it, I’ll have a Martini.”

“So,” she says as they arrive, “how has life been treating you?”

Good question. How, indeed, has life been treating me? Most oddly, I have to say. These are strange times we live in, a bit strange even for me, and if we wake up on 24 June to find ourselves no longer in Europe and with Nigel Farage’s toadlike mug gurning at us from every newspaper in the land, then I’m off to Scotland, or the US, or at least strongly thinking about it. Not even Hunter S Thompson’s mantra – “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” – will be enough to arm myself with, I fear.

The heart has been taking something of a pummelling, as close readers of this column may have gathered, but there is nothing like finding out that the person you fear you might be losing it to is probably going to vote Brexit to clear up that potential mess in a hurry. The heart may be stupid, but there are some things that will shake even that organ from its reverie. However, operating on a need-to-know basis, I feel my mother can do without this information, and I find myself talking about the cricket match I played on Sunday, the first half of which was spent standing watching our team get clouted out of the park, in rain not quite strong enough to take us off the field, but certainly strong enough to make us wet.

“Show me the way to go home,” I sang quietly to myself, “I’m tired and I want to go to bed,” etc. The second half of it, though, was spent first watching an astonishing, even by our standards, batting collapse, then going in at number seven . . . and making the top score for our team. OK, that score was 12, but still, it was the top score for our team, dammit.

The inner glow and sense of bien-être that this imparted on Sunday persists three days later as I write. And as I tell my mother the story – she has now lived long enough in this country, and absorbed enough of the game by osmosis, to know that 17 for five is a pretty piss-poor score – I realise I might as well be nine years old, and telling her of my successes on the pitch. Only, when I was nine, I had no such successes under my belt.

With age comes fearlessness: I don’t worry about the hard ball coming at me. Why should I? I’ve got a bloody bat, gloves, pads, the lot. The only things that scare me now are, as usual, dying alone, that jackanapes Farage, and bad art. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain