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.

Show Hide image

Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman

The Conservative policy board chair on the meaning of Brexit, state intervention and whether "Mayism" exists.

Theresa May’s three months as Prime Minister have been marked by ruthless changes of both personnel and policy, from grammar schools to fiscal targets. The man tasked with overseeing the latter is George Freeman, a newly bearded 49-year-old who jokingly describes himself as “a designated thinker”.

“It’s a huge privilege,” Freeman told me when we met recently in Westminster. “As [May] has indicated, she’s determined to open up the policymaking process to good ideas from a much wider pool.”

After entering parliament as the MP for Mid Norfolk in 2010, Freeman distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually energetic Tory MPs. He founded the 2020 group of Conservative modernisers and became the first ever life sciences minister in 2014. Before this, he had worked for 15 years as a biotech entrepreneur.

Politics is in his blood. The Liberal prime minister William Gladstone was his great-great-great-uncle and Mabel Philipson, the first female Conservative MP, his great-aunt. Yet Freeman attributes his reformist zeal to the belief that “with privilege comes responsibility”. He boarded at Radley College after his parents, both alcoholics, divorced and has spoken of his “emotionally damaged” childhood.

It is unsurprising that May, confronted by the greatest policy challenge since 1945 – EU withdrawal – has called on his services. The chair of the Prime Minister’s policy board, to give Freeman his official title, was a passionate Remainer but told me “we are now all Brexiteers”. The “Brexit roar”, he explained, was “a mixture of very deeply felt concerns and complaints about globalisation, powerlessness and the growing gap between London and [other] places . . .

“There’s an understanding that if we simply delivered Brexit, and didn’t tackle the rest, we would only have dealt with some of the problem.”

His ambition was “to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century, in understanding that the extraordinarily challenging pace of franchise extension was also a huge opportunity to harness and fashion a New Model Conservative Party”.

Besides abandoning the surplus target (“to boost growth and investment in infrastructure”), Freeman cited welfare policy as a point of departure. The government would “better differentiate” between changes in the welfare budget and systemic reform – a division that May believes was eroded by George Osborne.

The Prime Minister underlined her commitment to industrial strategy by naming a new department after it. But what does it mean? “I think there is a recognition that we are embracing something unrecognisable from the failed ‘beer and sandwiches’ interventionism of the Sixties and Seventies,” Freeman said. “Twenty-first-century Conservative industrial strategy is about backing our science, innovation and knowledge economy, and other sectors where we have serious global leadership.” He spoke of “stepping in where only the state can”, citing the publicly funded Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility, which he recently visited with the astronaut Tim Peake. The government must be not merely “pro-enterprise”, but “more enterprising”.

May has endured her heaviest dissent over education, and Freeman was notably lukewarm about the idea of new grammar schools. “As well as her position” on the latter, he emphasised, “the Prime Minister set out a much broader vision”. Asked whether he understood MPs’ objections to academic selection, he said “there will be all the usual consultation and discussions through parliament about specific measures”.

The Prime Minister has entered office with greater ideological definition to her thinking than David Cameron, who struggled to reconcile his early vision with austerity. Can we speak of “Mayism”? “I’m not sure the ‘ism’ is helpful or appropriate at this stage. The Prime Minister is very strongly driven by her conservative values, and converting those values into effective policies to tackle the challenges we face. I think we have to wait for the judgement of history to define the ism.”

Freeman is close to “DC” (as he calls Cameron) and praised his premiership. “I was very sorry to see him go. But in the end, given the way the referendum turned out, it was inevitable. I thought he handled that whole last week in the most exemplary way: typical of the man. In time, I think he will come to be recognised as a transformational leader who brought the Conservative Party to terms with modern Britain.”

He rejected the former education secretary Nicky Morgan’s suggestion that May would struggle to “reach into” the marginal seats that the Tories won under Cameron. “Theresa May is appealing widely across whole swaths of the country as a One-Nation leader,” he declared.

With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn, Freeman said, “the centre ground of British politics, once dominated by Blair and New Labour, has been vacated . . . That is a huge opportunity for a One-Nation Conservative Party to demonstrate our relevance beyond our core vote to those around the country who have clearly felt so marginalised.”

Corbyn’s triumph “illustrates the extraordinary challenge for mainstream political parties in this age of asymmetric, post-Brexit politics . . . We now have to use the opportunity of incumbency in government to tackle the root causes of the insurgency that has taken out the Labour Party.”

Freeman acknowledged the risk that Labour’s divisions would produce an internal Tory opposition.

“It also creates a question for the Conservative Party. Will we turn in on ourselves and generate our own arguments, or unite and reach out into the space that Corbyn has vacated?” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories