Inside The Centenary Issue

An exclusive peak inside the New Statesman's biggest issue ever.


The New Statesman is proud to present a 180-page souvenir magazine, our largest ever single issue, in honour of our one-hundredth birthday. On news-stands today, this special centenary issue is packed with the finest essays, commentary, interviews, cultural criticism, photography, poetry, short fiction and cartoons. In addition to our stellar spread of original content, we republish key pieces from the Statesman’s venerable archive, from Virginia Woolf’s 1920 attack on misogyny to John Maynard Keynes powerful meditations on the Spanish Civil War, from 1937.


Special content includes:


Tony Blair: In his biggest intervention in domestic politics since leaving office, the former prime minister outlines the questions Labour needs to ask if the party is to win again.

In an exclusive guest column for the New Statesman, Tony Blair critiques Labour’s current strategy in opposition and warns his party that it must keep out of its “comfort zone”, urging Labour to remain on the “centre ground that is ultimately both more satisfying and more productive for party and country”.

Read this piece in full on our website now.

Read the Staggers editor George Eaton's analysis here.


Boris Johnson: A lively notebook piece from the Mayor of London and former Specator editor, on his “Staggers envy”, being rejected by Martin Amis, and why the Left hated Thatcher so much


Julian Barnes: In a rare interview, the novelist talks politics, euthanasia, his new book, and his time with Christopher Hitchens at the NS


Ed Miliband: The Politics Interview

A day on the campaign trail with the Labour leader takes a dramatic turn with the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death. Our politics editor Rafael Behr was with Ed Miliband on a train to Ipswich when the new of her death broke. He writes:

Two minutes have passed since word arrived that Margaret Thatcher has died. In roughly 15 minutes the train will reach its destination, where Miliband will have to broadcast his reaction. The mood is urgent but there is no panic. Miliband’s features barely flickered when an aide leaned across the table to deliver the news. He absorbed the data with a slow nod. “Oh. Right.”

Now, his face is a mask of solemn concen­tration. The task is clear enough.

“Thatcher’s passing has suspended ordinary politics,” continues Behr, but the two made time to discuss Maggie’s legacy, welfare and Labour’s challenges before the next election.

Read this interview on our website now.


Vince Cable: “Bitter intensity” and “tribal affiliations” – the historic split between the liberals and social democrats

The Business Secretary Vince Cable, who vocally criticised the government’s economic strategy in a recent essay for the New Statesman, writes a piece on the split between “those who regard themselves as both liberal and social democratic but are divided by party.” He recalls being a “politically impressionable” teenager faced with “two competing sources of intellectual inspiration.”

In this way, some of the descendants of [Anthony] Grimond and [Jo] Crosland eventually came together in the newly formed Liberal Democrats. But others remained divided, and still are. And having walked along both sides of the dividing line for half a century, I recognise the bitter intensity of these small differences and the strength of tribal affiliation.

Did the Left win the 20th Century? Michael Gove, David Miliband, Diane Abbott, Justin Webb, Lisa Nandy, Zac Goldsmith and many more join our debate

David Miliband: “The 20th century was a trauma for the left as much as a triumph... The left has done more than survive... A victory? I would call it a two-all draw...”

Michael Gove: “The cause of liberty was most reliably defended and extended by politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan... and Tony Blair... all of whom secured the scorn of the left for their moral courage.”

Diane Abbott: “On a range of social issues, including race equality, women’s rights and equality for the LGBT community, the left has conclusively won the debate.”

Justin Webb: “Surely the answer is no and the reason is America.”

Robert Halfon: “The left’s victory has been one of message and of feeling... By contrast, the right is still struggling to explain the morality of capitalism and of hard-headed economics.”

Melvyn Bragg in conversation with David Hare

Distinguished broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, a long-time reader and former guest editor of the New Statesman, sits down with playwright David Hare to discuss the immense changes that have taken place in their lifetimes, and over the course of the “New Statesman Century”.

On whether the Left won the 20th century...

Melvyn Bragg: [Vice-Chancellor of UEA Edward Acton] says that the left won the 20th century. Look at the conditions of workers at the end of the 19th century and compare them with the conditions of workers at the end of the 20th century... The question is why people don’t believe it any more.

David Hare: It’s because people now feel themselves publicly helpless, don’t they? People feel they no longer exert either any individual or collective power over public life... There’s a wonderful phrase of Marx’s, in which he says that shame is a revolutionary emotion. He writes: “Shame is a kind of anger which is turned inward.” That’s what we feel about our public life today. We feel shame.

On cultural progress...

MB ...culture is... anti-Darwinian. Every time something new comes along, people have said, for instance, “Oh, the cinema is going to kill off the theatre” or whatever – but it didn’t.

On the BBC...

DH It’s completely out of control... I’ve never understood outsourcing. The BBC seemed to do it in order to follow a Thatcherite agenda and to suck up to No 10. The destruction of their own in-house production facilities seems catastrophic... Everything’s now at arm’s length. If you outsource things, you also outsource responsibility.

MB I think the arts coverage on the BBC is meagre. It’s punching well below its weight.


Stewart Lee: Why aren’t there any right-wing comedians?

Stand-up comedian Stewart Lee asks why it’s so hard to find a comedian who votes Tory.  The right are rich in “wits and humourists” but in the live arena it’s the lefties who dominate, relegating right-wing stand-ups to caricatures like Al Murray’s patriotic Pub Landlord (a BNP favourite) or Simon Evan’s “paternalistic Tory posh boy”.

In an art form that is essentially “clowning” (“and clowns are always tragic figures”), Stewart nails the problem:

Ultimately, the left will lose. Big business will pollute the planet, capitalist culture will kill off the arts and humanities, schools will all be privatised, libraries will all close, social mobility will cease, the gulf between rich and poor will grow and everything beautiful will die...

Chris Rock maintained that stand-up comedy should always be punching upwards. It’s a heroic little struggle. You can’t be a right-wing clown without some character caveat, some vulnerability, some obvious flaw. You’re on the right. You’ve already won. You have no tragedy. You’re punching down...

Who could be on a stage, crowing about their victory and ridiculing those less fortunate than them without any sense of irony, shame or self-knowledge? That’s not a stand-up comedian. That’s just a cunt.


Will Self: In praise of pessimism

In a personal essay, novelist and long-time New Statesman contributor Will Self makes both a personal and a political case for pessimism.

An optimist, of necessity, believes in a future typified by knowns, because if – in the rousing chorus of the Blair government’s accession anthem of 1997 – “things can only get better”, then this must be in comparison with what already obtains. The pessi­mist, by contrast, is fully attuned to Donald Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns: the black swans that swoop down out of a clear blue sky to annihilate thousands of New York office workers. The pessimist does not sanction foreign wars on the basis that democracy can issue forth from the barrel of a gun...

Indeed, what are speculative bubbles if not the purest example of optimism run wild? The same sort of loony thinking that once invested in perpet­ual motion machines leads the contemporary credulous to believe that financial wizardry can conjure something out of nothing.

In the Critics:

In the Critics section of the centenary edition of the New Statesman, our “Critic at large” is the novelist A S Byatt. Byatt explores her longstanding admiration for the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett.

“As a wartime child in the 1940s,” she recalls, “I was already puzzling over an image of a domed world poised on the backs of three elephants that stood on a monstrous turtle.”

In the latest in a series of essays on visual art for the NS, the poet, critic and novelist Craig Raine writes about Picasso’s realism. Picasso “could be beautiful,” Raine argues, “but mostly he chose to be realistic … part of Picasso’s greatness is bound up with the idea that equivalence is more effective than literal representation, dull mimesis.”


NS culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire looks back at his predecessors in the literary editor’s chair;

Jon Cruddas, MP and coordinator of Labour’s policy review, considers David Goodhart’s analysis of the costs and benefits of immigration in postwar Britain;

Will Hutton reviews Ben Bernanke’s brief history of the 2008 financial crisis and Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig’s manifesto for banking reform, The Bankers’ New Clothes;

Douglas Hurd on Six Moments of Crisis by Gill Bennett;

Poems from the NS archive by W B Yeats and Philip Larkin;

An exclusive new short story by Man Booker Prize-shortlisted author Ali Smith;

And much more.

Read our full "In the Critics" blog here.


To purchase the full 180-page magazine - with an incredible array of essays, commentary, reviews, fiction and poetry by the likes of Boris Johnson, Ali Smith, Stewart Lee, A S Byatt, Mehdi Hasan, John Gray, Will Self and more plus republished material from the New Statesman archive by T S Eliot, Angela Carter, George Orwell, Graham Greene and others - please visit our subscription page.


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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

John McDonnell interview: "We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility"

The shadow chancellor on the Spending Review, Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and why trade unions will have to break the law. 

When I interviewed John McDonnell in March, before the general election, he predicted that Labour would be the largest party and confessed to a “sneaking feeling that we could win a small majority – because I think the Tory vote is really soft”. As the long-standing chair of the Socialist Campaign Group, McDonnell anticipated leading the resistance inside Labour to any spending cuts made by Ed Miliband. Eight months later, he is indeed campaigning against austerity – but as shadow chancellor against a Conservative majority government.

I meet McDonnell in his new Westminster office in Norman Shaw South, a short walk down the corridor from that of his close friend and greatest ally, Jeremy Corbyn. The day before George Osborne delivers his Spending Review and Autumn Statement, his desk is cluttered with economic papers in preparation for his response.

“The message we’re trying to get across is that this concept of the Tories’ having a ‘long-term economic plan’ is an absolute myth and they’re in chaos, really in chaos on many fronts,” he tells me. McDonnell points to the revolt against cuts to tax credits and policing, and the social care crisis, as evidence that Osborne’s programme is unravelling. On health, he says: “He’s trying to dig out money as best as he can for the NHS, he’s announced the frontloading of some of it, but that simply covers the deficits that there are. Behind that, he’s looking for £22bn of savings, so this winter the NHS is going to be in crisis again.”

Asked what Labour’s equivalent is to the Tories’ undeniably effective “long-term economic plan” message, he said: “I don’t think we’re going to get into one-liners in that way. We’ll be more sophisticated in the way that we communicate. We’re going to have an intelligent and a mature economic debate. If I hear again that they’re going to ‘fix the roof while the sun shines’ I will throw up. It’s nauseating, isn’t it? It reduces debate, intellectual debate, economic debate, to the lowest level of a slogan. That’s why we’re in the mess we are.”

Having abandoned his original support for the Chancellor’s fiscal charter, which mandated a budget surplus by 2020, McDonnell makes an unashamed case for borrowing to invest. “The biggest failure of the last five years under Osborne is the failure to invest,” he says. “Borrowing at the moment is at its cheapest level, but in addition to that I’m not even sure we’ll need to borrow great amounts, because we can get more efficient spending in terms of government spending. If we can address the tax cuts that have gone ahead, particularly around corporation tax, that will give us the resources to actually start paying again in terms of investment.”

He promises a “line-by-line budget review” when I ask whether there are any areas in which he believes spending should be reduced. “My background is hard-nosed bureaucrat . . . we’ll be looking at where we can shift expenditure into more productive areas.”

From 1982 until 1985, John McDonnell, who is 64, was chair of finance at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. After vowing to defy the Thatcher government’s rate-capping policy he was sacked by Livingstone, who accused him of manipulating figures for political purposes. “We’re going to look like the biggest fucking liars since Goebbels,” the future mayor of London told him. McDonnell, who later described Livingstone’s account as “complete fiction”, has since resolved his differences with the man now co-chairing Labour’s defence review.

After his election as the MP for Hayes and Harlington in 1997, McDonnell achieved renown as one of New Labour’s most vociferous opponents, rebelling with a frequency rivalled only by Corbyn. His appointment as shadow chancellor was the most divisive of the Labour leader’s reshuffle. “People like Jeremy even if they don’t agree with him. People don’t like John,” one MP told me at the time. Mindful of this, McDonnell has sought to transform his image. He has apologised for his past praise of the IRA and for joking about assassinating Margaret Thatcher, rebranding himself as a “boring bank manager”. But there are moments when his more radical side surfaces.

He told me that he supports workers breaking the law if the trade union bill, which would limit the right to strike, is passed. “It’s inevitable, I think it’s inevitable. If the bill is introduced in its existing form and is used against any particular trade unionist or trade union, I think it’s inevitable that people will resist. We established our rights by campaigning against unjust laws and taking the risk if necessary. I think that’s inevitable and I’ll support them.”

“Chaos” might be how McDonnell describes Osborne’s position but the same term is now daily applied to Labour. The party is riven over air strikes in Syria and the renewal of Trident and MPs are ever more scornful of Corbyn’s leadership.

While Corbyn has so far refused to offer Labour MPs a free vote on Syria, McDonnell says that he favours one and would oppose military action. “My position on wars has always been that it’s a moral issue and therefore I veer towards free votes . . . We’re waiting for Cameron’s statement; we’ll analyse that, there’ll be a discussion in shadow cabinet and in the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] and then we’ll make a decision. I’m still in a situation where I’ve expressed the view that I’m opposed to the bombing campaign or engagement. I think the history of the UK involvement in the Middle East has been a disaster, to say the least . . .This isn’t like the Second World War where you have a military campaign – you defeat the enemy, you sign a peace agreement and that’s it – this is asymmetric warfare. In addition to the risks that are in the battlefield there’s a risk in every community in our land as a result of it.”

Would he want any of the 14 former shadow cabinet members who refused to serve under Corbyn to return? “All of them, we’re trying to get them all back. We’ve got Yvette [Cooper] helping us on a review we’re doing about the economy and women . . . It’s an open door policy, I’m trying to meet them all over these next few weeks.”

Livingstone, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, recently called for Simon Danczuk, who revealed details of a private meeting with Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday, and Frank Field, who told me that MPs should run as independents if deselected, to be disciplined. But McDonnell takes a more conciliatory line. “With Simon [Danczuk] in particular and the others, it’s just a matter of saying look at the long-term interests of the party. People don’t vote for a divided party. They’ll accept, though, that within a party you can have democratic debate. As I said time and time again, don’t mistake democracy for division. It’s the way in which you express those different views that are important. All I’m saying is let people express their views, let’s have democratic engagement but please don’t personalise this. I think there’s a reaction within the community, not just the party, against personalised politics. It’s not Jeremy’s style, he never responds in that way. It’s unfortunate but we’ll get through it. It’s just minor elements of it, that’s all.”

McDonnell disavows moves by some in Momentum, the Corbyn-aligned group, to deselect critical MPs. “What we’re not into is deselecting people, what we want to try and do is make sure that everyone’s involved in a democratic engagement process, simple as that.

“So I’ve said time and time again, this isn’t about deselection or whatever. But at the same what we’re trying to say to everybody is even if you disagree, treat each other with respect. At the height of the debates around tuition fees and the Iraq war, even though we had heated disagreements we always treated each other with mutual respect and I think we’ve got to adhere to that. Anyone who’s not doing that just lets themselves down, that’s not the culture of the Labour Party.”

In private, the 90 per cent of MPs who did not support Corbyn’s leadership bid speak often of how and when he could be removed. One point of debate is whether, under the current rules, the Labour leader would automatically make the ballot if challenged or be forced to re-seek nominations. McDonnell is emphatic that the former is the case: “Oh yeah, that’s the rule, yeah.”

McDonnell’s recent media performances have been praised by MPs, and he is spoken of by some on the left as a possible replacement if Corbyn is removed or stands down before 2020. His speech to the PLP on 23 November was described to me by one shadow minister as a “leadership bid”. But McDonnell rules out standing in any future contest. “No, no, I’ve tried twice [in 2007 and 2010], I’m not going to try again, there’s no way I would.”

Despite opinion polls showing Labour as much as 15 points behind the Conservatives, McDonnell insists that the party can win in 2020. “Oh definitely, yeah, you’ll see that. I think this next year’s going to be pivotal for us. We’re going to destroy Osborne’s credibility over the next six months. But more importantly than that, we can’t just be a negative party . . . we’re going to present a positive view of what Labour’s future will be and the future of the economy.

“Over the next 18 months, we’ll be in a situation where we’ve destroyed the Tories’ economic reputation and we’ve built up our own but we’ll do it in a visionary way that presents people with a real alternative.”  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.